August 29, 2012
Book review: The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple
By Robert Tisserand
At almost 850 pages, there’s plenty of reading here. Unfortunately, this book is replete with errors. There are innumerable mis-spellings of the names of chemicals. Terpinen-4-ol is an alcohol, not a phenol, and bergamotene is a terpene, not a furanocoumarin. On page 374 we read that “Coumarins are thought to be antispasmodic, as are many other esters.” Coumarin is not an ester. Stewart mentions that myrrh oil is rich in ‘furanoid compounds’ – well yes, it is indeed rich in FURANS, and he goes on to say that“furanoid compounds can amplify ultraviolet light and can make an oil phototoxic.” (p23/24). Well, I don’t know why he wants myrrh oil to be phototoxic, but it isn’t, because it contains no FURANOCOUMARINS. Using the term ‘furanoid compounds’ fails to make a vital distinction – between (phototoxic) furanocoumarins, and (non-phototoxic) furans.
In some cases Stewart seems to have copied mistakes from other sources, without realizing they were mistakes. l-Limonene is quite often given instead of d-limonene, and methyleugenol has curiously disappeared as an essential oil constituent altogether – Stewart does not list it a constituent of any of the oils it is actually found in! Furanocoumarins are frequently cited that may indeed be present in the plant but are not found in the essential oil.
He has made a valiant effort to list the components of 113 essential oils, but the method he used – combining data from various books – is risky. The end result is said to represent a ‘typical’ essential oil, but is rather hit-and-miss, and in many cases does not represent any existing essential oil at all. Some of the total percentages add up to more than 100%. Reporting constituent chemistry from different sources is a challenge I am often confronted with myself, but there are more elegant solutions.
Stewart is highly critical of what he calls the ‘British School’ of aromatherapy, because it espouses the idea that some essential oils can be dangerous, and because, according to Stewart, it “relies on scientific research on animals”. However, he does take on board the idea that some furanocoumarins are phototoxic. Stewart perhaps does not realize that phototoxicity in essential oils is almost entirely based on RIFM research using pigs, and much of the ‘French’ information about essential oil constituents that Stewart cites is based on animal research. If the book was properly referenced, this would be obvious. He also criticizes the British for “usually applying only certain compounds isolated from essential oils rather than the whole oil.” (p4) It is difficult to fathom from where he plucked this outrageous notion!
There is a massive amount of information here, but there is not a single scientific reference to back up any of it. The result is an uncomfortable mix of fact and fiction. The book perpetuates the myth that any dangers of essential oils (apart from phototoxicity) only apply to what he calls ‘perfume grade’ oils, which, according to Stewart, British aromatherapists like to use! I’m not sure then, who buys all the independently certified organic essential oils sold in Britain. There is no ‘perfume grade’ of essential oil (on either side of the Atlantic), nor is there a ‘therapeutic grade‘. [The grades that do exist are various organic certifications, ISO standards, BP (British Pharmacopeia) standards, and FCC (Food Chemicals Codex) standards.]
Stewart does humanity and science a disservice by alleging that it is impossible for an essential oil to cause an allergic reaction: “Occasionally, a person receiving essential oils claims to have had allergic reaction to them….such a reaction is never allergenic…they are usually therapeutic and indicate the initiation of a cleansing, healing process.” (p451) Stewart goes on to explain his hypothesis that essential oil constituents cannot be allergenic, because they are not composed of amino acids. No, they are not composed of amino acids, but yes, they can in fact cause allergic reactions, because an essential oil constituent such as cinnamaldehyde (known as a ‘hapten‘) can combine with proteins in the skin and can then be recognized by the immune system as an allergen. This is not new science, and Stewart’s bending of the facts to suit his world view is shameful and potentially dangerous.
