• “There is treasure to be desired and oil in the house of the wise.” – Proverbs 21:20

Testing Standards for YL Essential Oils

Producing pure, genuine, AUTHENTIC therapeutic-grade essential oils is both an art and a science. One factor that determines the purity of an essential oil is its constituents. These constituents can be affected by a vast number of variables, and starts with making sure you have the correct species and that it is sourced from non-GMO seeds, and includes the part(s) of the plant from which the oil is produced, soil condition, fertilizer (organic or chemical), geographical region, climate, altitude, harvesting methods, and distillation process.

The idea is to preserve as many of the delicate aromatic components within the essential oil as possible. These fragile components are easily destroyed by high temps and pressure, as well as by contact with reactive metals such as copper or aluminum. Young Living essential oils only touch stainless steel or glass during the distillation process. Even if you have pure oils, meaning the plants were grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides, if the plants are distilled at the wrong time of day or with incorrect distillation procedures (high temp, high pressure), the constituents that make for a therapeutic oil will not be present. You may have a pure oil, but you will not have a pure, genuine, AUTHENTIC therapeutic-grade essential oil and that makes a huge difference.

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Adulteration of essentials oils will become more and more common as the supply of top-quality essential oils dwindles and demand continues to increase. Adulteration may occur by diluting the essential oil with fatty lipid oils. This is a common practice by other essential oil companies to increase supply and reduce cost. These adulterated essential oils will jeopardize the integrity of aromatherapy and essential oil use.

“Gary Young is absolutely obsessed with quality. I’ve witnessed his unwavering commitment to this countless times, and most recently here in Idaho at our newest distillery. We invest millions in farms, distilleries, labs, chemists, etc.– all to protect the integrity of our oils, and the trust you have vested in us. This is not a decision most companies make because it directly impacts their profitability. We will take much less in our bottom line as a company so you can have much more certitude in quality as members. The current management team is completely aligned with Gary here and will never waiver in terms of meeting his highest standards of quality.

I welcome each of you to be bold in sharing this message. Ask to meet other companies’ analytical chemists. Ask to visit their farms, labs, and distilleries. Ask if their company owners are absolutely obsessed with quality– that it’s their mission in life.

Glance at the picture I posted a couple hours ago of Gary staring at the oil while the rest of us were eating. This is after going to bed at 2 am the night before and working in the fields all day and the distillery all night. His passion is inspiring and contagious.

We have your backs. Gary has your back. Be bold and let the oils speak for themselves.”
– Jared Turner post from Jan 10th, 2014- Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Young Living Essential Oils

 
Because Young Living has an unwavering commitment of producing genuine, AUTHENTIC therapeutic-grade essential oils we conduct several ROUTINE quality tests on EACH and EVERY batch of essential oil… its part of our SEED-TO-SEAL process. In the United States, few companies use the proper analytical instruments and methods to properly analyze essential oils. Most labs use equipment best suited for synthetic chemicals… but not for natural essential oil analysis. Young Living conducts as many as 9 different tests on each oil – far more than any other company. In order to prove or disprove the purity of various essential oils some of these tests are an absolutely necessesity, as GC/MS alone is often not sufficient, especially when something different is seen. Our major competitor only does about 5 or 6 tests. Most other essential oil companies are small by comparison, and they cannot afford as much testing, or as often.

Adulteration is such a major concern that each essential oil Young Living offers is tested by Young Living’s trained research and quality control scientists. Batches that do not meet established standards are rejected and returned. As the world leader in essential oils, Young Living invests significantly in quality assurance. Our research and development team cares deeply about quality and purity, and has more than 180 years of combined experience in analytical chemistry. We are committed to quality and purity, and to providing the best possible products to our customers.

Prior to Young Living there were NO standards by which to measure therapeutic quality of essential oils as the AFNOR standards that exist were developed for the perfume industry. Gary Young actually coined the term “therapeutic-grade” in regards to essential oils to distinguish between the two. Over the years, because there is still no set standard and many other essential oil companies have jumped on the bandwagon and use the same term, or say their oils are “certified”. Anyone can label their bottle “therapeutic-grade”, or anything else they want because there is no standardization of the industry, other than the AFNOR standards which are set only for the perfume industry.

Young Living has bought and compiled as essential oil retention index and mass spectral reference library that currently contains over 400,000 components. Young Living has more than 1.3 million oil molecule references in their library. It’s the only library of it’s kind in the world. Using this research reference library, Young Living conducts tests on every batch of essential oil! It’s part of our whole SEED-to-SEAL process which is your assurance that we have the highest quality, pure, genuine, AUTHENTIC therapeutic-grade essential oils in the world.

Young Living requires all distillers who want to sell to Young Living to submit samples for testing to verify that the oil meets our stringent standards, and that all the constituents that make an essential oil therapeutic-grade are present in the right percentages.

