Wednesday, August 28, 2013

GC/MS - Guarantee???

GC/MS Analysis = guaranteed purity?

(Warning, LONG quality lesson ahead.)

Over the past few weeks I've had an ongoing emailed conversation with a prospective client that eventually prompted this blog post.
She had been referred to Nature's Gift by a fairly well known online supplier, recommended by some online Aromatherapy schools. Sent to us because she needed an essential oil they don't offer.  So far so good. Yes, we had the oil she wanted.

"Do you have a gc/ms analysis of it?"  No, we don't.  This is not an oil I normally have analyzed. We buy in relatively small quantities and I can't see doubling our investment in the oil.  
"Well, I can't buy it without a GC/MS."

We have only a few ounces of this oil left, and sending to Europe for an analysis did not make sense.  I emailed my source for the oil and, after some delay, received a Certificate of Authenticity with a rather sketchy GC/MS analysis.   I sent the GC on to our client, asking what component she was interested in.
"I actually have no idea how to read these reports. What I'm interested i is the purity of the oil."
"Why didn't you ask about its purity. We have a stronger guarantee of the purity of all our oils than any supplier I know of. In writing. On the website.  If you can't read the GC and don't know what it represents, why did you ask for it?"
" Because it is my understanding that having a GC/MS analysis is the guarantee of purity."
- - - -
At that point, I knew I had to write this article.


The following is my response to this poor client, who didn't know what she was asking for:
"A GC/MS CAN show an adulterant in an oil.  Or not.   It is, in no way, an indicator of quality.  What a gc/ms analysis shows is the proportion of all the phytochemicals in a given oil.

Sometimes there will be something in there that does not naturally occur in that oil    then... *if you know it doesn't belong  there*  you will know that the oil is adulterated.

One of our instructors asks for "a lavender high in Esters"..  the most common ester in Lavender essential oil  is  Linalyl acetate, and our Lavenders range from 15.14 (english)  thru  33,71 (Bulgarian) to 35.71 (Population) to 36.21 (Mailette).

ALL are pure, natural lavenders.   But the analysis gives the buyer a choice, if they know what they are looking for.

I see the analysis posted by (The supplier who sent the client our way.)     Their Bulgarian Lavender contains "linalyl acetate  33.18"   Does this make one or the other more pure? of course not. It indicates a different grower/distiller.  perhaps their oil was grown 10 miles north or south of mine.

If you are SPECIFICALLY looking for high linalol acetate, you might want mine.   But theirs has 3% more Linalool than mine... depends which you are seeking.

NOW... there are some (very few!!!) analysts who will give their professional opinion on the oil, along with the analysis.  For someone still learning, this is invaluable.  I have had 3 specimens of the 'same' oil analyzed...and was told "I don't think specimen B is what you want."   by comparing the analysis of all three I was able to see what the significant MINOR component was...

In this case, it was italidiones, in Corsican Helichrysum.  I learned that I want them to range btwn 8 and 12% total...   and the 'Specimen B" was about 4+%... can find Helichrysum italicuum with low italidiones.  But you will not find it at Nature's Gift.
BUT... the low italidiones IS a pure oil.   Just not as effective an oil in our experience.  If the analysis contained... let's say... MENTHOL ..  it would be adulterated, since menthol doesn't occur naturally in Helichrysum italicuum oil."

NOW...if you are still with me. some stories.

Back in the first few years of Nature's Gift's existence, when I was a thirsty little sponge, soaking up knowledge and picking people's brains, someone, a well known supplier sent me a sample of Rose Geranium.  It was pretty. it was TOO pretty.  It set off my 'too good to be true' button.  I requested the GC/MS report, and received it, but, like my client above, had NO idea what I was looking for.  It was a list of chemicals and numbers that might as well have been Greek. But, thanks to the open hearts on the internet, I knew some EO chemists.  I sent this GC to one of them.  "Are you sure this is supposed to be Rose Geranium?" "yes" "Well, it can't be. It could be Rose Absolute, but it can not be a pelargonum. It contains PhenylEthylAlcohol.  That is what makes Rose Absolute smell so "rosy"...but it never occurs naturally in Geranium."    That's one thing I learned.  Also, PhenylEthylAlcohol is easily synthesized and inexpensive, for those who want to add it to an oil to alter the aroma.  In this case, the GC/MS showed that the oil WAS adulterated.  But only to those with the knowledge to read it.

Years later,  we offered an "Italian Neroli"  purchased from a very well known and well respected aromatherapy supplier.  I sold it for a couple of years, and clients loved it. At one point I requested the GC from my supplier. "We don't test our oils."  The current batch  smelled... a bit too good to be true. I have a very sensitive too good to be true button!.  I sent it off for analysis. Today I don't remember the "wrong" chemical. But the distilled Neroli had been blended with (lower cost) Orange Blossom Absolute.  I got my money back, refunded the clients who wanted their money back.  The supplier is still selling the product, but as an Absolute, not an Essential Oil.

