Essential Safety
Winter 1999

By Tony Burfield & Sylla Sheppard-Hanger

Sensitivity Revisited (or where is Paracelsus when we need him?)

Paracelsus (1493-1541) was one of the early pioneers of toxicology, and was the first to realize the relationship between the dose of a substance and its toxicity. He authored this often-quoted statement: “All substances are poisons; there is not that is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy”. The authors of this column have recommended following the IFRA voluntary code of practice throughout, but some essential oils do not conform to Paracelsus’ concept of the right dose above, as we will see later, as they are so problematic.

This column has run several issues on Toxicology, over the last year and it would be impertinent to expect all safety issues in Aromatherapy to disappear overnight because of the existence of this column! It is, however, extremely disappointing to see a leading figure in aromatherapy (and a NAHA member) author a piece in the current edition of the journal of the International Federation of Aromatherapy, Aromatherapy Times Vol. 1, No 43 Autumn 1999 p15 which ignores conventional safety practices. The article in question is a monograph on the essential oil of Lemon Verbena (from Lippia citriodora: which is misspelled in the article) which proclaims under “Skin: good for psoriasis, ageing and sensitive skin”, and again under Safety Precautions: “avoid in pregnancy” (based on what we wonder??) “or in high concentration … otherwise lemon verbena, used sensibly, has no known side effects”. Overlooking other curious spellings and misclassifications in the chemical constituents listing, in our opinion this article is a sad indictment of the quality of aromatherapy writing today, because it is deficient in good safety practice. In fact it is downright appalling because any aromatherapist taking this advice could not only do possible damage to a client, but also face a possible lawsuit by using known hazardous oil on the skin.

Lemon verbena oil has not been used by responsible fragrance companies since 1982, when IFRA issued their guidelines that the oil should not be used as a fragrance ingredient due to its sensitizing and photo-toxic potential. Professional Aromatherapists on the other hand if properly trained in safety matters should know this and avoid its use on the skin. How many of you know about lemon verbena and its sensitizing potential? Answering this question for yourself may guide you to deficiencies in your previous education and/or your instructor’s credibility.

At a time when legislation and safety matters are moving ever forward, we do not yet seem to be reaching people on a fairly basic level. Talking to an English based alternative medicine magazine editor this week about including a small amount of safety information, she “did not wish to frighten readers with a lot of complicated double dutch which would go over their heads”. The author of this article pleaded that readers had to be enabled with information to educate themselves: it was up to the therapist if they chose to then ignore it.

Global headlines: IFA’s Scientific Committee meet in Geneva on Feb 8-9th and discussed Modification of the Guidelines for Cassia oil (Cinnamomum cassia), Cinnamon bark oil (Ceylon) (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) so that limits should be set for unquenched and quenched oils. (Readers may remember that we mentioned this phenomena earlier, where sensitizing fragrance materials appear to be “quenched” in the presence of certain other fragrance materials i.e., citral does not cause sensitization in predictive human skin sensitization testing in the presence of limonene). Of less apparent interest to aromatherapists is the news that synthetic fragrance compound hydroxycitronellal is to be limited to 1% in the final product: However, recently one of the authors (Tony) has analyzed a number of so-called pure Linden blossom absolutes (Tilia cordata and other Tilia spp.) on the aromatherapy market and found appreciable amounts hydroxycitronellal in at least one of the more mobile types – this data is shortly to be published by the author. It is doubly ironic that not only are aromatherapists being deceived into buying fragrance compounds instead of genuine absolutes, but also that the compounds in question do not even conform to the IFRA guidelines!

Finally there are more studies are continuing on the photosensitivity associated with Rue oil (Ruta graveolens) usage and contact sensitivity problems associated with Oak Moss (Evernia prunastri) and Tree Moss (Evernia furfuracea & Usnea barbata) products.

Declaration of Ingredients for labeling. Continuing the theme of gleaning information where we can, to complete our picture of what the global implications may eventually be for essential oil safety, it is interesting to visit the SCCNFP site at which describes 24 fragrance chemicals which should be declared if deliberately added to a fragrance formulation or identified as a fragrance ingredient. Some of these ingredients, listed because they are most frequently reported as contact allergens based on clinical experience, are major constituents of essential oils:

benzyl salicylate – found in several oils such as Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata subsp. genuina) and Cananga (Cananga odorata var. macrophylla).

citral – found in Lemongrass Cymbopogon spp., Melissa Melissa officinalis, and Litsea cubeba oils amongst others.

coumarin – found in Cassia oil (Cinnamomum cassia), and Tonka bean absolute (Dipteryx odorata), Flouve oil (Anthoxanthum odoratum), Foin oil (Lolium perenne & other spp,), Deertongue absolute (Trisilia odoratissima etc.).

eugenol – found in Clove oils (Eugenia caryophyllata), Bay Oil W.I. (Pimenta racemosa), Pimento oils (Pimenta dioica), Cinnamon leaf oil (Cinnamomum zeylanicum).

geraniol – found for example in Palmarosa oil (Cymbopogon martini), Rose and Geranium oils (Pelargonium graveolens).

