Buying Essential Oils - and Absolutes

Buying Essential Oils - and Absolutes.

By the late Bernie Hephrun

Introduction: This article by Bernie is some years old, but it is still very
informative. Most parts remain valid and it is a better insight into the real
trade in aromatic oils than the hype that most aromatherapists and natural
perfumers are getting. Bernie was one of the first (mid 1980s) suppliers to
aromatherapists in the UK. He was a retired teacher and always researched
subjects in great detail. He did not just take his suppliers word for what they
were selling him. Instead he visited the big fragrance and flavor companies in
the UK and France who then were the main suppliers of essential oils to this
'new' trade. He quickly realised that a trade body was needed just for
aromatherapy suppliers in order to establish quality standards and other
issues. At this time many people were setting up businesses supplying
aromatherapists, yet they had not a clue about the subject and many of them
got most of their information from Bernie.
-----------------
Start:
If you are buying essential oils and absolutes it can appear to be a somewhat
daunting experience. Today there are the numerous distributors varying from
the national supermarkets to individual aromatherapists, aromatherapy
companies, schools, clinics, and traders. Words appear such as 'pure', 'true',
'natural', 'organic', 'Certificated', 'tested', 'approved by', dynamic aroma and so
on. Only a few of these terms are defined. All this coupled with the vast array
of essential oils can present difficulties in understanding the way in which
essential oils get to the ultimate user. Sometimes you will have been advised
on how to buy oils by a tutor if you were on an aromatherapy course. However,
the world of essential oils, perfumes and flavours is quite complex and sound
information does not come easy. Worse, there is an awful lot of information
around which is either confusing or conflicting. The central thing to remember
is that essential oil crops are very similar to other agricultural crops and
therefore there need be no mystique about the subject.

Like all plant produce, the supply chain can be fairly long, but it is important to
see how it operates. Then as with all human activity there may always be
charlatans along the way who want to make a quick 'buck' at your expense and
lack of information. The object of this brief article is to try and dispel some of
the mythology which has grown up over the years.

Briefly the chain of supply includes:
1. The Grower or original 'collector'.
2. The Distillation Unit.
3. The Trading Chain
4. The Oil Companies.
5. The Aromatherapy Companies.
6. The End User. Aromatherapists, Clinics, Schools, Shops, Supermarkets, the
public.
 
1. THE GROWER OR PRODUCER.
The grower or producer of the plants which produce an essential oil or absolute
are principally concerned with several factors. They need to grow an enormous
number of plants which can be harvested at a certain time of the year. The
grower may have to invest large sums of money to prepare the land, seed or
plant, greenhouse cultivation, careful plant nurturing, cropping and
preparations for distillation. Growing plants presents its own set of difficulties.
Many books and Courses can stress the botanical name of a plant and although
this is a useful guide for many plants the name may not apply. The grower is
concerned with growing a specific type of plant which will produce an oil when
distilled.

Moreover, they will want to produce an oil acceptable to the market place. In
many countries the cultivar is one which may be chosen locally for its growth
habit and this includes its regeneration, longevity and ability to withstand
climatic conditions. This may be quite different from the 'original stock' as
identified by its 'Species name'. The oil distilled from the plant stock may vary
from the original. In some cases the cultivar may change to produce an oil with
a specific oil composition. This would then be known as a chemical race or
chemotype. As every gardener knows, 'sports' appear from time to time which
are often different in colour, habit and growth pattern from plants of the same
species. If these look encouraging, the farmer could use these 'sports' to
obtain cuttings of them and produce a whole family of offsprings from them. In
this way 'clones' are introduced into the market place which may produce
essential oil quite different from the original plant stock.

Whilst it is useful to have the scientific Latin name for a plant, it cannot be
assumed that it is correct for the plant which is growing in the field. Geranium
is a case in point where the names often quoted may be incorrect. Although
Pelargonium graveolens is normally listed for Geranium oil (Only P.capitatum
and P. peltatum is given for INCI name) it is highly unlikely to exist any longer.
It takes about ten years for a country's National Committee to get a name
approved by the International Botanical Nomenclature Organisation. To further
confuse matters, different Legislative Bodies do not agree on names of certain
oil plants. You will find that Brussels gives Mandarin (Citrus aurantium sp) as
Citrus amara and Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) as Citrus grandis. Names in books
are not always correct.