ROUTINE QUALITY TESTS FOR EACH BATCH OF OIL

  • Third-party test: Confirmation testing done by an independent laboratory
  • Gas Chromatography (GC): Separates and measures the percentage of plant biochemical constituents (usually 100-500 in number) in an essential oil. As a general rule, if one or more marker components in an essential oil fall outside the prescribed percentages, the oil does not meet Young Living pure, therapeutic grade essential oil standards. This test must be analyzed by a chemist who is SPECIALLY TRAINED on the interpretation of a gas chromatography chart.
  • Heavy Metals
  • Microbial
  • Refractive Index: Measures the average type of molecular bonds for biochemical constituents in the essential oil. Measures the density of the oil using a concentrated beam of light.
  • Specific Gravity: Measures how heavy (dense) the oil is as compared to water
  • Optical Rotation: Measures the average chiral orientation of molecules in the essential oil
  • Flash Point: Measures the combustible “flash” temperature of the essential oil. Ignites the oil and tests it against standard flash temperatures.

ADDITIONAL TESTING ON CERTAIN OILS

High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC)-  one of the most sensitive, complex and powerful tools in analytical chemistry that provides the ability to separate, identify, and quantitate the compounds that are present in any sample which can be dissolved in a liquid. Even compounds in trace concentrations as low as parts per trillion (ppt) may be identified easily. This testing method has been used in many industries… pharmaceuticals, food, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, environment, forensic, and industrial. Of particular interest in the essential oil industry is its importance in testing for Boswellic acids in frankincense.

Not all species of Frankincense contain boswellic acid, and of the ones that do, the resin has to be distilled very quickly after harvest in order for it to show up in the oil. Young Living has a distillery right in Oman which provides us the ability to quickly distill it. Since brokers of essential oils don’t have the ability to do this many believe, erroneously, that it’s not supposed to be there. Boswellic acids are very beneficial and greatly sought after by researchers studying its effects.

Isotopic Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) Analysis – IRMS– this particular technique is used to determine if a particular lot of oil is derived from synthetic or natural sources and provides information about the geographic, chemical, and biological origins of substances. Young Living is the ONLY essential oil company in the world that owns one of these instruments and that conducts this test on their oils. There are only around 500 on these instruments in all of North America, and all of the others are found in academic research institutes. They are very expensive but also require a huge investment in training. It requires over 2 years of training to learn how to operate it.

TESTING INSTRUMENTS

Few companies in the United States use the proper analytical equipment and methods necessary to properly analyze essential oils. Most labs use equipment best suited for synthetic chemicals- not for natural essential oils analysis.

To identify chemical compounds and test the quality of essential oils, Gary combined a gas chromatograph (GC) with a mass spectrometer (MS). This incredible machine allows for new research on essential oils, oil compounds, and new aromatic plant discoveries—all in one apparatus.

Young Living not only uses the proper instruments but has made serious efforts to calibrate Young Living’s GC-MS instruments to the column-wall thickness set by Dr. Casabianca, Chairman of the Committee for the Association Française de Normalisation Organization Regulation (AFNOR)/ International Standards Organization (ISO) at the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research, France) laboratory. This ensures identification of more compounds that otherwise might be missed. In addition to operating its analytical instruments with the same calibration as the CNRS laboratories, Young Living is continually expanding its proprietary analytical chemical library in order to perform more thorough chemical analysis.

According to Dr. Herve Casabianca, the leading botanical chemist in the world, YLEO is the only North American company that routinely sends samples of its oils to France for testing against AFNOR/ISO standards and that he has always been impressed with the high quality of oils sent by YLEO.

TESTING DONE WHEN RESEARCHING ESSENTIAL OILS

  • Gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy (GC-MS ): The GC separates the plant biochemical volatile constituents. The MS enables greater identification on main constituents by name, but not all. The MS breaks the compounds with electron impact into many different pieces to match the corresponding compound found in the chemical library of 280,000 compounds attached to the instrument.
  • Chiral Gas Chromatography: Separates and determines the percentage of chiral molecules in the essential oil. Chiral: Left-handed and right-handed orientation of molecules (e.g., d-limonene and l-limonene).
  • Solid-phase Microextraction (SPME): A technology in which a small, handheld device is used for extracting a small sample of essential oil vapors directly from plants. The device is then inserted into a GC or GC_MS to analyze the essential oil of the plant.
  • High-performance Liquid Chromatograhy (HPLC): Separates and measures the percentage of water-soluble plant biochemical constituents and high molecular weight molecules in the essential oil.

DETAILED TESTING INFORMATION

This is what a GC-MS looks like when you open the oven door. Inside you can see the round GCMS column where the essential oil components are separated.

This is what a GCMS looks like when you open the oven door. Inside you can see the round GCMS column where the essential oil components are separated.

Gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy (GC-MS ) —This instrument is used in Young Living Research to verify that our essential oils are genuine single-species, pure, and unadulterated – because of this system no fake, perfume oils laced with synthetic, aroma-enhancing chemicals make it to any Young Living essential oils. Young Living has three GC-MS instruments, one at the Young Living Ecuador Farm and the other two at the Young Living Global Headquarters in the Research & Development labs.