There is a lot of information in this book and it is by no means all wrong, but the fact-to-error ratio is too rich for me, and the way he plays with words to make ‘his truth’ look like fact is disturbing. On page 462 he states: “There has never been a documented instance of antigen-antibody response (i.e. sensitization) to an essential oil. Essential oil antibodies have never been found or detected in anyone. Never.” The last part is true, but only because (a) you can’t have an antibody to an essential oil, only an essential oil constituent (is this genuine ignorance of basic biology, or just more fact-bending?), and (b) no scientist has ever found antibodies to essential oil constituents, because no scientist has ever looked for them. Perhaps the clinical reality of an allergic reaction needs no proof. Here are two documented cases of allergic reaction to cinnamon bark oil:
Ackermann L, Aalto-Korte K, Jolanki R et al 2009 Occupational allergic contact dermatitis from cinnamon including one case from airborne exposure. Contact Dermatitis 60:96-99
Sánchez-Pérez J, García-Díez A 1999 Occupational allergic contact dermatitis from eugenol, oil of cinnamon and oil of cloves in a physiotherapist. Contact Dermatitis 41:346-347
The IFRA safety standards require that cinnamon bark oil should not be used on the skin at more than 0.6%, to avoid allergic reactions.
Essential Oil Safety – a rebuttal
Stewart is critical of my book, Essential Oil Safety. Here are some of his comments:
Much of the research cited is on the toxic effects of single components of an oil, which is an invalid application of science. This is an incredible statement, considering that most of Stewart’s book is devoted to explaining essential oil chemistry, and the relationships between constituents and therapeutic properties. On page 468, for instance, Stewart says: “essential oils rich in phenols should be used with caution when applying to the skin.” If extrapolating single component data to whole essential oils is not OK when I do it, why is it OK when Stewart does it?
Furthermore, as the authors point out, in all of the studies they cite, the data are for animals (not people) and/or the tests were not for the whole oil but for isolated compounds of an oil. These types of studies are not valid indicators of the behavior of oils in actual practice. (p21/22) This is simply not true, and is not stated anywhere in the Essential Oil Safety text. There are many studies cited in Essential Oil Safetywhere whole essential oils were patch-tested on individuals (such as the two reports for cinnamon above), and there are many cited cases of poisoning from whole essential oils. And, see my previous comment.
There are two places where I have been mis-quoted:
1) In the preface the authors state “this text was largely an extrapolation of toxicological reports from the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM).” In other words, this book is based on data that apply only to perfume grade oils which are customarily refined, denatured, and laced with synthetics. (p787)
This is what the preface actually says:
“This book [i.e. Essential Oil Safety] replaces The Essential Oil Safety Data Manual by Robert Tisserand, first published in 1985. This text was largely an extrapolation of toxicological reports from the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM).” So , I was not referring to Essential Oil Safety at all, I was referring to a previous, and very much smaller book.
2) These authors state on p ix, “the majority of essential oils we recommend should not be available to the general public”. In their opinion, the majority of essential oils should be restricted only to what they would regard as “qualified aromatherapists.” (p788)
This is what is actually said:
“In the UK and USA at least, it is currently possible to purchase, by mail order, the majority of the essential oils which we recommend should not be available to the general public.” Stewart is trying to make it sound as if I don’t believe essential oils should be available to the general public. Of the 450 odd essential oils produced today, I do believe that a dozen or so should not be publicly sold, because they are so toxic. To suggest that I am not in favor of ordinary people having access to essential oils is just incredible. David Stewart, what do you think I have been doing for the past 40 years? Why is there a brand of essential oils called Tisserand Aromatherapy? Why are these essential oils available to anyone? Why did I write The Art of Aromatherapy in 1977? And what was I thinking when I wrote a book called Aromatherapy for Everyonein 1988?
In both cases, by omitting the first part of the sentence, the meaning has been completely changed. And in the second quote, two words were omitted to further change the meaning. It’s sad that someone should invest so much energy in writing a comprehensive text, and then sabotage it by trying to bend the truth to suit a commercial agenda. (And if there is no commercial agenda, why are Young Living products mentioned throughout the book?)
Robert Tisserand is internationally recognized for his pioneering work in many aspects of aromatherapy since 1969 and frequent contributor to the aromaconnection blog.