The economics of oil production are world wide and the competition can be
quite severe. If massive amounts of Chinese Geranium oil are produced, the
price may fall and this can affect the ability of Egypt to sell their Geranium oil
at a competitive price. There is always a demand for land to be used for house
building and industrial uses and this puts pressure on that land so that if the
price falls, it may be uneconomic to grow the plants for oil. Similarly, if the
workers on the field are not paid a good wage, they will simply not work for
very low wages.

Other crops can be affected by natural disasters such as fire, political turmoil
and production changes. Indonesia had a series of destructive fires during
1997 which resulted in very little Patchouli oil (Pogostemon patchouli) being
produced. Increased demands for spicy foods and flavours for use in potato
and other crisps increases the demand for Pepper oil and other spice oils. This
puts pressure on certain oils which invariably increases the price as demands
exceed supply.

Trees present a different set of values. They normally have a long life and
therefore the oil tends to have a relatively stable composition. Indian
Sandalwood (Santalum album) for example can grow for about 70 years before
it is cut down to use the heartwood which contains the oil. Though due to the
continued loss of trees new experiments are being made to produce
plantations of younger trees. However, because the growth period is so long
and the demand exceeds supplies, the Indian Governments attempts to reduce
production has led to pirates cutting trees illegally and available oil being
'extended' by unscrupulous traders. This is also occurring with the Brazilian
Rosewood tree (Aniba rosaeodora) (syn Bois de Rose) as the tree continues to
be cut down in the Brazilian Forests. Plantations to grow the trees and use the
leaves appear to be successful in producing an oil which is very close to the
original. This is being done in Guyana. This trend is likely to expand as the
demand for the oil continues. Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) which is
currently undergoing an enormous expansion programme is now almost
exclusively grown in plantations which can be coppiced regularly. The original
tea tree oil was taken from virgin stands of trees in New South Wales, a
practice which now goes against the 'green' and conservation lobby and is also
not regarded as very ethical from an ecological point of view. It is also illegal,
but difficult to control. A sad fact is that pharmacists in Australia now require it
to be labelled as a poison.

If people tell you 'they have their own plantations' forget it. Strange
thing - the prices are always hiked up and advertised as 'very special'. It was
somewhat reminiscent of the Medicine men of the American Plains of the last
century who travelled from town to town in covered wagons selling their
'elixors'. They sold their stock and moved out quietly overnight. In the
European Union at the moment there is a trend to get some support from the
Union for initiating new crops with financial help. However, this requires
dedicated work by people who have the technical ability to bring the growers
and their crops together for the next stage in their programme.

However, when oil is sometimes produced as for example Melissa Oil in Ireland
(Whitehall Farm) and Wales (Clwydian Oils) over the past few years it has
limited sales because it is expensive. Now there is the new development of
English Oils by The English Camomile Company. In spite of the recent survey in
Aromatherapy Quarterly about all aromatherapists only wanting 'pure oils' this
has not borne out by companies in the Melissa oil business. The demand for
essential oils is growing and demand usually exceeds supply. As the European
Farming industry is collapsing in many countries, especially in Britain there is
an enormous opportunity for farmers to look at essential oil plants as a viable
alternative.
 
2. THE DISTILLATION OR EXTRACTION PROCESS.
The extraction of the oil or absolute from the parent plant can take several
forms. It is often assumed that 'oils are steam distilled' and 'absolutes are
solvent extracted'. This is an over simplification. There are many different
methods of producing oils from the parent plant (or even part of the plant).

Original distillation methods go back many centuries to where the plant
materials was treated with steam and the resultant vapour was cooled and
collected and any oil skimmed or drawn off the top of the water. The original
cucurbit and alembic of the Arabian chemists has come a long way in the past
1,000 years. In particular the last 100 years has seen a development towards
more sophisticated methods to collect every drop of oil available. The 'oil'
isolation techniques are quite extensive.

'EXTRACTION' METHODS.

