You will often see companies claim that their products are certified by GC/MS testing. Aromatherapists and others who produce products using essential oils may also claim that they use "only" oils that have been certified pure via GC/MS testing. If you're not a scientist then you're probably wondering...what the heck is that?
What is a GC/MS?
GC/MS stands for Gas Chromatograph / Mass Spectrometry. (See why people just write GC/MS?) A GC/MS is a machine that can analyze a sample and give us information about what that sample contains. These machines are very expensive and require technical know-how to operate. Thus, this isn't something your average aromatherapist or even essential oil company is going to own. Instead, companies usually rely on independent labs to test samples of their products to confirm the samples' purity. Using an independent lab is another way for a company to give customers extra confidence that they're not doctoring GC/MS results.
So what exactly does a GC/MS tell us?
Let's say a company wants to make sure that their new batch of Lavender essential oil is "pure." By "pure" we mean free of chemical contaminants and "fillers." For example, some economy essential oil producers include lavandin and market it as "pure lavender." I think lavandin smells great, but it would be dishonest to market it as lavender.
Essential oils have been used and studied long enough that we know which chemical constituents are found in each oil. (We don't necessarily know what all of those chemicals do [yet], but we can verify their presence.) Thus we know what a sample of lavender oil should contain and we have established ranges as to how much of each chemical constituent should be in the sample.
So, a sample of lavender oil is loaded into a GC/MS. The GC/MS then identifies "peaks" (on a graph) that correspond with different known chemicals. The peak's location along the horizontal axis will tell us which chemical has been identified (this is called "retention time"). The peak's height on the vertical axis will tell us how much of this chemical is in the sample. At the end of the cycle any unexpected chemicals (impurities) can be identified and a decision can be make about the oil's purity.
Does a manufacturer's assurance about GC/MS testing guarantee a pure sample?
No, GC/MS verification does not necessarily guarantee that the oil you order/use is pure. Why? An essential oil producer must verify every batch of essential oils that they produce. Only verifying sporadically does not ensure that every bottle of essential oil can be guaranteed to contain the promised essential oils.
Many companies have caught on to this "trend" and list "GC/MS Certified" on their bottles without actually providing any evidence. Any reputable company will provide the actual GC/MS reports (verified by an independent lab) so that there are no questions as to the essential oil's chemical content.
Some companies, including Rocky Mountain Oils and Plant Therapy offer GC/MS reports on their websites for easy access. You can easily match up the oil batch that you have with that batch's GC/MS report on these company websites. These features ensure that you're actually getting what you pay for. So, don't forget: when it comes to GC/MS testing...ask to see the test results.
Here's an example of a Lemon GC/MS report from Rocky Mountain Oils and an example of an Allspice GC/MS report from Plant Therapy.
By the way, have you tried Plant Therapy? Click here for $10 off your first order.
Got questions? Let us know!
aromatherapist (at) mindfulessentialoils (dot). com
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