November 30, 2010
The "oxygenation" myth
by Robert Tisserand
It is commonly believed in some aromatherapy circles that a major therapeutic benefit of essential oils derives from the fact that they are rich in oxygen; that they efficiently carry this oxygen to the body’s cells and tissues, and thus dramatically enhance our health. Jim Lynn, for example, writes the following paragraphs under the title “Essential Oils…Nature’s Answer To Oxygen Deficiency“:
If there is any one BIG reason for you to use essential oils everyday, it can be summed up in one word…OXYGEN! Essential oils are loaded (concentrated) with it, at least 50 times more oxygen than what the plants give off from which they are derived.
While essential oils may contain hundreds of different elements, three primary elements common to all oils are hydrogen, carbon and OXYGEN. So each time you inhale essential oils or apply them to your body, you are enriching your body with needed oxygen to purge toxins and fight off disease causing pathogens. This is why the use of essential oils on a daily basis can help you develop a superior immune system, and why people who use the oils (several times daily) seldom experience illness and disease.
One of the incredible aspects of essential oils is their ability to penetrate and carry nutrients through the cell wall to the cell nucleus. Dr. Radwan Farag, Ph.D., head of the bio- chemistry department at Cairo University, is the man accredited for documenting the oxygenating and antioxidant activity essential oils afford.
When the viscosity of blood is reduced, it’s velocity increases. By increasing its velocity, our blood is able to deliver greater amounts of oxygen to tissues. When essential oils are introduced to the blood stream, they increase circulation, thereby increasing oxygenation.
Now here’s that same text, with added comment:
If there is any one BIG reason for you to use essential oils everyday, it can be summed up in one word…OXYGEN! Essential oils are loaded (concentrated) with it, at least 50 times more oxygen than what the plants give off from which they are derived. (How this “50 times” is calculated is left to the readers imagination, but we could compare oxygen in essential oils to atmospheric oxygen. Sea-level air contains 21% oxygen, and a 50 times greater concentration would be….well, impossible, as even five times would be more than 100%. Also, the predominant elements found in essential oil constituents are hydrogen and carbon, with oxygen, when it is found, a minor player. At best, a few essential oils might contain about the same concentration of oxygen as that found in the air. But that’s percent, not amount. There’s no way that essential oils could ever deliver as much oxygen as we inhale every time we breathe air.
While essential oils may contain hundreds of different elements (clue to ignorance of writer: there are only 94 naturally-occurring elements on planet Earth. And, only five of these can be found in essential oil constituents. All contain hydrogen and carbon (hence they are known as hydrocarbons) and some also contain oxygen. A few are found with nitrogen or sulfur.) three primary elements common to all oils are hydrogen, carbon and OXYGEN (yes, all essential oils probably do contain constituents with oxygen – but some, such as citrus oils, contain very little oxygen – only about 1%.) So each time you inhale essential oils or apply them to your body, you are enriching your body with needed oxygen to purge toxins and fight off disease causing pathogens. (There is an important difference between “free” or elemental oxygen, such as the oxygen found in the air we breathe, and “bound” or molecular oxygen, such as is found in some (NOT ALL!) essential oil constituents. Oxygen bound into a molecule has to be freed from its molecular chains before it can be used by the body as oxygen, and many oxygen-containing essential oil molecules do not release their oxygen when metabolized by the liver. When oxygen IS released, it often takes the form of potentially dangerous peroxides or free radicals. Of course it’s true that each time you inhale you enrich your body with oxygen, but essential oils have nothing to do with that process.) This is why the use of essential oils on a daily basis can help you develop a superior immune system, and why people who use the oils (several times daily) seldom experience illness and disease. (There’s an assumption here that more oxygen means a “superior” immune system. There’s also an assumption that people who use essential oils on a regular basis experience illness less often than those who don’t.)
One of the incredible aspects of essential oils is their ability to penetrate and carry nutrients through the cell wall to the cell nucleus. (There is no evidence that I am aware of showing that essential oil constituents can enhance the absorption of nutrients through cell walls, though it is a feasible concept. However, nutrients are not carried to the nucleus, they are stored in other parts of the cell.) Dr. Radwan Farag, Ph.D., head of the bio- chemistry department at Cairo University, is the man accredited for documenting the oxygenating and antioxidant activity essential oils afford. (Dr. Farag has published nothing about the “oxygenating” activity of essential oils. Nor has anyone else, as such a phenomenon does not exist. Dr. Farag has indeed published two papers about the antioxidant capacity of certain essential oils, and there are hundreds of articles published by other researchers on the same general subject. You will find Dr. Farag’s articles here and here). “Antioxidant” describes the capacity of those oils to protect the body from oxidative stress – damage to cells caused by oxygen in the form of reactive oxygen species, or free radicals. Oxygen can be beneficial, but it can also be harmful.
