Essential Oils Testing — Is it Reliable?

Essential Oils Testing  - Is It Reliable?  So many people talk about the GC/MS test to show whether and essential oil is pure or not.  But is it enough?  I talk about that and what other things you should be looking at when trying to figure out if an essential oils has good quality oils or not.

If you haven’t noticed, there has been a lot of hubbub on the internet about essential oils these days.  There are loads of blogs telling you that their oils company is the best one and my blog series about my search for the best essential oils company has been extremely popular.  Often, in posts about oils, you are urged to sign up with a direct sales company to makes money selling oils, or at least to get your oils for free.

There are essential oils remedies, recipes, “Medicine Cabinet Makeovers,” information about antibacterial essential oils,  and testimonials galore.

One thing that comes up over and over again regarding essential oils, however, is GC/MS testing.

Today we are going to talk about GC/MS testing in more detail.

We’ll learn:

What GC/MS testing is
What GC/MS tests tells us
What GC/MS testing’s limitations are

Stay with me–this is going to be very interesting.

What is GC/MS testing?

GC/MS testing is Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry.  

What does that mean, you ask?

Basically, here’s what a GC/MS test does:

1.  The essential oils are injected into an apparatus with a tube.  The tube is coated with material that has different affinities for different chemicals at different temperatures.

2.  The temperature of the apparatus is gradually increased.

3.  The oil vapors are moved through the apparatus to a detector at the end of the column.

4.  The detector responds to the vaporized parts of the oils by printing out proportional peaks on paper.

5.  The height of each peak corresponds to the amount of each component of the oil.

6.  Components are identified by the time at which the peak prints out on the paper.

7.  The data for each oil can be compared with standards, or “fingerprints,” for each essential oil to make determinations about purity and other qualities about the oil.

Complex, but pretty neat, huh?

Basically, you get data about what components are in the oils and how much of each component there is.

S0–does that mean that if a company does GC/MS testing, that you can buy their oils and be sure you are getting “the real deal“?

And does it mean the if a company’s GC/MS tests come out within industry standards that you should feel comfortable using them?


While GC/MS testing can tell us a lot, there are some problems with relying on these tests alone.

1.  Essential Oils Can Be Adulterated in Ways that GC/MS tests cannot determine.

a.  Adding synthetics: For example, if synthetic linalyl acetate is added to pure lavender oil, a GC-MS analysis cannot tell whether that compound is synthetic or natural, only that it is linalyl acetate.

b.  Heating: Some oils are heated to burn off more “herby” smells, as with Eucalyptus Globulus or Peppermint.

c.  Redistilling – Some oils are redistilled to make their fragrance more appealing.  I talked about this in this post.

d.  Blending of oils to Save Money or Get Uniform Smell
i. An “expert” might dilute a more expensive lavender with a less expensive lavender in order to sell the less expensive oil for a higher profit.

ii.  Sometimes customers complain that their oil “doesn’t smell like it did before.”  That can be a good thing, because oil smell should vary a bit–depending on weather, time of year, amount of water, etc.  However, sometimes oils are blended with other batches to avoid this kind of customer complaint.

I would rather have my oils vary in smell than have them mixed with other oils.

2.  The Standards for the GC/MS testing were set up more for the food, fragrance, and flavoring industries, rather than for therapeutic oils.

When using the standardized guides and GC/MS testing, there are ranges that components of the essential oils are supposed to fall between.

For example, terpinen-4-ol is the active ingredient in tea tree oil that is supposed to be the most therapeutic.  When tea tree oil undergoes GC/MS testing, the compliant range for terpinen-4-ol is between 30 and 48%, and the “compliant range” for terpineol is 1.5 – 8%.  So the compliant range for the two combined is 31.5 – 56%.

However, since terpinen-4-ol is the most desired healing component of tea tree oil, some distillers have figured out ways to distill tea tree oil in order to have the resulting oil have a greater percentage of terpinen-4-ol.  You can see an example of this here.

Main Camp Natural Extracts claims to be “the purest tea tree oil in the world.”  Now, I don’t know about “purest” but they do have some pretty strong tea tree oil.  Their terpinen-4-ol + terpineol is a minimum of 75% and it typically is over 80%.  That clearly is well outside of the GC/MS guidelines.

So Main Camp’s oil would not test compliant with GC/MS testing, but it seems to be a valuable tea tree oil, nonetheless.

Depending what you think about the method they used to extract more terpinen-4-ol, you may or may not want that oil, but this example just goes to show that having more of an active ingredient in an oil might make the oil more therapeutic without it testing “compliant” on a GC/MS test.

