Larry-lab-sketchSpectrix Labs specializes in Gas Chromatography & Mass Spectrometry analysis of essential oils, hydrosols, fragrances and flavors. Prior to starting Spectrix Labs in 1991, Larry Jones worked at Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical and served on the Chemistry Board at the University of California in Santa Cruz. Quality control for the essential oils produced Elizabeth Van Buren Inc., which is co-owned by Larry Jones, is ensured by Spectrix Labs.

Larry Jones lectures regularly at “The College for Botanical Healing Arts” (COBHA), gives workshops on essential oil purity, and works with chemists in the industry to improve the quality of essential oils. Larry and his wife, Elizabeth Jones, have built these businesses together. For over twenty years, Spectrix Labs, the College of Botanical Healing Arts, and Elizabeth Van Buren Inc. have been setting industry benchmarks for quality analysis, education, and products.

Larry-lab-sketchAt Spectrix Labs, our interests and instrumentation are devoted to and optimized for the analysis of essential oils and fragrances. They all key into each other to understand essential oil adulteration and fragrance de-convolution. All analytical work is done by GC/MS, the instrument of choice for essential oil and fragrance analysis.

Spectrix GC/MS/Specifications:
  • Mass Spectrometer: Hewlett-Packard 5972A

  • Gas Chromatograph: Hewlett-Packard 5890 with a Varian auto sampler and digital flow control (EPP)

  • Data System: H-P ChemStation ver. 1701BA

  • Mass Spectra libraries: Essential oils, User defined fragrance materials, FFNSC 2.0, Wiley 275, NIST 05, Wiley flavor, Drug, Pharmaceutical and more.

Sleuthing for purity and quality: A pure essential oil is one that is distilled or extracted from a single botanical variety. Nothing added or taken away. Some producers, importers and distributors boost up the oils to standardize their product and/or to make a larger profit. Many oils labeled “100% pure” are not, and even “certified organic” oils may not be pure. Essential oils for aromatherapy have to be thoroughly analyzed regularly, batch by batch for purity and quality, even if the oil is coming directly from a known source.

Essential Oil analysis, Spectrix analyses for purity and quality:
  • Non fragrant solvents.

  • Parts of inexpensive essential oils.

  • Synthetic “nature identical” essential oil components.

  • Synthetic fragrance materials and their isomers.

  • Synthesis by-products of nature identical and fragrance components.

  • Fermentation products.

  • Oxidation products.

  • Fractional distillation.

  • Deterpination.

  • Other chemical treatment.

  • Quality. Spectrix analysis is also used to determine quality. Plant quality, harvest and productions technique has a lot to do with quality. Environmental conditions also directly effect the percentages of each component of the essential oil. Botanical variety, chemotype identification and origin are also a part of quality determination.

The “Organic” Dilemma:

I have found the same level of adulteration in organic essential oils as non-organic. The term “certified organic” has become an overused word that may and may not mean the essential oil is pure and/or high quality. Analysis is the only really objective way to know. Certified organic applies to the plant, not the oil because essential oil is an extracted and processed product.

I hope this is helpful to understand something of the extent we go to in assuring you, the customer, the value,
safety and effectiveness of the work we do at Spectrix Labs.

Lawrence Jones
Analyst and Owner, Spectrix GC/MS Lab


GC/MS ~ Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry

Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) is an analytical method that combines the features of gas chromatography (chemical separation) and mass spectrometry (chemical identification,) the perfect marriage of these two powerful instruments for the analysis of a volatile mixture like essential oils and fragrances.

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What is GC/MS testing in layman's terms?

The process of how it works:

The GC: A minute sample of essential oil or fragrance is injected in the gas chromatograph which is like a computer controlled oven that precisely controls a gradual heating and a flow of helium to a “column” coiled up inside the “oven”. The column is the key part of the Gas Chromatograph. It is a fused silica tube usually about 30 meters in length and only about 0.25 millimeters in diameter. The inside of the column is coated with a liquid that is stationary. As helium carries the sample through the column the constituents start separating by boiling points into more and more compact bands in the column coating as the column is heated up by the oven. The constituents are further separated by the polarity, structure, and molecular weight. By the time the essential oil constituents, large and small, leave the column they are separated into narrow packets that show up as “peaks” when electronically detected by a Mass Spectrometer, they flow into it for qualitative analysis.

The M/S: The column from the GC goes into the ionizer section of the Mass Spectrometer, which is under a super high vacuum. This stream of sorted molecules is electronically ionized (fragmented at 70 electron volts.) under this high vacuum. These ionized molecule fragments are positively charged and electronically focused as they fly through a computer controlled atomic mass unit (AMU) filter (usually a quadrapole) that precisely controls the flight of the positive ion fragments so they are detected by a high voltage detector at precisely the right time. The computer records these fragmented ions as accurate masses and intensities (m/z.) The result is a pattern of the fragmented ionized molecule, a “finger print” of the compound that is reproducible from one mass spectrometer to another. This can be compared to known mass spectra through a powerful data system that can output a wide range of data. For essential oils and fragrances, the atomic masses are scanned for molecular weights of 40 to 400 several times a second. The ions being detected over time are what compose the “total ion chromatogram” (TIC) which is similar to the chromatogram produced by a Gas Chromatograph. The mass spectrometer TIC chromatogram is really three-dimensional information stored in the computer in every fraction of a second giving the percentages and identification of each compound which is interpreted by the analytical chemist to determine the purity of an essential oil or the formulas of a fragrance.


SPME ~ Solid-Phase Microextraction
Solid-Phase Micro Extraction, or SPME, is one of many sample preparation techniques. This one involves the use of a fiber coated with an extracting phase, which extracts different kinds of analytes (including both volatile and semi-volatile) from different kinds of media, that can be in liquid or head-space. The quantity of analyte extracted by the fiber is proportional to its concentration in the sample as long as equilibrium is reached or, in case of short time pre-equilibrium, with help of convection or agitation. This technique is very useful in extracting a dilute fragrance dispersed in water.
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