Lately, GC/MS testing and reports have gotten a lot of attention in the aromatherapy world. So what exactly is GC/MS testing?
The letters stand for Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry. This is a method that combines the features of gas-liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify different substances within a test sample.
- Gas chromatography (GC) is a common type of chromatography used in analytic chemistry for separating and analyzing compounds that are in a given sample.
- Mass spectrometry (MS) is an analytical technique that is used for determining the elemental composition of a sample or molecule, thus informing us of the chemical components.
Unless you’re deeply enthusiastic about chemistry, these terms may not make any sense. But they’re hugely important to the use of essential oils. In the Aromatherapy world, GC/MS is used to test oils and determine exactly what they’re made of.
What GCMS means to us at Stillpoint
A GC/MS report is the fingerprint of any particular batch of essential oil. The report is like a blood test for a human. It shows us the unique identity and properties of the oil.
Essential oil GC/MS reporting shows us all the chemical components that make up the oil. This is extremely important if we are blending therapeutically based on the component’s properties.
A GC/MS report for an essential oil will also indicate purity of the oil in most cases. Please keep in mind that simple GC-MS will generally not detect the more elaborate engineering of adulteration that may be applied to essential oils.
What GC/MS Does Not Do
A GC/MS report does not indicate quality or vibrancy of an oil. It typically won’t show if an oil has oxidized or if it’s a “therapeutically dead” oil. At Stillpoint Aromatics, we have sampled essential oils with what looks like a “perfect” GCMS report and the oil itself was therapeutically dead… no life, no vibrancy, flat aroma. Sort of like a margarita made with cheap vodka and sour mix. Yuck.
Many variables that contribute to the quality and vibrancy of an oil, and not all of them can be measured.
When is a GC/MS Report Important?
A GC/MS report for an essential oil is most crucial when you’re taking a component-based blending approach for therapeutic application of the oil. This is a very powerful tool in aromatherapy. That being said, reports can be used incorrectly. Accurate use of a report depends on the interpretation of results.
If you find the science fascinating, a GC/MS report can deepen your relationship with the oils you work with. That being said, never reduce an oil to just their components. There are hundreds and hundreds of components in essential oils and there is only documented scientific research on about 60 or so. So there is magic in the synergy of the complexity of how the components support and work together. It is a grave injustice to the plant or tree to reduce the essential oil to the components.
Burfield, T. (2005). A Note on Gas Chromotography-Mass spectrometry (GC-MS).
Schnaubelt K. (2012) Analysis vs Authenticity