Essential oils are readily analyzed by gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy (GC-MS ). The GC portion of the instrument separates the 100-300 unique molecules by heat using only a single drop of essential oil. The MS portion of the instrument identifies each molecule by name (e.g., limonene).

Testing essential oil samples by GC-MS can be performed by inexperienced technicians and scientists. However, interpretation of GC-MS  data is typically reserved for the experienced PhD scientist who is familiar with essential oil molecular components who can interpret the results from the GC-MS instrument and interpreting GC-MS  spectra.

Properly analyzing an essential oil by gas chromatography is a complex undertaking. The injection mixture, column diameter and length, and oven temperature must fall within certain parameters.  Gary Young went to France and Turkey to be trained in the analytical procedures of gas chromatography (GC) and mass spectrometry (MS), and unless one has been trained in this manner they will not understand how to accurately test essential oils.

Almost all labs in the United States use a 30-meter column instead of a GC column length of at least 50-60 meters.  A 30-meter column is adequate for analyzing synthetic chemicals and marker compounds in vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts, BUT they are far too short to properly analyze the complex mosaic of natural chemicals found in essential oils.

Essential oils are readily analyzed by gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy (GCMS). The GC portion of the instrument separates the 100-300 unique molecules by heat using only a single drop of essential oil. The MS portion of the instrument identifies each molecule by name (e.g., limonene).

Young Living uses two columns, one 50-meter and one 60-meter—polar and non-polar. Polar and non-polar have different wall coatings that affect different molecules, enabling optimal molecule separation. These columns are especially designed for fine- and multiple-complexity molecules found in essential oils. For example: A 30-meter column will detect 8 to 9 major compounds in Melissa essential oil. A dual 50–60-meter column will detect 72 major compounds and 124 minor compounds. The proper settings and calibration of the instrument is also critical to ensure compounds are not missed.

Mass Spectrometer (MS)— The MS is a special detector that can identify by name each essential oil component from a library of known essential oil components attached to the instrument. The MS identifies the components based on the arrangement of their individual carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. The GC-MS is used in the first stages of research in order to separate and identify each component of a new essential oil. After the initial research, the GC (with an FED detector) is used for routine quality control to determine percentages of each component in the essential oil.

Optical Rotation /Chiral column testing— While GC-MS is an excellent tool to analyze essential oils, it does have limitations. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between natural and synthetic bioconstituents using GC-MS analysis alone. If synthetic linalyl acetate is added to pure lavender, a GC-MS analysis cannot confidently determine whether that constituent is synthetic or natural, only that it is linalyl acetate. Adding a chiral (pronounced “ky-ral”) capillary GC column in the GC-MS can help in distinguishing between synthetic and natural components. Research scientists can use chiral GC-MS to identify whether an essential oil is composed of its natural proportions of chiral components. Some components have what is called chiral polarity. This means they have “left” or “right” versions of the component, called enantiomers.

Young Living researchers use a polarimeter to identify the optical rotation of molecules. If the “d” or “l” form deviates from what is listed in a chiral library of left and right enantiomers, the sample will be further analyzed with additional chiral capillary GC column testing or sent to Dr. Casabianca in France. This testing is more detailed and will identify a marker that reveals a synthetic origin. Adulterated or synthetic-based oil would then be rejected.

This complexity is why oils must be analyzed by an analytical chemist specially trained on the interpretation of gas chromatopgraphy and mass spectroscopy. The chemist examines the entire essential oil composition to determine its purity, measuring how various components in the oil occur in relation to each other. If some components occur in higher quantities than others, these provide important clues to determine if the oil is adulterated or pure.

TESTING STANDARDS

AFNOR was founded in 1926, and its standards are only minimum standards for the validation of safety, reliability, quality, and performance requirements which are based on French, European, and International Standards. AFNOR represents France as a member of the ISO.

ISO (International Organization for Standardization), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland and established in 1974. It is a non-governmental worldwide federation of 130 countries and with a mission to promote worldwide standardization among the products and services of international commerce.

These organizations, nor any other nationally or internationally recognized agency or organization for that matter, has any certification process or standard for therapeutic-grade essential oils. Neither of these organizations do any testing, they only set standards agreed upon by the industries involved.

The AFNOR and ISO standards apply primarily to the flavor and fragrance industries which purchase the largest amounts of essential oils. These standards do serve a purpose within those industries for the validation of safety, reliability, quality, and performance.

Remember, prior to Young Living there were no standards or certification process by which one could measure or test for therapeutic grade essential oils. We pioneered the whole process for determining therapeutic standards for essential oils and set our standards much higher than AFNOR/ISO standards. With constant testing of new essential oils and an ever expanding proprietary research library containing hundreds of thousands of compound references from research scientists, chemists, and other essential oil experts, Young Living is leading the way and is working towards helping to standardize testing worldwide for therapeutic-grade essential oils.

Resources
Seed to Seal – Dr. Cole Woolley, PhD Facebook page
Article by David Stewart, Ph.D., R.A., D.N.M. “True Meaning of AFNOR”
https://www.youngliving.com/podcast/why-science-matters/

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