When the viscosity of blood is reduced, it’s velocity increases. By increasing its velocity, our blood is able to deliver greater amounts of oxygen to tissues. When essential oils are introduced to the blood stream, they increase circulation, thereby increasing oxygenation. (So essential oils, all of them apparently, increase the velocity of the circulation by thinning the blood, and thus cellular oxygenation is increased. It’s an interesting thought, though thinning the blood is dangerous in specific situations, such as before surgery, or in those with blood-clotting issues. Aerobic exercise, and its consequent effects on respiration, heart rate and blood circulation, is a less risky, more efficient, and time-tested way to maintain health through this type of mechanism: “Aerobic Exercise – Nature’s Answer to Oxygen Deficiency”.)
Essential oils, if anything, are part of nature’s answer to oxidative stress (at least some of them are), which is a direct or indirect cause of many health problems including stroke, sun damage and cancer. However, essential oils must themselves be protected from oxidation, a degenerative process in which they lose their freshness and their therapeutic potency. This dilemma was the subject of one of my lectures in Tokyo in September 2010: Oxidative Processes and Essential Oils.
To believe that essential oils, because they sometimes contain oxygen, are therefore able to beneficially oxygenate tissues and stimulate the immune system shows an ignorance of basic biology, and the way in which essential oils interact with the body. To cite academic articles about which you clearly understand nothing is extremely unwise. Jim, you’re giving aromatherapy a bad name. And your spelling is pretty awful, which doesn’t help. I’m just saying. Similar nonsense about essential oils and oxygenation can be found here, here, here, and on many other websites.
Robert Tisserand is internationally recognized for his pioneering work in many aspects of aromatherapy since 1969 and frequent contributor to the aromaconnection blog.
February 16, 2010
Notes & News
The authors at aromaconnection have been otherwise occupied and we apologize that it’s been rather silent here of late. We’ll be placing some major reprints of interest in the next few days. In the meantime, here are a couple of items in the news.
According to Cosmeticsdesign.com, the EPA has issued the first of its Chemical Action Plans (CAPs) that appear to strengthen the agency’s authority regarding laws that protect Americans from exposure to harmful chemicals. With this move, the EPA appears to have a new focus on phthalates and is, of course, challenged by the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The complete EPA Phthalates Action Plan can be read here. In addition to being used as a chemical ingredient to soften vinyl plastics, Diethyl phthalates (DEP) are used as a dispersing agent for reed diffusers, a popular method of adding fragrance to the household environment. Most natural products companies avoid use of DEP and you will find cautions for its use from aromatherapy companies who choose to not use synthetic chemicals. The EPA has previously established the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program beginning in 2009, with the Notice of Tier 1 Screening of the first 67 chemicals to be evaluated (order issuance for Diethyl phthalate Jan 2010). We will be watching the evaluations and update EPA resolutions as they come about.
Robert Tisserand has launched a new website which includes his I’m Just Saying blog which is a welcome new addition to internet discussions surrounding aromatherapy and the use of essential oils.
March 25, 2009
Call for Support for Firefighters/Victims in Australia
United Aromatherapy Effort is helping to mobilize efforts and donations to help wildfire relief efforts throughout Australia. Any supplies or monetary donations would be welcome.
March 21, 2009 NEWS: CALL TO ACTION
Once again the amazing power of the internet, and all our interconnections have enabled us to network this call to Action (feel free to forward).
