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Top 5 Myths About GC/MS Testing Essential Oils

By Kirsten King

Top 5 Myths About GC/MS Testing Essential Oils

Discovering the truth about essential oil transparency is empowering. With GC/MS, we can now go beyond organic and dive deep into plant chemistry. First, let's sort through a few minor misconceptions. And clear the pathway to authenticity.

Myth #1:  A GC/MS test cannot detect metals.

True. For GC/MS to test for metals, the metal would of needed to be converted into a gas since GC/MS detects volatile compounds – meaning compounds that evaporate. A chemist would then perform an ICPMS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry) test. 

 With essential oils being from plant parts such as stems, leaves, and flowers, the risk of metals is less of a concern unlike earth-based ingredients for instance, clays, muds, and micas also known as natural cosmetic colorants or mineral makeup. 

Myth #2:  A GC/MS test cannot detect age in an essential oil.

True and False. The age of an essential oil is provided by the distiller along with the oils botanical Latin name, country of origin, season and year of distillation.

If this information can’t be obtained, then performing an olfactory test is recommended. This includes detecting a sharp odor and visually confirming viscosity discrepancies. 

Another indication of extended shelf life is the fluctuation of alcohol levels and other compounds within the essential oil. If this occurs, a botanical chemist would then perform a C14 (Carbon 14) test. It is the same test used to date archaeological and geological samples.

Myth #3:  A GC/MS test cannot detect pesticides.

False. Gas Chromatography / Mass Spectrometry can detect pesticides in an essential oil if the test has been specifically set up for pesticides with high enough concentrations to detect them. Detecting pesticides is usually performed separately from the GC/MS purity analysis because it requires using different temperature settings and database columns. 

Thermal degradation that results from molecular deterioration from overheating is another sign pesticides are present in an essential oil without changing a complete GC/MS set up.

Myth #4:  A GC/MS test cannot recognize synthetic constituents.

True and False. GC/MS can recognize synthetics in an essential oil as they have certain petroleum or nitrogen based signatures containing compounds, which would then require a C14 test for further analysis. 

GC/MS also can detect “nature identical” isolated constituents such as Linalool, Geraniol, Citronellol, Eugenol, or Limonene but these are technically fragrance oils designed to mimic authentic essential oil constituents.

Myth #5:  A GC/MS test is not reliable.

False. GC/MS produces the widest range of testing a single analysis can perform on essential oils.