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Essential Oils Can Irritate

February 11, 2009

Essential oils can become allergens on contact with air and skin – a report by Katie Bird for Cosmetics Design Europe.

Well of course they can!

Cosmetic-Design Europe posted the article “Essential Oils can become irritants” last week after researcher Lina Hagvall from the University of Gothenberg, Sweden published her pHD findings. She had studied lavender and geraniol oil  (geraniol is the main component of rose) and found that while the oils themselves are not irritant, when they come into contact with the air they  start to change forming chemicals that are known allergens.

Now, I don’t find this at all surprising being as though essential oils are complex mixtures of chemicals – natural chemicals!  Research showed that tea tree oil undergoes rapid oxidation (a chemical change altering it’s make up) when left open.  This news was news at least ten years ago and tea tree was encapsulated (by Dr Kurt Richter Labs – CLR) to enable formulators to ensure maximum activity and minimal degradation.  It looks like Lavender and geraniol are just following suit albeit with avengance. The skin is acidic and has a very large surface area so the fact that it can be a site for a chemical reaction is not surprising really.

So, as a consumer of products and a potential formulator what should you do to avoid this? Well firstly to avoid your essential oil evaporating or oxidising always always buy pure essential oils in brown bottles.  Essential oils in anything else are just not what they say they are.

If you are buying a heavily aromatherapised blend  say, a moisturiser with rose, lavender and calendula make sure it is packaged in a tube or pump pack that restricts the ammount of oxygen getting in. This will also help to keep the product bacteria free – a double bonus. You may also like to look on the label for presence of an anti-oxidant. Things like Rosemary or Rosemary extract are great natural anti-oxidants but are not suited to every formulation, BHT is another one as is Vitamin E to name but a few. These ingredients should help to minimise the degradation of the oils in situ.

If you are using aromatherapy products at home remember that they have a shelf life so check that out before you buy,  make a note of when you bought and make sure that you put the lids back on. Essential oils vary in their shelf life so check with the stockist. Also store in cool, dry place away from sunlight.

Essential oils are natural but they are also complex chemical mixtures. They need to be treated as such and respected! If in doubt do a patch test before slathering on that new concoction. Save your skin!

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