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Essential Oil Purity and Safety Testing Methods

Updated on October 4, 2014

Testing Essential Oils

If you intend to use essential oils for aromatherapy, then their quality and purity is of utmost importance. Without these, one cannot experience the healing and relief that is to be expected since the oil lacks the properties that make those effects happen. The ability to use these oils for holistic medicine focus on utilizing unadulterated oils that are of the highest possible quality.

Hence, this is the main purpose of testing essential oils. It will provide consumers of the assurance that the oil is truly capable of delivering cure for certain conditions that the oil is known to address. On the other end of the spectrum, consumers will be able to gain the confidence that such oil is safe for use on humans without causing harm or other complications. After all, use of essential oils in aromatherapy are considered safe and effective due to the use of natural substances that lack harmful synthetic chemicals.

Gas Chromatography

This is a popular method for testing the essential oils for safety, which is also known as Gas Liquid Chromatography. This method is performed by identifying the chemical constituents found in the essential oil and measuring the amount found in the oil for each constituent. They are then measured in a graph for analysis.

This is often taken from an essential oil sample, then inserted into the heating chamber of the machine for gas chromatography. When the oil is exposed to a specific temperature range, it causes the chemical constituents to turn into vapor. Since the type of constituent have difference vaporizing rate, it will help in identifying those chemical constituents found in the oil.

Mass Spectrometry

This test often comes in conjunction with the GLC or Gas Liquid Chromatography test. Once the above test has identified the chemical constituents found in the essential oil sample, this particular test will then identify whether it contains adulterants or not.

Once the compound of the oil is placed inside the heating chamber of the GC machine, some of it are dispersed into the mass spectrometer. It is therefore responsible in ionizing those compounds in a mass-to-charge ratio. Those constituents are measured via their molecular weight and the results are recorded in a graph.

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Purity vs Quality

Two of the most basic concepts tackled whenever testing essential oils are purity and quality. Since these two are highly intertwined, most people have come into a false conclusion of assuming that they are one and the same. However, they are not. But each one play an important role in determining whether a specific essential oil is safe to use in aromatherapy or not.

When it comes to testing the quality of an essential oil, aromatherapists and chemists utilize various information in the analysis. Some of the factors that affect the quality of the oil are the following: quality of the botanical material, variety of the botanical material where the oil is extracted from, the growing conditions of the plant, the farming practices, the harvesting procedure, and the choice of extraction method.

As for the purity of the essential oil, what aromatherapists are trying to find out is whether it contains adulterated substances that could turn the natural oil into a toxic substance. What you must be looking for is that the oil is at its purest form when used for aromatherapy. There are several circumstances that can dilute the oil's quality, such as blending high grade oils with low grade ones, adding synthetic materials for aromatic purposes, and blending it with synthetic oils.

There are more tests that are conducted to ensure that the oil is filtered through and each aspect is carefully evaluated before it is released into the market for human consumption. Here are some of the common tests performed:

  • Sensory Evaluation: Prior to conducting complicated and expansive tests on essential oils, this is one of the most basic tests they undergo. Visual examination can often discriminate superior oils from the inferior ones. Hence, always conduct a research on color, consistency, and appearance of the oil prior to going out in the market to buy them, so you have a good idea of what to look for.
  • Odor Evaluation: Essential oils are distinguished for the aroma it emits, which are mainly responsible for the healing benefits. Therefore, always perform an odor test to evaluate whether the oil is adulterated or not. A trained nose can easily identify whether the oil is pure or is synthetically produced.
  • Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis: In the qualitative aspect of the test, it aims to identify the chemical constituents found in the essential oil. The quantitative aspect, on the other hand, helps to calculate the amount of individual constituents found in the essential oil sample.

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Personal Safety and Testing Measures

As much as quality and purity testing of essential oils are important, you also have to take your own personal measures in ensuring the safety of the oil when used in aromatherapy. This will enable you to prevent harmful effects and evaluate your own personal needs.

Here are some tips to performing safety tests before you proceed onto using essential oils at home:

  • The skin patch test is a very simple yet effective way to evaluate whether your skin develops harsh responses to the use of particular essential oils. Therefore, aromatherapists advise performing this test on a small and obscure area of your skin.
  • Begin the skin patch test by identifying which area of your skin to apply the oil on for your skin patch test. Some of the areas you might consider are the back of the knee, under your arm, elbow, and wrist.
  • Take a cotton ball and add a tiny drop of the essential oil into it. Then, dab the cotton against theĀ  skin area you have chosen to perform the patch test on.
  • Wait overnight or for at least 24 hours to evaluate results accurately.
  • If there are no signs of redness or itching, then proceed to using the oil. However, if you discover adverse reactions on your skin, you should discontinue use of the oil. Or, you can consult an expert aromatherapist for suggestions on the best essential oil to suit our skin type.

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