We are mobilizing to help out with the teams already working for the Wildfire Relief Effort. The Australian Practitioners Emergency Response Network (APERN) exists to help frontline emergency workers fulfill their duties in an emergency/critical incident and to support volunteers and victims in a caring and compassionate way. The blog: http://therapistsunite.blogspot.com/2009/03/apern-bulletin-tuesday-10th-march-2009.html. It emerged from the events of Black Saturday, the 8th February, 2009 when extensive bush fires in resulted in over 200 deaths. APERN is still in its formation stages and they are all volunteers. In addition Hands on Health Australia or HOHA http://www.handsonhealth.com.au/ aims to assist communities to improve the delivery of health and other services to marginalized people, utilizing the resource of community volunteers. They are looking at setting up 7 community clinics. At present some clinics are running and others are still in progress. Some communities around Whittlesea are only just returning to their homes to begin the rebuilding stage. There are 7000 people still homeless and living in tents, having survived one of the worst tragedies. (News links on the UAE site if you need a reminder.)
Supplies (respiratory blends, relaxation, clinic supplies like towels/base oils, etc) can be sent to Tuesday Browell (firstname.lastname@example.org) 424 High Street, Echuca, Victoria Australia. 3564 mobile ph is.0428342957.
In addition Ron Guba/Essential Therapeutics in Melbourne is collection donations for oil supplies if you want to purchase local supplies toward the Relief effort: visit http://www.essentialtherapeutics.com.au he will see your purchase is mixed into respiratory blends, or other useful products and delivered via the above organizations. Ultrasonic diffusers would be great for the seven clinics if someone wants to contribute those, contact Sheriar Irani in Sydney www.subtleenergies.com.au
This is a great quick way we can help rather than sending our own supplies.
Thank you in advance for any support as we mobilize globally to help out when we can. Please feel free to forward this to any other lists or organizations, and other caring aromatic friends.
December 22, 2008
Have your own business with Lavender's Botanicals
We probably won't play it much around here, where we live it every day, but I happened across a computer game called Lavender's Botanicals.
Expand your all-natural personal care business while helping your community in Lavender’s Botanicals! Travel the world and meet people who will help you find new ingredients, recipes, new production facilities and more!
As your business grows, you’ll have to keep your production facilities stocked with resources while developing new products to keep up with the market and increase sales. If you do well and keep yourself true to your all-natural dream, you’ll earn great rewards!
I downloaded the trial version to check it out. For that, I get 60 minutes of game play before I have to drag out my credit card and spend $20 on the full version. I can Discover 56 Recipes, Solve more than 90 quests, Visit 17 unique cities, and make over 200 products.
I read through the 22 pages of help screens, lowered the music level, put the game into a window, and played the game for 19 minutes. I managed to make 6 bottles of Lavender Lotion in that time, as well as exploring the home city and talking to the aunt who is the player's mentor.
The game screens are educational in nature, providing information about ingredients and products. The product list, at least at the beginning, is limited, but you have to go searching for ingredients before you can use them.
I would guess this game is aimed at teenagers, and it appears to be an excellent educational tool about running a natural products business.
The game is from uclickgames. Derek Nolen was the Executive Producer and provided the Game Concept. Mystery Studio was the Developer.
If you're interested in a more complete review, try this review by Marc Saltzman on GameZebo.
May 04, 2008
Perfume Politics: The Oppressive Perfumer's Guild
Guilds are perhaps the precursors of modern trade unions, and also, paradoxically, of some aspects of the modern corporation. Guilds are actually small business associations and have little in common with trade unions. They are more like cartels in that they assume exclusive privilege to produce certain goods or services or dictate standards of a profession. Guilds can establish restrictive guidelines or a rigid system and can exclude those who do not abide. Guilds emerged with a similar spirit and character to the original patent systems and are not generally conducive to a democratic free flow of development and interaction.
In the modern democracy, we have created nonprofit organizations or NGO's intended to benefit a group by collective efforts and by providing public education or services that benefit society. Legal nonprofit corporations receive tax relief, but are required to provide public reporting and transparency. Such nonprofit endeavors are usually governed democratically and operated by officials periodically elected from within the membership. This creates a structure that will evolve the endeavor into the future separate from and not dependent on or owned by any one member.