Sacred Frankincense is another oil where this is done.  Some distillers can apparently tweak the advanced tech extraction that will just extract greater proportions of the anti-cancer component in frankincense oil.  The resulting oil won’t test compliant with GC/MS testing, but it is technically “more therapeutic.”

3.  GC/MS testing does not determine soil quality.

GC/MS testing only tests volatile (those that evaporate rather quickly) chemicals.

Such testing can’t make allowance for whether or not a plant was grown in soil with quality nutritional components.

We all know that organic farming practices yield higher quality produce.  As such, one would expect that the same would hold true for essential oils–we would expect that essential oils grown in high quality soil would have more therapeutic benefits.

4.  GC/MS testing does not test for many environmental toxins.

Since GC/MS testing can only test for volatile chemicals, it won’t test for heavy metals or other toxins that are heavy.

What kinds of toxins won’t show up on a GC/MS test?  (I don’t want any of these in my oils–ick!)

a.  Trace amounts of iron from an iron distiller might break off and end up in the oil.

b.  Radiation

c.  Heavy Metals

d.  Heavier Pesticides

e.  Pollution components

f.  Heavier chemicals from fertilizers

There are lots of things that could be in essential oils that I know I don’t want on my body, because there are lots of oil-soluble chemicals, pesticides, etc.   Of course, you might think that a small amount of toxins might not be a big issue, but over time it can accumulate, especially if you are using the oils frequently.  And with our toxic environment, why add anything to the burden you and your family are already under?

Also you might be purchasing organically grown oils, but if the farm is next to a heavily-polluted area, the plants will likely be polluted.

Something to think about:  Would you want an essential oil that was grown on toxic waste that passes the GC/MS reference standards, or would you rather have an essential oil grown organically that does not meet the testing standards for some reason?

I know which one I would want ;-).


Remember back in my series about my path to choosing the essential oils company that my family was going to be using?

Along the way, I heard all kinds of things about testing and certifications, some of which the oils companies made up themselves.

Well, testing is important.

But so are a lot of other things.

Here are the things that I recommend you look for in an oil company:

Signs of a Quality Essential Oil Company

1.  Experience
2.  Purity
3.  Plants grown in indigenous locations
4.  Organic and/or wild-crafted when available
5.  Most plants are grown in remote locations where no pesticides, herbicides, or harmful chemicals are used and only natural fertilizers are used.
5.  Reasonable shipping prices
6.  Reasonable pricing
7.  No solvents used
8.  No artificial oils sold
9.  No adulterating (no heating, blending, adding or further distillation of oils)
10.  Sourced from Small Farms
11.  Common Sense Approach to oils – no “over-recommending” of internal use of oils and reasonable caution in overall use of oils.

There are so many essential oils companies to choose from that it can be hard to know where to go to buy quality essential oils.

{Please note that the links to Native American and Rocky Mountain Oils are affiliate links. If you click on them and make a purchase, I might make a commission. Your support is much appreciated and helps keep this free resource up and running.}

I personally have chosen Native American Nutritionals as the company that I buy my family’s essential oils from.  I trust them and they meet all of the above criteria and more.  I will be writing more about them in the near future.

Native American Nutritionals and Rocky Mountain Oils share the same quality oils but some of their offerings are different.  If you are a beginner, you might find the products at Rocky Mountain Oils to be a bit easier to sort through as Native American Nutritionals has more varieties of certain oils to choose from.

Regardless, you will be in good hands with either company.

Want More Information About Essential Oils?

Here’s a new guide that I just wrote – 10 Things You NEED to Know About Essential Oils BEFORE You Buy.

Additionally, I am not a medical practitioner.  This blog is for entertainment purposes and you should not make any changes to your diet, exercise, or natural health regiment without discussing with your physician first.**


What do you think?  Please share your comments below.

(The top image is the copyrighted property of 123rf limited.  They are a contributor or licensed partner and their image is being used with permission under license and cannot be copied or downloaded without permission from 123rf limited.)

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  1. Heather says:

    I to was hoping to no more about Edens Garden.
    I love NAN for so many reasons and have been exclusive after the doterra mistake but I am suddenly on a fixed very limited income with emotional issues and a child with mrsa.
    I just can’t afford what I need from NAN.
    I got a few things gs from Edens Gardens. Clary sage. Afraid to waste my money.
    I don’t know what to do.
    Its terrible how easily I can get an antibiotic, yet can’t afford what’s smart.
    Sorry if this turned into a rant.
    Any advice?

  2. I am buying my oils from :
    Did you check them out ? They are cheaper than NAN. I really like them. Lots of information about the oils and good customer service.

