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Lemon Lime and Bitters?????

February 28, 2014

Lemon, Lime and Bitters was a favourite beverage of mine before I gave up on the sugar but that’s not what we are talking about today!


There is nothing quite like a splash of citrus to wake you up in the morning and that is just one of many reasons why my customers ask me to zest up their skin care but sadly not everything that effervesces is good…..

When it comes to assessing the safety of a cosmetic product the ‘usual suspects’ are as follows:

* Fragrance

* Preservative

* pH.

After checking these we move into detail land and look at actives, emulsifier level,  Ingredient impurities and so on and so forth.

As a general rule we don’t check the EWG website……..

When it comes to fragrance ingredients (including Essential Oils)  the people we look to are IFRA (International FRagrance Association).   There are some politics behind this fact – not everyone believes that Essential Oils should be classified in the same way as aroma chemicals – BUT I would say from my perspective it is the best information source available and one that ties in quite well with the European Union Cosmetic Regulations (again more politics but sometimes you just have to get your head down and comply).

IFRA identified 26 known fragrance allergens and recommended that they be highlighted on a cosmetic label to alert people of their presence when they reach levels of 0.01% for a leave-on product and 0.001% for a rinse-off.  The EU Cosmetic laws have taken this on board and you have to work all of this out before you place your cosmetic onto the EU market AND insure your label is correct.  I personally know how tricky this is to work through and how tricky it can make working with essential oils.

And that’s where todays blog post comes in.

Lemon (as in Citrus limon Oil), Lime (as in Citrus aurantifolia Oil) and Bitter Orange Citrus aurantium Oil) are all in the essential oil naughty corner either because they are Phototoxic (Bitter orange) or Sensitising (Lemon and Lime).   While these particular oils are not banned we (as formulators) do have to take care not to put our clients at risk of reaction by splashing them around. This might mean leaving them out of a leave-on formulation or opting for a type of Lemon, Lime or Orange that contains less of the sensitising ingredients OR using it sparingly.  This is absolutely possible – not all Lemons are high in Citral for example.

As a formulator I have to check with the supplier or with IFRA guidelines to see how much of a particular oil is OK to use in my application.  IFRA have many different product classifications depending on their potential for irritation – a scented candle may be OK with say 7% Lemon Oil but a lip balm might only be able to accommodate 0.05%.

As a general rule I tend only to use essential oil blends at 0.5% or under in a cosmetic and will work backwards from that if needs be.  While you are allowed to sell a product that contains perfume allergens at above the minimal concentrations I believe that where possible we should avoid doing so, especially where alternatives are available.

Lemon, Lime and Bitter Orange are not the only oils that can cause issues and the list seems to grow as time goes on.

Here are some of the other troublesome oils. These are listed under ‘restricted’ and are not suitable for all applications and are usually severely restricted in leave-on applications.

  • Angelica
  • Bergamot
  • Bitter Orange
  • Cassia
  • Cinnamon Bark (the leaf oil is also highly problematic)
  • Cumin
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Tagetes
  • Oak Moss
  • Rue
  • Verbena
  • Tree Moss

A safety assessment for your product (whole formula or essential oil blend) can cost from $500-$1000 to complete.  I think it is totally worth doing even though it is not mandatory for us here in Australia, this is because once you become sensitized to a particular fragrance or fragrance component it can plague you for life and nobody wants that.

Before we go I want to remind you, as a hobby formulator or perfumer to take care of yourself too!  I have heard horror stories of people burning their throats due to inhaling too much oil during manufacturing, discoloring their skin due to spillage and over-exposure and ending up covered in terrible rashes after triggering allergic reactions.

A little bit of care, preparation and knowledge goes a long way.

Anyone fancy a cuppa?  Surely that can’t be bad for us…….

Amanda x




4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2014 7:55 pm

    Hmmmmm I just made a batch of lime and calendula lip balm for the market his weekend. So, that wouldn’t count as a winner at the local car boot sale in Blighty then?

  2. RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
    February 28, 2014 8:08 pm

    That depends on how much Lime you have put into the balm. I make lemon lip balms but the fragrance level is very low and I select the lemon to be as low in allergens as possible. You might be ok but maybe not. Also being in the EU you have to have a safety certificate and be registered. I’m sure that applies to all parts of the market and not just the big guys.

  3. March 1, 2014 1:17 am

    Great post and quite timely! I just did a post about a product that contained bergamot, lemon oil and extract, and limonene. I didn’t realize the IFRA had these standards for essential oils and will definitely refer to it in the future!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      March 1, 2014 7:31 am

      I’m sure you are not alone in not knowing about these guidelines. There are benefits of ‘growing up’in the cosmetics industry and training within it. There are rules, guidelines and laws all over the place that help keep us safe 🙂

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