1. Physical process - Cold Pressing.
2. Dry Empyreumic Distillation.
3. Enzyme Release - Water Distillation.
4. Water Distillation - With or Without Cohobation. (recycling)
5. Steam and Water Distillation - With or Without Water Cohobation.
6. Steam Distillation - Batch or continuous.
7. Hydrodiffusion.
8. Aqueous Extraction - Spray drying.
9. Extraction Specific materials with Solvent Oleoresin.
10. Extraction With Non-polar Solvent- Concrete.
11. Extraction of Concrete with Ethanol - Absolute.
12. Liquid CO2 Extraction.
13. Extraction with Super Critical Fluids.
14. Process with Hydrocarbon solvent.

Whilst original field stills have almost disappeared, the stills for sandalwood
and other wood oils tend to be very simple. Modern distilleries however are
very high tech with sophisticated equipment. Every drop is extracted and most
stills co-hobate - that is they recycle the water constantly. The notion that you
can take away the water and sell it as 'floral water' is incorrect. The term
'hydosol' has crept in recently and the use of this French word gives it a certain
mystique and cachet. Sounds real. However, if the still is modern and you can
visit several in Provence, Spain or even England, you will soon discover that
modern stills nearly all cohobate (recycle) the water. Most floral waters are
made with concentrates and do not come from the stills.


The actual water from many stills can be pretty dirty and needs to be filtered
anyway. Orange Flower Water and Rose water for foods and Pharmacies has
been produced with concentrates this way for some 50 years or so. Of course it
would be wrong to say that there are no natural floral or plant waters extracted
from stills which do not cohobate. Many of these 'waters' are ideal living
conditions for bacteria and usually have to be treated with biocides to prevent
spoilage. Traders and companies have to state the origin of such materials
under new EU regulations.

There are many oils which have either to be rectified, matured or standardised.
Several oils contain elements that are either obnoxious or unpleasant (e.g.
menthofuran in mint oils). Some oils need to have dangerous compounds
removed - Bergaptene in Bergamot oil - hence the FCF type. As for oils being
'locked-up' in plants, waiting to be released, alas this is not so. Some oils
(Birch and Wintergreen) do not exist in plants and are actually produced by
enzyme activity.

This notion of oils locked up in plants has arisen over the years, and goes back
to the days of the Alchemists (slide) when they thought that 'essential oils'
were the 'quintessence of life'. Oils were obviously not the four elements water,
air, earth and fire so the 'fifth element' (quintessence) was invented to account
for this phenomenon. It tends to go hand in hand with the idea that they have
a life force. If you watch the plant material being comminuted (chopped up
small) prior to distillation, it is difficult to entertain this notion. Vegetables and
plants all have a similar cellular structure and often the oils are almost
incidental. Their production and function even now is still not fully understood
and it would be beyond the scope of this talk to develop this aspect.
 
3. THE TRADING CHAIN.
 
The trade in spices goes back centuries. The building of empires by the
European powers were often dominated by the need to get spices for their
newly emerging industries and populations. Until the beginning of the spice
age food tended to be drab, flavoured only with salt and local herbs. The
discovery of spices changed all that and there was a rush to buy and trade in
these new commodities. Pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and all the other spices
produced a chain of supply which was invariably limited to countries with
colonies overseas.

The supply chains have often built up over the last four centuries so that you
often find that Britain and France are quite notable in this chain. Of course it
has changed considerably over the post war period as other countries got
involved and many countries wanted to deal direct with their ultimate
customers.

Now the various chains are dominated by either traders who specialise in oils
and spices amongst other products or by companies who need to buy direct to
get economic prices. Sometimes, the oils or absolute is distilled locally. At
other times the material may come onto the market from saw mills or other
sources. Occasionally material is transported to Britain (e.g. Frankincense) to
be distilled here.

Most oils are transported by air for obvious reasons. The shelf life is important
and deliveries need to be quick. Transport by sea is only used for some oils and
almost as expensive as air transport. It is important to mention that once the
oil or absolute has been 'extracted' it is beginning to age. Even transporting
oils can lead to problems. If you send Cedarwood oil by air the main
components of cedrol and cedrene can separate out and do not easily coalesce
again. In the last ten years the fragrance and flavour industry has seen
massive changes in ownership of companies so that the well known names
may no longer be locally owned.
 