Some reported less frequently include:

benzyl benzoate – occurs in Peru balsam (Myroxylon balsamum spp.), tuberose absolute (Polianthes tuberosa) and hyacinth absolute (from Hyacinthus orientalis & H. scriptus)

citronellal – the dextro-form is found in Citronella oils (Cymbopogon spp.) the laevo form is found in Backhousia citriodora oil; the racemic form is found in Eucalyptus citriodora

farnesol – found many blossom oils e.g. neroli oil (Citrus aurantium)

d-limonene – found in many oils especially citrus peel oils, (Citrus aurantium)

linalol – widespread occurrence in essential oils including Ho leaf (Cinnamomum camphora), coriander seed (Coriandrum sativa) and rosewood (Aniba roseodora).

As matters seem to be moving quickly, we would ask NAHA members to be particularly circumspect in their own professional safety policies. We also ask members to be on the look-out for articles in the aromatherapy press which need the input of safety expertise, and to generally promote safety awareness in all endeavors including writing, public speaking and professional practice. Please consult proper safety guidelines (such as back issues of these columns) when writing articles for journals, local publications and more far-reaching internet data-bases, web sites and mailing lists as so many professionals as well as the general public could suffer the consequences of your poor advice. If you are not sure, double check from different sources, consult with us if you like, but PLEASE don’t promote lavish use of an oil with a known adverse track record! Besides endangering yourself, clients, friends and family, it reflects negatively on the entire industry.

We do not need any more embarrassing and defective reporting in this area, we need to present a united professional front. To this end, we will soon be suggesting a negative list of essential oils to the Safety Committee Meeting at the NAHA Conference 2000, and a recommendation that NAHA adopt the IFRA Voluntary Code of Practice.

Update October 2000. The Fragrance Industry is still reeling from the political outfall of implications of ingredient listing, now more commonly referred to as the COLIPA recommendations. Whilst at the present time IFRA has made no further alterations to its Code of Practice, businesses within the fragrance market are setting their own restrictive lists which are more severe than IFRA’s voluntary code. In UK/Europe the “big boys” in this area are the Supermarkets, who’s buying power has changed the industry operates in the last few decades, and these concerns are still reviewing their position on listing. Individual concerns are also reviewing their positions on the inclusion of essential oils containing these ingredients within their perfumes. One of the biggest high-street Chemists in the UK has already pulled lavender oil out of its hyper allergenic range, because of the alleged concerns about linalol (see above).

Implications for Perfumery and Natural Perfumery. The writing is on the wall here. If perfumers are forced to stop using geraniol, linalol, hexyl cinnamic aldehyde – this is bad enough. Some of these nature identical ingredients help to construct perfumes which mimic nature, and remind us of familiar & exotic fruits, flowers and other familiar natural products. Without these we are forced into a more brash and stark synthetic world with fewer natural points of reference. If it is eventually to be the case that many essential oils are withdrawn from perfumery then perfumery will be a very different & poorer art, with many perfumers I know feeling they may wish to leave the industry. It would be like commissioning Picasso to paint a picture, and then telling him he can’t use any blue or yellow paint. There are moves to resist these changes within the various professional bodies than represent perfumery; hopefully they will be able to stop the changes which prevent access to materials which we have used for thousands of years.

Implications for Aromatherapy. The pretty well ubiquitous occurrence of linalol and geraniol alone in essential oils means that essential oils are in the spotlight for ingredient listing in Europe. Drawing attention to safety matters concerning essential oils invariably alerts national Health & Safety Officials, who in my value judgment, are still learning on the job as far as safety policy in this area, and its sensible implementation, are concerned. Anything that happens in perfumery has implications for aromatherapy practice. Whilst trying not blow this matter out of proportion, it is what happens now that has global implications for the future. Any restrictions on the use of essential oils must be challenged, if we are to retain the right to use the ingredients which are part of our heritage from nature. Watch this space

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