European Commission calls for proof on tea tree oil safety

Related tags Tea tree oil Skin

A scientific panel working for the European Commission has called
on cosmetic companies to prove that tea tree oil is safe to use in
topical cosmetic applications, writes Simon Pitman.

The panel, which published the report last month, said that the cosmetic industry had 12 months in which to demonstrate that tea tree oil is not an irritant to skin when used as an active ingredient in cosmetic products.

The scientific panel says in its report, SCCP/0843/04, that its research work has shown that tea tree oil can be an extreme irritant to certain skin types and skin conditions. The findings also show that the ingredient's efficacy depletes rapidly when exposed to light, air and heat. Levels of terpinine and terpinolen are said to diminish rapidly, but likewise levels of other chemical properties such as p-cymeme are said to increase up to ten-fold in the same conditions, suggesting the compound is highly volatile.

Currently tea tree oil is not regulated by the European Commission for cosmetic applications, which is why the scientific panel has undertaken its research work.

The essential oil is a complex mixture of compounds obtained by distillation from the leaves and twigs of the Australian tea tree. Currently the quality of the infusion is regulated by the Australian Standard and the German Drugs Code as to the level of individual ingredients.

Tea tree oil is widely used to treat acne, eczema, skin infections such as herpes and minor wounds, warts and insect bites, due mainly to its widely known antimicrobial properties.

Currently the product is sold in highly concentrated forms as an essential oil, but is also included in a variety of cosmetic products, including skincare and body products, toothpaste, mouthwash and aromatherapy treatments.

Many of the leading cosmetic companies, such as The Body Shop, use tea tree oil in a variety of the skin care products. This means that the European Commission's ultimatum is likely to cause consternation in the industry, with many of the leading players likely to step up their testing of the ingredient in the coming months.

Currently COLIPA​, the European Cosmetic Toilety and Perfumery Association recommends that neat tea tree oil is never used on the skin and that skin care products should not contain more than 1 per cent of the ingredient.

The Body Shop has already admitted that some of its skin care products do contain more than 1 per cent tea tree oil, but says that its own thorough testing procedures have already been completed on the product range that uses the oil.

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