4. THE OIL COMPANIES.
 
Oil companies are relatively unknown to aromatherapists. These are the
companies who are engaged in trading essential oils, absolutes, oleo resins,
aroma chemicals, perfume compounds and all manner of aromatic materials.
Most of their customers are involved in Pharmaceuticals, Fragrances, Flavours
and Aromatherapy. In addition there are a few very large companies who trade
in spices, herbs and oils. These are the companies who are busy producing
many of the well known fragrances and flavours and most have been around
for a long time. In the UK, these companies are all members of the British
Essential Oil Association. They monitor standards, legislation and know their
products in great detail. They are also in close collaboration with the European
Union which now sets all the legislation and standards in oils with regard to
Names, Health and Safety, Hazards, First Aid Measures, Fire Fighting
Measures, Accidental Release, Handling and Storage, Exposure Controls,
Physical and Chemical Properties, Stability, Toxicological Information,
Ecological Information, Transport Information and Regulatory Information.
They invariably seek to buy the best quality of materials available for their
customers. Collectively they are the repository of massive amounts of
information which has been built up over the years. Most deal direct with
specific growers and producers.

These companies are used to trading in large qualities, usually from the source
or origin of the oil. Their suppliers are usually the very large growers who can
often supply tons of oil. Usually certain companies are linked to specific
growers and this relationship is beneficial to both parties. The buyer represents
reliable purchasing and the grower responds with growing oil plants for the
distillery. The relationship is based upon trust grown out of many years of
trading. Many are specialist companies and may do their own distillation of
materials, special distillations such as Carbon Dioxide Distillation. Special
Mention should be made of the work of Oils Pioneer - David Moyler who has
advanced the process greatly. This means that such oils as Jasmin oil are now
available.

It is a common assumption the 'essential oils are expensive'. They are not.
They are relatively cheap. If you doubt this then distil some of your own
lavender, rosemary or camomile. It is fairly easy to make a simple still.
Essential oils on the whole are relatively cheap although the rare florals are
very dear simply because there is little oil available. In the jargon - the yields
of florals are very low therefore this is reflected in the price.

The companies are mainly international, reflecting the trade in general. Their
work covers the whole world and they are acutely aware of sudden problems or
disasters which can reduce a crop and therefore an oil overnight. They have a
measure of the market in all the producing countries and are aware of
fluctuations which can occur. Most of these companies offer a wide range of
materials and oils. One company alone may offer as many as 20 different
Lavander oils. Another can perhaps offer 10 different Peppermint oils. The
range is quite immense and requires a wide, careful understanding of the
nature of oils to buy correctly. As a general rule they do not market either
dangerous oils or oils which do not have any 'pedigree'. Oils which are not
normally traded need to be viewed with caution and in certain circumstances
with suspicion. These are oils which keep appearing in the aromatherapy
market place which are either untested, badly named or non-existent.
'Chemotypes' are a case in point.
You will not normally find these in the
'international trading catalogue'. The reason is fairly simple - It has become an
aromatherapy hype to list these oils on a price list as though they are 'very
special'. A few are popularised by people who are not in the main stream of the
industry and are not aware of the structure of the oil industry. Aromatherapists
need to be aware that these oils which may be recommended by a single
person. Most have no history and none of them have been tested by
international bodies for toxicity. As an aromatherapist or herbalist insurance is
unlikely to cover them for using these 'oils' it is only common sense to be
aware of possible consequences. Some of them do not appear to exist in the
countries concerned.
 
5. THE AROMATHERAPY COMPANIES.
 
A unique and special feature of Aromatherapy is that there is a somewhat
select band of companies who are dedicated to supplying oils to
aromatherapists and others. This is because most of them started when the
movement began and are well known names. Some specialised in supplying
oils whilst others went on to develop schools and organisations of
aromatherapists. The first oil company organisation to be set up was EOTA
which was launched in 1987 with an ambitious programme culminating in its
first year with AROMA 88, the first major conference in essential oils which was
held at Reading University, UK. Many of the 'names' which appeared here are
now on the international circuit. This is one of the principal Universities which
specialise in Plant Science and essential oils.

