Toxicity of essential oils questioned by Cropwatch

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Cropwatch claims that the EU's rulings on the toxicity of certain
plant based oils used in fragrances, are not based on scientific
reasoning, adding that the union does not sufficiently consult
interested parties.

The statement comes in response to a recently called public consultation by the EU to discuss the safety of, amongst others, pine, fir and spruce needle oils. The proposal argues that the oils, extensively used in male fragrances as well as foam baths and home fragrance products, contain levels of peroxide that may lead to skin sensitisation. The EU directive argues that these oils should not be used if they contain more than 10 mmoles/L of peroxide as this could lead to adverse reactions. However, Cropwatch, a watchdog for the aroma industry, has called the proposals bizarre and not based on scientific reasoning, arguing that the normal concentrations used in fragrances, will not cause dermal problems in consumers. They argue that the peroxide concentrations of these oils will not persist in cosmetics products at levels that could cause skin sensitisation, due to both the low concentrations of the oils usually used in fragrances, and the chemical treatment employed in cosmetics and fragrance manufacture. In addition the watchdog criticises the haste with which the legislation is being passed, claiming that they were given a week in order to submit arguments on behalf of interested parties - a time frame they claim to be insufficient. The watchdog adds that it 'intends to make comments on socio-economic, ecological and trade implications….. in its own time'. The EU's recent Public Consultation on the toxicity of various perfumery ingredients comes as part of a larger industry restructuring programme by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), equally unpopular with Cropwatch. IFRA introduced the 42nd​ amendment to its Code of Practice earlier this year, releasing a revised Quantitative Risk Assessment booklet to educate fragrance suppliers on the new standards set regarding dermal sensitisation and the safety of ingredients. Cropwatch created a petition to boycott the amendment arguing that it discriminated against the small fragrance suppliers who do not have the time or money to wade through increased red tape. In addition, the organisation claimed that the programme favours synthetic over natural fragrance ingredients, a criticism that IFRA has denied. The association stated that they believed both synthetic and natural fragrance ingredients should be subject to the same stringent testing requirements and that they would not declare an ingredient to be safe simply on the grounds of it being naturally sourced. Indeed, there have been reports outlining the possible dangers of certain essential oils, for example a US study suggested a link between the use of products containing lavender and tea tree oil and abnormal breast development in young boys. Furthermore, many experts remind potential consumers that the products, although natural, are incredibly concentrated and should always be used in a diluted form with some cautioning against using essential oils in early pregnancy This is not the first time the industry has come under criticism from lobby groups that support the increased use of natural ingredients, in fact such campaigns appear to be growing in strength and number. However, some industry observers claim there may be ulterior motives behind such protests, suggesting that the most vociferous of campaigners for the use of natural products are often involved in the naturals market, thereby profiting from their own campaigning. Furthermore, some industry players have warned against believing all of the science cited in such campaigns, stating that it may draw false conclusions and mislead consumers.

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