The French Perfumer's Guild of antiquity was perhaps the worst example of the power a Guild over its members. Established by an edict of King Philippe-Auguste in 1190 (reconfirmed by patent letters by King Jean in 1357, again by King Henri III in 1582, and again by Louis XIV in 1658, the "confrerie des Maitres Gantiers et Parfumeurs") that primarily gave glovemakers of the extended medieval period the exclusive right (i.e., monopoly) to manufacture and sell cosmetics of all types. Why glovemakers, you ask? Gloves were made from leather tanned using urine and other toxic and putrid substances and needed to be scented before they could be respectably worn. The glovemakers were wealthy manufacturing businesses and they were quite adept at organized efforts to lobby each respective monarchy, reminding of the importance of their role in medieval society and thereby acquiring the sanction necessary to maintain their monopoly. And, one can also suspect that favors were extended. Today, we might call them bribes. As you can see, this monopoly continued for a long time and was grounded in the necessity for perfuming what would otherwise be unusable products - leather gloves. The corporation or guild, headed up primarily by master glovemakers, established the sole credentials of those who could sell gloves as well as perfumed goods and dictated the kinds of products they could manufacture . . . a long list including sachets with perfumed powders, compositions used in burners for environmental scent, pomades for the hair, soap, cosmetic creams, scented gloves and even tobacco. A quaint novelty to us today, but in common use then, was the "oyselets de Chypre." These were cloth birds in bright colors, decorated with feathers and stuffed with aromatic powders, then placed in ornate cages and hung from ceilings or walls to add fragrance to a room.
By 1750, there were 250 master perfumers, members of the corporation who had served 4 years as an apprentice and an additional 3 years as "compagnons" before reaching the status of master. For all intents and purposes, they were slaves, not free (until the Revolution that is) to work outside the confines of the guild or to develop their own trade and commerce. Only rarely were there exceptions, a notable one being René Le Florentin, Catherine de Medicis's personal and favorite perfumer. Le Florentin had a reputation for talent in creating scents and fabricating poisons! And, obviously Catherine was well positioned to demand for him premature status.
Everything changes. Along came the French Revolution, rendering perfume and other objects considered frivolous luxury symbols of excesses of the aristocracy out of favor. With the exception of popular scents like, "parfum á la Guillotine". Under the Terror, choice of scent indicated political affiliation, a kind of odorous password. Politically correct scents could literally save one from execution. Napoleon's return from conquering (so he claimed) Egypt, along with his renowned heroic status gave him the power to re-establish the importance of French manufacturing to the glory of the nation. His fondness for cologne bode well for the lagging perfume industry, establishing imperial commissions as well as scientific and technological research in organic chemistry . . . a science that would revolutionize the perfume industry in the latter half of the 1700's. Thus, the adjective "French" is aligned with the noun "civilization" and under a new empire, cosmetic luxury products had a more general and populist allure.
One would hope that we are beyond the oppressive restrictions imposed on the medieval creative perfume artists of the day and that individuality and inventiveness are the modern dictates for his or her endeavors and acceptance. And, that perfume guilds are fashioned after the democratic principles of modern non-profits and NGO's.
Stamelman, Richard, "Perfume: A Cultural History of Fragrance from 1750 to the Present", 2006, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.
Classen, Constance, Howes, David, Synnott, Anthony, "Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell", 1994, Routledge Press
Newman, Cathy, "Perfume: The Art and Science of Scent", 1998 National Geographic Press
November 18, 2007
ATTRA has funding crunch and asks our help
We received a snail-mail letter from ATTRA/NCAT (the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service/National Center for Appropriate Technology) asking for our help because delays in getting the Federal budget through Congress are impacting their budget. You can go to their website here or through the link on the blog's Agriculture and Horticulture link list to find out more information and to donate to them if you decide they are worth it. To do so, click on the button that says "Help the ATTRA Project" near the top of the page.
Any donations are tax deductible and will be directed to their ATTRA project work, which provides assistance to thousands of people interested in learning more about sustainable agriculture practices. Some of that information is about aromatic plants.
October 29, 2007
Website wins Health Care Standard of Excellence Award from Web Marketing Association
The Taking Charge of your Health Website at the University of Minnesota has won an "Health Care Standard of Excellence" award from the Web Marketing Association, according to a U of M press release. The website promotes complementary and alternative medical approaches integrated with conventional medicine, including Aromatherapy and Massage Therapy. The site is conservative and based on sound established references.