By Martin Watt

First published in the NAHA newsletter

During my searches for aromatherapy related subjects, I have come across
thousands of sites selling essential oils. I was horrified by the number of
businesses who are selling dangerous essential oils to therapists and the public
without appropriate warnings.

"Appropriate warnings" is the most important issue. There is nothing wrong
with selling many of our most hazardous oils for non-contact uses. However, I
consider it unscrupulous not to warn people that these products should not be
applied to the skin.

Here in Britain and in Europe, we have stringent laws that control what can or
cannot be sold, as well as what medicinal claims can be made. It is an offence
under our Trading Standards regulations, to place any product on the market,
if appropriate warnings are not attached to the product. Despite that, many
traders here do still ignore this important piece of consumer protection
legislation. A few even break the law over no medicinal claims.

In the USA and Canada you do have legislation over label claims, and health
claims, but it is widely ignored. I have heard it said on several occasions that
you prefer to rely on "individual responsibility". Well how can a member of the
public be expected to ascertain if an essential oil may be dangerous or not.
This is particularly important when you consider that half the 'aromatherapists'
around don’t have adequate knowledge themselves of such matters. If
individual responsibility is the main trading criteria, then perhaps you should
allow the general public access to plutonium so we can all CHOOSE if we want
to make an H bomb or not!! Such ideas are usually a trade get-out, so they
can continue making money selling anything they can get away with.

Potentially Hazardous oils.
When I talk about hazardous essential oils, I am not talking about all the
unsubstantiated hype endemic in aromatherapy. I am talking about hard
verifiable facts. It is interesting that some of these facts originate from highly
respected USA based organisations such as the International Fragrance
Research Association. Therefore, it is not as a well-known US aromatherapy
teacher said "oh yes they are very over the top on safety issues in Europe".
Such teachers and authors say this because they cannot stand it being made
public, that their knowledge on essential oils is severely lacking.

The fragrance trade organisations do sterling work gathering data from
adverse reactions reports and from testing the material in clinics around the
world. The aromatherapy trade has no central system to monitor adverse
effects of raw materials.
Anyone that ignores such data is at best a fool and at
worst unscrupulous, because they are toying with peoples health by ignoring
valuable safety information.

When the IFRA advise a fragrance ingredient should not be used in consumer
products, they are often referring to far lower levels of use than common in
aromatherapy. By ‘consumer products’ this can mean soaps, detergents,
lotions, creams, etc.

Here is a short list of dangerous substances that I have seen promoted on the
Internet. This list does not of course include those essential oils like amni
visnaga, ravensara, etc. and the fast growing number of ‘chemotype’ oils that
no one knows if they are safe or not.

Benzoin resinoid and oil – a well documented sensitiser. IFRA recommend
that only grades processed to remove the allergens should be used in
consumer products. These grades are not generally available via aromatherapy
suppliers. In addition, there is no such thing as benzoin oil; it is always a resin
dissolved in a solvent which is often synthetic.

Bergamot oil expressed – a potent photosensitiser–no not just sunlight,
but ultra violet light present even in dull overcast conditions. Two cases of
severe skin reactions to this oil were reported to me in 2002. This is a disgrace
when this oils dangers have been well documented since the early 1920s.

Cinnamon bark oil – an extremely powerful irritant and an even worse
sensitiser. Still being used by home soapmakers in the USA and Canada.

Peru balsam – a powerful sensitiser. IFRA recommend "not to be used as a
fragrance ingredient".

Rue oil a terrible photosensitiser and sensitiser. Reported to be a
"useful oil" by someone in the American witchcraft scene on her web site.
Clearly someone who has no idea on safety.

Sassafras. This oil is restricted to only the minutest amounts allowed in
cosmetic products throughout Europe. It is restricted to such low levels, that it
effectively bans its use. The reason is because tests have shown it is a
potential carcinogen. Of course, in the USA you are used to using sassafras
bark in teas and flavourings, however that is not anything like as hazardous as
using the pure essential oil.

Tagetes (sometimes misdescribed as calendula) – a powerful
IFRA say a no effect level is 0.05%. Therefore, to use it on
skin exposed to the light would be foolish.

Tansy oil (T. officinalis) extremely toxic, and of little if any use in

Blue Tansy, a different variety, is promoted a lot in the USA without any
sound evidence of its usefulness and no safety data.

Verbena oilan extremely powerful sensitiser – recommended by the
RIFM "not for use as a fragrance ingredient". Massive percentages of adverse
skin reactions are recorded from testing a whole range of verbena oils. The
only reason most aromatherapists have not seen such reactions, is because
only minute amounts of genuine verbena are around, most is semi synthetic.
This oil has been promoted as being useful for years by certain aromatherapy

Wintergreen and Birch - two highly toxic products sold by many US sites in
particular. Most without the required labelling warnings as per US law. Neither
should these be considered a natural product.

Wormseed (Chenopodium) – extremely toxic. Banned from general sale in
the UK because of the deaths reported from its consumption in the past.

In conclusion:
If anyone comes across Internet sites or shops selling these dangerous
materials without warnings please do tell them. Often they simply may not
know, and may have relied for their knowledge entirely on the popular
aromatherapy novels, or on some of the appallingly poor training courses
around. That is the kind of marketing that can trigger over zealous legislation
being placed on everyone.

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