    • Sorry for the delay in getting back to you – I have been swamped! I am really sorry but I just don’t have time to try all of these companies out and/or write about them, and I can’t publish all of the reasons why I didn’t go w/ certain companies. First of all, it would take an inordinate amount of time, secondly, companies can change what they are doing at any time, and thirdly, the oils industry is really “murky”. I even got a cryptic threatening email from someone regarding a negative comment on one of the companies that I looked at. So perhaps that helps you understand the situation I am in. I did look at Ananda, however, and chose not to go w/ them for several reasons.

      This post might help you know what to ask:

      Thanks and hope to see you around again.

  3. So, I appreciate completely your efforts in doing all this. I have been dreading spending the time and effort to do this myself. My question is this… when I went to the website for native American nutritionals, and I was browsing through their essential oils, I noticed they are made by Rocky Mountain Oils. Was this not the case when you did this article? Because I’m looking to go with what you are using, I don’t know what’s up with that. You refer to them as two different companies. Please let me know. Thank you.

    • Hi there. It’s an ongoing issue – they are partnering together / merging. I will be writing more about it so hope to have more details for you as things move forward. I didn’t know about it when I started writing the posts, but found out about them working more closely as I got more involved with them. Their oils are one and the same and they each have things that the other can benefit from. I hope that helps :).

  4. I recently found I want to try essential oils and was turned onto them by a friend who is a young living rep. I started doing my research on this company which ultimately lead me to you. I found a company I want to try that I think measures up to your standards. They meet all (I think) of your specifications when picking out a company. I am wondering though if you researched this company at all since I have not found it listed in any of your blogs? The company is Organic Infusions.

    • Hi there. I did not look into them. I am really sorry but I have to be really careful and not comment on other companies. I even got a cryptic threatening email about something relating to one of the companies. I would just look at them and see what you can find – if I have time I will look at them. I do notice that their prices are higher than RMO and NAN – particularly their helichrysum. And at present they don’t carry the Sacred Frankincense. Thanks!

  5. Bridget M says:

    I have read your series and I looked into the recommended books on essential oil use. I noticed that you have said that internal use can be therapeutic if done correctly but the books only touch on external and aromatherapy use. Can you recommend a book or site that explains proper internal use?

    • I think this post is really good – I know it’s not likely what you are looking for, but it talks about the negatives of internal use. I rarely use the oils internally – I’m not particularly worried but I do have concerns. This is an affiliate link to their blog:

      I would be interested in hearing what you think.

  6. Hello there. Fantastic work first of all. Just wanted to check to see if you researched Nature’s Inventory at all. These are the oils I have at home and am curious now, after reading your posts, if I should even continue to use them. They claim to be 100% pure and organic. We are an organic family , have a toddler, and just want what’s best for her at a reasonable price like you! So, any consensus on Nature’s Inventory? (Straight oils only, no blends)

    • I am really terribly sorry but I can’t publish all of the reasons why I didn’t go w/ certain companies. First of all, it would take an inordinate amount of time, secondly, companies can change what they are doing at any time, and thirdly, the oils industry is really “murky”. I even got a cryptic threatening email from someone regarding a negative comment on one of the companies that I looked at. So perhaps that helps you understand the situation I am in.

      Thanks and hope to see you around again.

  7. I have been following your blog since last summer. I was in an accident in May and a dear friend of mine came to help take care of me, she is a rep for YL. Those oils helped me tremendously, so when I started to recover I started doing some research, that’s how I found you. I am a YL rep because I did purchase those oils that she had brought over to me and have made one other order. Their oils are nice but after doing some research I am in agreement about the secretcy of testing, mostly grown in U.S., the touting of “owned farms”, “therapeutic grade”, and “seed to seal” verbiage. Their pricing, including the reasons for shipping costs are ridiculous.
    What I think is horrible is the fact that a reviewer, researcher, mom, blogger can receive cryptic threatening emails. Something is really wrong with our society when one persons thoughts can put her and her family at risk. I hope that you have taken that email to the authorities to begin a case. We, your readers, are interested in your findings and you deserve the right to share them with us. Since my accident, I don’t have the where-with-all to do that research myself, I, like your other readers, was counting on you sharing your thoughts and reasons for not choosing those other companies. I hope that one day you will be able to feel comfortable sharing that information with us.

    • Hi Debra – the threatening email was one thing but the other is the threat of lawsuits which the authorities wouldn’t do anything about to protect me. I just can’t risk it. I agree with you that I would like to publish everything but I just can’t. I am not sure that the authorities would do anything w/ the email that I received either. It was too cryptic and nondescript but it was a warning not to publish. Frustrating for sure but it is what it is. :(