Integrity and Ingredients Part III – Purity & Quality

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Ingredient Quality – How do you Really Know?

A simple Google search will return tens of thousands of results from companies claiming they have THE purest, most awesome, highest quality ingredients. Not everyone can be right, can they? The question becomes, how do you—without conducting your own lab experiments, really know if those ingredients are as pure and high quality as claimed?

The real answer, and the only honest answer, is there is no way to know absolutely for sure unless you are standing next to the person who harvests the ingredient and you walk through the entire supply chain. Now that you’re completely shocked, and have managed to climb back in your chair, there are ways you can be 99.99% confident.

Testing Methods for Purity and Adulteration

The most reliable methods for confirming purity are to test ingredients using gas chromatography for volatile ingredients like Essential Oils, and liquid chromatography for non-volatile ingredients. Both tests will tell you if your sample deviates from a known standard. In other words, the test may reveal that your oil is adulterated, but not what the exact adulterant is. These tests would certainly show the deviation from standard (standard is the known chemical composition of the ingredient being tested). However, the lab doing the testing may or may not have a standard to test against for comparison, so be sure to ask if you choose to go this route.  Additionally, the lab may know it’s a carrier oil that’s been used to dilute the Essential Oil, but they won’t necessarily know it’s Meadowfoam Oil.

Is it Organic?

The chemical composition –the standard, of, say, an Essential Oil, remains the same whether it’s organic or not. So the gas chromatography test would not reveal whether your sample is organic.  That’s why relying on the USDA Certified Organic, Australian Certified Organic,  or other international standards, is so important. These organizations follow the supply chain from start to finish, providing documentation at every step.

There might be a chance you could test for any pesticides or herbicides if you also have the standard for those chemicals. An additional test can be performed after the gas or liquid chromatography test using mass spectrometry to more closely identify the adulterants.

Does Essential Run Tests on the Natural and Organic Ingredients they Buy?

To answer this question, it’s important to note there is a big difference between purity and quality. The chemical testing mentioned above will tell you the chemical purity of your ingredients, but not the quality of your ingredients. Chemical testing may show that you have a pure, unadulterated essential oil, however, if the plant was not harvested, stored, or distilled properly it may be a pure, but low-quality oil. The chemical testing for purity is done by our suppliers before the ingredient reaches us, but Essential conducts quality testing in house from the moment ingredients arrive on our shipping dock all the way through the manufacturing process. We check for correct color, odor, and other physical properties. We also retain samples, perform assays, and record lot numbers on each shipment. If an ingredient isn’t up to our quality standards, it never makes it to our inventory.

Essential does have well-qualified chemists on staff who can perform and read chemical test results for us, but unless we are very suspicious of an ingredient, it is unlikely we would have any chemical tests performed. We rely on our vendors, most of whom we’ve worked with for years, to provide the confirmation of the test results. You may be wondering why, if we have people on staff who can conduct and read the tests, we do not do them in house. The equipment required to perform these tests is extremely expensive, often inconclusive, and in our experience usually unnecessary. We rely on our suppliers to provide documentation on the ingredients they supply. Because of the expensive equipment and expertise needed, many labs across the United States exclusively perform chemical testing and charge high fees to do so.

Documentation for Ingredient Purity

Now that you know the facts about testing for ingredient purity, there are other, less time-consuming and less expensive, ways to be confident that ingredients are pure. There are two standard documents in our industry that every vendor we work with is required to present for every ingredient we purchase. We are happy to provide these same documents to anyone purchasing from Essential.

The first is the Certificate of Analysis (COA). A Certificate of Analysis is a lot-number-specific document, provided by the supplier, to convey characteristics and test results, which indicate the quality and purity of an ingredient. Any supplier should be able, willing, and happy to give you this information. If they are unwilling or unable to supply this document, you should be suspicious of the ingredient you are purchasing. For example, when we purchase zinc oxide, and the COA has an assay of 99.9% we know it is high in purity. We know this because COA reflects the test results performed by the manufacturer stating the ingredient tested is 99.9% zinc oxide. You can ask us to provide a COA on any ingredient we provide. As we’ve shared, these tests are expensive. The supplier will most times pass that expense on, which will increase the cost of that ingredient. We could buy cheaper elsewhere, but then we are back to the question of purity.

The second document we require is a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). The SDS, formerly Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), contains information on the potential health effects of exposure to the ingredient or product, as well as safe working procedures when handling the ingredient or product. This is important, so we know how to handle incoming ingredients and work safely with them. The SDS will tell you what type of personal protective equipment you may need such as a dust mask or gloves. It will also give you instructions on how to clean up in case of an accidental spill.

Why Trust Essential?

We source very carefully, and establish long-term relationships with our vendors. We work only with vendors who can provide information on the sustainability of their business actions and endeavors, while maintaining consistency in their products. We work hard to source from vendors who are fair trade minded, have a sustainability plan in place, provide non-GMO ingredients, and regard biodegradability and non-toxicity of their products as high priority. Most of our vendors are part of biodiversity programs, and quality standard associations; they rely on GMP systems and ISO standards to manage their businesses.

Our vendors are passionate and knowledgeable about what they do and how their products work, as well as how they will work for us. Many hold Organic Certifications and are part of the movement for sustainably sourced ingredients and supply chains, holding certifications with RSPO, Sedex, Ecosocial, and Union for Ethical Bio Trade, to name a few. A large number of the of ingredients Essential uses and sells comply with the standards of organizations such as Ecocert, REACH regulations, cGMP and FDA protocols, and Whole Foods standards.

In Conclusion

There are a lot of ingredients on the market. The old adage, you get what you pay for, truly applies when purchasing natural and organic ingredients. If the price is too good to be true, it’s probably too good to be true. The best way to feel confident that you are getting the highest quality and purest ingredients is to purchase from companies that you know you can trust. At Essential, our goal is to use and provide the best ingredients we can find, and we are willing to spend a little more to ensure we get the best ingredients for our customers.

We are happy, willing, and able to provide you with a Certificate of Analysis and Safety Data Sheet for any ingredient or product you purchase from us. You can call us at (866)-252-9639 or E-Mail us at to request these documents.

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Tydus Low
3 months ago

Hi, I would like to know why some COA does not have the purity information, and only show us content like more than 80% etc etc for essential oils

2 months ago
Reply to  Tydus Low

Hi Tydus,

The COA will tell you some information but if you request a GC/MS of the oil you can see if it varies from standards to determine if the oil pure – of course you have to find the standard first.