As many of these companies developed they were faced with all the difficulties
that newcomers find when sourcing oils. They had to learn about the
idiosyncrasies of oils the hard way. Finding the supply chain, how to assess
purity, how to deal with storing oils, information and knowledge of oils and so
on. Their aim, contrary to what one or two critics may feel, was the struggle to
buy the best quality oils available. However, it can be quite a long learning
curve and most have a story to tell you of their early days.

The Aromark idea was born in these early days, but died quickly as many
companies felt that it would lead to some kind of standardisation of oils.
Growing companies found little time or inclination to collaborate. It regained
the initiative in 1990 when the Natural Oils Research Association established it
as a method of monitoring and testing essential oils, so that member
companies could use the Mark for their oils. The testing of oil however can be
an expensive process and small companies or even small buyers could not
afford the process. However, testing is by no means a universal method of
assessing oil quality.

However, the logistics of policing such a mark has diminished its effectiveness
and it remains to be seen how long it can operate under new legislation. One
pioneering aspect was the notion of 'Batch Number' and 'Best Before Date'.
which was established in 1990 with the co-operation of scientists from Reading
University who worked hard to establish parameters of oil decay. It is generally
though that 'essential oils last a couple of years'. Not so, they vary
considerably. The European Union set up legislation in 1997 which requires this
information to be printed on oil supplies. Many supermarkets have yet to catch
up with this.

Having been in at the start of the movement means that aromatherapy
companies have invariably collected a great deal of information on the way.
What differentiates these companies from other companies is the way in which
they can supply information to therapists. Many will have an open door policy
so that you can visit them and see their operation. Many have open days
where you can see how their company works. If their suppliers are hidden
or you are not shown round, or worse - don't get through the front
door, then forget the hype you are being presented with and go
elsewhere.
It does not matter if they are small companies (everyone has to
start small - indeed it can be a positive virtue and all the main companies
started here), they invariably are enthusiastic about oils and therefore are
always in the learning curve. Most of the companies are delighted to show you
how they buy oils, how they test, and you can see how the supply chain works.
After all, much of this information is in the public domain through trade
journals and now - the Internet. This does not happen with 'supermarket'
supplies or operations which tend to be more commercial. They also have other
priorities. In Aromatherapy companies you can see the chain from oil producer
to the company. They usually buy some oils direct and have long standing
relationships with growers, suppliers or oil companies. They do not as a
general rule produce their own oils as oils are produced throughout the world
and it is simply not feasible.

Of course many Aromatherapy companies have built up close relationships with
a few growers and this is a healthy relationship as they can interchange
information which can benefit both parties. Another point to bear in mind is
that Aromatherapy companies do not 'knock' other companies. This is regarded
as heresy so that if you find a 'trader' saying everybody else is supplying
rubbish, then hesitate and consider what has been said. Can it be justified or
are you being led by svelte talk to get you to buy their oils or other services ?
Prices are almost universal so that trading in oils is not the 'sweet smell of
success' you sometimes see in the tabloid press. It is sheer hard work. It
always pays to look around and see what is on offer from various companies.
Each have a varied catalogue.

Every company usually has some specialist oils. They also have different
information so that you can end up with quite a dossier on oils. If you find a
price hike because it is 'special', 'organic' 'special odour' 'vibrant aroma' and
the like - pause and take a careful look. Is there any form of analysis,
checking, certificating (if so when and by whom). Is there printed information
on the oils or just words? Are they familiar with the many regulations and
Legislation coming out of Europe? At the present time, virtually all the
Legislation which controls oils comes from Brussels and the European Union.
Universities are usually not specialised to do analysis as they often have a
weak data base and it is often left to technicians or students who may fail to
understand 'the peaks'. Lecturers at Universities are concerned principally with
what oils will do in pharmacology or agriculture and normally do not do this
routine work themselves. Independent analysis by experts in the supply trade
means that you can be more confident of your oil. Of course testing may seem
expensive, but if you are buying reasonable quantities it is worth the expense.
The problem comes with small companies or aromatherapists who find that it is
expensive to test a sample. However, many companies are now testing so that
if you are buying reasonable amounts you can follow up your purchase with
requests for detailed information.