Just this year I received a sample of "Frankincense Sacra" from Oman.  Now there are those from some MLM organizations who say that Boswellia sacra, from Oman, is the best Frankincense, and the best Frankincense oil available. As a result of this marketing hype I think everyone who sells oils online is asked for Sacra, from Oman.  And, if possible, we like to give our clients what they are seeking.
This particular oil was an interesting specimen.  The producer claims to use BOTH steam distillation and CO2 extraction to produce his gorgeous oil. I loved it.  But I was a bit skeptical of people approaching me out of the blue.  So I sent the specimen for analysis to a very well known Essential Oil Chemist in the US.  He analyzed it. He gave me the GC. He also said "I am concerned about this sample.  Its over 80% alpha-pinene. As you probably know alpha-pinene is one of the cheapest and most readily available aromachemicals in the industry.   I have never seen a sample of frankincense that high."

On the finished GC his comments read: "The sample was unusually high in alpha-pinene at 81.7%, which is the highest level of this component ever personally observed for a claimed frankincense oil or CO2.  Frankincense essential oil samples analyzed by this laboratory have never exceeded 65^ alpha-pinene. Typically one expects the CO2 to have lower alpha-pinene levels that the essential oil because the nature of the extraction allows for more of the heavier components to be obtained. Alpha-pinene is readiy available and very inexpensive, so adulteration with alpha-pinene is a real possibility."  I did NOT like that report.  So I sent another sample off to a chemist I have done business with for years, in Europe. His specialty is CO2 extracts, and this oil was allegedly produced via CO2 and hydrodistillation.   He ran another GC/MS. He also showed an extraordinarily high ratio of alpha-pinene, but that was not his reason for saying the oil was not what it was claimed to be.  EVERY CO2 extraction of any boswellia yields a percentage of Incensole acetate. It is the component that makes the CO2 more calming and anti-depressant than the distilled oil.  This sample contained over 82% alpha-pinine, but 0 incensol acetate.  It can not be CO2 extracted.

SO, I spent close to $500 to keep myself from buying an aromatically beautiful oil, that is adulterated, or, at the very least, is not what the producer says it is.  I see this oil for sale on various websites, some with excellent reputations for quality. Some who indicate "they always provide a batch specific GC.".  If they reveal the GC/MS report, it is undoubtedly the same oil that we rejected.
In this case,  for us, the GC/MS analysis, rather than being a proof of purity, is an indication of adulteration. But, again, only if you know what to look for in the long sheet of numbers.

The chart above is a rough print out of a GC/MS graph/analysis.  The chemist (or his software program) will match the peaks and valleys of the printout to the appropriate chemicals... hopefully giving you a list of chemicals that will look rather like this:
 ( would not paste into this blog.)
 (For the record, this is an analysis of another boswellia, from Africa.  54.40 alpha-pinene.)

For examples of some actual Frankincense essential oil and CO2 extract GC/MS analysis look at and scroll down. There are links to many (but not all) of our Frankincense oil analysis.)  

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  Hopefully, by now, you realize that the presence of a GC/MS analysis is neither an indication of purity or of quality.  


Tabitha Teeter said...

Thanks so much. That helps a lot. I kind of understood this from your website descriptions and articles, but this helps clear it up..

Tabitha Teeter said...

Thanks for this article. I think I understood this from your descriptions and articles, but this really helps clarify things.

Wolf's Aromatics said...

Very nice, now to let more and more people know about things like this!

Wolf's Aromatics said...

Thanks for this, now to let other people know about it!

Jenny Jenkins said...

I had a client recently ask me if I had heard of (popular MLM essential oil company) oils. She said she was interested in buying some of their oils and was told they were the purest oils they could buy. I pointed her to your website and told her that this is where she needed 1. to buy from and 2. that this is also where she needed to learn from. I will forward along this blogpost as well, it may be over her head in understanding, as it was for me but it is further proof that you are best when it comes to honesty, value for your money and wonderful product. Thank you!

Marge said...

Thank you, Jenny!

Lisa said...

Love, love, LOVE this blog, Marge.

Lisa said...

Love, love, LOVE this blog, Marge.

jessicav said...

Excellent Article Marge!
Alot of folks I know assume that GC/MS = quality. I think one reason is because of the "honesty" it falsely implies. Thanks for shedding some light on this.

Jessica said...

Excellent Article Marge!
Alot of folks I know assume that GC/MS = quality. I think one reason is because of the "honesty" it falsely implies. Thanks for shedding some light on this.

Michelle Gilbert said...

"In this case, for us, the GC/MS analysis, rather than being a proof of purity, is an indication of adulteration. But, again, only if you know what to look for in the long sheet of numbers." So well put. Yes!

I don't have your years of experience, but I've always felt that new-ish aromatherapists (and that includes me!) won't necessarily benefit from seeing a GC/MS report. I don't know if instructors are being misleading about their purpose or if students are misunderstanding what's being said, but this is a topic that needs to be covered in more depth in programs, e.g., what are some adulterants to look for? GC/MS only equals quality because so many people don't know what the report is really saying.

Same time, I'd be concerned about a supplier who was unwilling or unable to provide any GC/MS at all.

Thank you for your hard work and talent, Marge.

Kathleen Duffy said...

GREAT ARTICLE, Marge ! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to educate us and help to dispell some of the myths out there. KD