Oils of course have their own particular characteristics and change from the
moment that you buy them. Oxydisation or heat can destroy many of them.
Information is usually available from companies about this aspect of oils so
that storage is important. Some companies care about quality so much that
they cover their oils or absolutes with either Nitrogen or Argon to prevent
destructive oxygen getting to them. This particularly affects Citrus oils and
floral absolutes. Another thing to check is the Batch Number and 'Best Before'
date. This is legally required for many oils with a limited shelf life. This
information is now virtually on everything in the supermarket and is a useful
guide when buying. It has come a long way since eggs were introduced with a
'best before date'.

Recently 'organic' oils have appeared on the market place. Some may be
justified - many cannot. The question is one of definition and this is the difficult
aspect. It is well known that many growers in some countries will ask you what
you would like to see on the 'certificate'. More recently however, the French
Government has been trying to simplify the many organisations which exist
and bring them under one umbrella. This new certificating body is known as
known as Ecocert. In Britain the only organic certification available is the Soil
Association but this cannot apply to essential oils as it is based upon crop
rotation. The definition adopted however is most important.
 
6. AROMATHERAPISTS, HOSPITALS, CLINICS, SCHOOLS, HEALTH
SHOPS, SUPERMARKETS, THE PUBLIC.
 
Now we are at the end user of oils or absolutes. Even within the last year
legislation has gripped the entire industry so that if you are in a Health Service
situation, Clinics, Medical Practitioner or Pharmacist they you are required by
law to have detailed information of the products you work with. These are
usually in the form of Health and Safety Data Sheets and Technical Data
Sheets. The former outlines the requirements of the Health and Safety
Executive and much of the information requires detailed information on safety,
toxicity, transport and many other features. The latter identifies the major
compounds present in the oil. The former Sheets are obligatory according to
E.U. Legislation 91/155/EEC, the latter Sheets are supplementary information
and not legally required. Most companies can provide this information if you
are buying 'commercial' quantities.

It may come as a surprise to some that many important aspects of data sheets
are simply not known. It is likely to come as a surprise that some of the
information is quite daunting. However, you have to remember that these
sheets of information are designed primarily for an industry which will be
buying drums of oil. As more information is usually required it is likely that
these dossiers will increase over the years. It has been suggested by one
group that Aromatherapists ought to have this information, but the problems
of supplying information is enormous. If you got Health and Safety data Sheets
for your average supermarket goods you would have to have a library resource
in every store and every home.

The question which has been raised in the past by various people is the
question of adulteration. It is always possible to add materials to oils and dilute
them. This occurs with 'washing up liquids' and 'bleach' to some extent where
the really cheap ones probably have a higher water content in their
formulation. Everybody who does the washing-up is familiar with this. Oils
however are somewhat different and it is possible to adulterate an oil with a
solvent, yet the smell or aroma will hardly have changed. One can only look
carefully at what you buy. Every oil or absolute has its own odour, composition
and special characteristics. If you test sandalwood oil on a smelling strip and
the odour disappears after an hour, then you need to be cautious.

Most aromatherapy companies will always spend time studying oils and rarely
buy before they have authenticated the supply. The danger for aromatherapists
is when they have are buying oils where the prices are unrealistically high. If
the price is too cheap, there may be a reason for this. It could be old stock, oil
from an un-named source, a special promotion or even poor quality. The prices
of oils are all fairly similar so that if a price is very much higher it should be
justified by quality.

Ylang Ylang is a good example of an oil which has several different 'types'.
Ylang Ylang 4 is fairly low on 'quality', Ylang 3 is regarded as 'finer' and Ylang 2
is better and more representative. many years ago it was decided to produce a
pure distilled oil from start to finish and this was to be called 'Ylang Ylang oil
complete. It was not popular, principally because perfumers formulated on the
different grades. However, it is possible to buy Ylang 1 or even Ylang Extra or
Extra Superior. All the grades are decided subjectively by the distiller at source.
Price is not always a reliable guide for quality so therefore you have to
evaluate other factors when you decide. As we tend to live in a world where
price = quality, it is easy to believe that the dearer the oil, the better quality.
Not so. All oils on the market are within a narrow price band, and if you are
offered one at twice the price because it is 'very special import', question
further. It could be a case of 'never mind the quality - feel the width'.

The problem for hospitals and other organisations is somewhat easier. They
demand and require detailed information when they buy. They are expected to
have Health and Safety Data Sheets and Technical data Sheets. This gives the
Medical profession exact information as to the quality of the oil.
 
THE END USER.
 
This can be the Aromatherapist , Herbalist, Reflexologist, Physiotherapist and
so on through the list of therapies. However, with the proliferation of
aromatherapy it can be almost anyone who is interested, and currently this
includes the general public.

Buying has several stages - Suppliers, Tutor or friends Recommendations,
Advertising, Book References, Visiting shops, Reading and studying oils. As
most aromatherapists come through courses they will have been introduced to
oils as part of their course. It takes a long time to learn about 'the tools of the
trade' and aromatherapy is no exception. If your course has been short - the
knowledge will be short and it up to you to expand this by having a personal
library on the subject. A personal library starts with just one book. After a
while you will find that it does not give all the answer so you look for others
and the constant search for detailed information is an ongoing learning curve.

'HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO BUY?

1. Examine carefully the literature.

2. Try to cut out any 'hype'.

3 Compare prices for the same oil.

4. Visit your supplier or talk to somebody who has visited them.

5. Form a judgement. Are there tests and validation? Look at the price
structure; quality evaluation; be objective.

WHAT OF THE FUTURE?
 
Some years ago an Australian Company set up their company as 'clinical' with
white gowns, clinical surrounding and hygiene standards. They also made
medicinal claims for their oils. This was regarded as a direct challenge to the
Pharmaceutical Authorities and it was not long before they instituted
proceedings and attacks on the company. The Pharmaceutical Act came into
play and as a result many oils were declared as 'toxic' and should not be sold
without a toxic' or worse - poison' on the bottle (Tea Tree) A similar state of
affairs in Canada occurred and even in Britain a few years ago there was an
attempt to place herbs and their by-products on some kind of register.

More recently Directives have listed many oils as 'Toxic', 'Harmful' and
'Irritant'. These oils are now in the current CHIP Regulations. 5 are listed as
Toxic, 32 are listed as Harmful and 17 are listed as Irritant. Whilst some of the
'harmful' oils mentioned are not used by aromatherapists, many are regarded
as most useful and include Tea Tree Oil.

During 1998 this was followed by R65 - perhaps one of the most contentious
notions based upon limited evidence of terpenes as dangerous for inhaling.
There was one case in Europe and possibly one case in Britain. The information
was not circulated. Neither was it examined or verified. The Regulation states
that 3 criteria are required to classify a substance under R65 in the EU. The
first criteria is based upon oils which contain '10% or more of hydrocarbons'
(Addendum to letter 557 from IFRA).This letter states that the other two
criteria (viscosity and surface tension) are 'not available' which is not the case,
as some companies give this information. 79 oils are listed in this classification.
A further curious fact is that the original documents mention aspiration which
implies breathing, but the resultant legislation states 'swallowing' which is a
different physiological process. It is clear that this directive has enormous
implications for end users who need to be aware of what is likely to happen to
the labelling of oils in the near future.
 
BIOCIDES.
 
Even more recently (June 1998) the term 'biocide' has been introduced into
the language of oils. This concept is even more devastating. One serious
aspect of this legislation is that it has does not appear to have been either
discussed or challenged and therefore as it is now in the public domain it is up
to everyone with concern to investigate the evidence and form a judgement.
Legislation which emanates from Brussels needs to be opposed when not
based upon sound scientific evidence. It is virtually impossible to discern
biocides in oils unless you know what to look for. Lack of any activity or
response usually means that such legislation goes through without dissent. It
should not be assumed that as these committees are composed of qualified
people that they are experts in essential oils. It could also have serious
implications for those industries involved in fragrances, flavours and
pharmaceuticals. Many current 'OTC' (Over The Counter) medicines could come
within the definition and could be withdrawn immediately the law takes effect.
This coupled with other legislation means that Aromatherapists, Herbalists and
other therapies are at serious risk and could be limited to a one-to-one
relationship with control in other people's hands. It is quite likely that other
legislation could follow once it is established and made public that oils are
either harmful, irritant, toxic etc.


 
Source: aromamedical.org Copyright Butterbur and Sage Ltd.
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