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November 19, 2007

Essential oils and aromatherapy: A rebuttal to bunk science

For a read extremely amusing to those knowledgeable about aromatherapy, you might want to check out Essential oils and aromatherapy: A rebuttal to bunk science and the healing power of odors at the Digital Bits Skeptic Blog. The author does a skillful job of deconstructing a Young Living brochure, and publishes excerpts of e-mail correspondence with some Young Living distributors who took exception to his deconstruction. I got onto this older post through a more recent post on the same blog that continues the dialog with another YL aficionado.

Posted by Rob on November 19, 2007 in Aromatherapy, Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Notes and News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 18, 2007

Aromatherapy In Dementia Care

The use of aromatherapy in dementia care is being discussed in a series of articles at The Dementia Caregiver's Toolbox : Aromatherapy In Dementia Care - Part 1. A followon article will discuss essential oils.

Posted by Rob on November 18, 2007 in Aromatherapy, Notes and News, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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.

Posted by Rob on November 18, 2007 in Education, Horticulture, Notes and News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More on NTEF and Angel Perfume

UPDATE: This is a response to a long comment to the previous post.

Brief History

1. Aromaconnection featured an article on the NTEF's attack on Angel Perfume on Nov 12th 2007. I (Tony Burfield) had some previous correspondence with Angel de Fazio, styled as President of the National Toxic Encephalopathy Foundation NTEF in Jan 2007 on behalf of Cropwatch, in which I made enquiries on any available data - and commented on the analysis still available at http://www.national-toxic-encephalopathy-foundation.org/oculartest0001.pdf. I attempted to convey that the analysis of Angel perfume displayed was extremely poor (even this was too diplomatic) and that perhaps Cropwatch could provide a more comprehensive account of the likely components in Angel perfume. I further asked if any the components allegedly responsible for the ocular damage originally reported (actually stated as damage to the cornea) had been identified - at the time Angel de Fazio indicated that this information was not available. Angel de Fazio further indicated that the NTEF was against the perfumery & medical use of essential oils but shared Cropwatch's reservations about IFRA's apparent selective endorsement of synthetics - a position later retracted/clarified by IFRA/RIFM via a withdrawn and subsequently reworded article in Cosmetics-Design Europe - the reworded version survives at here. As an aside it might be of interest also that the private correspondence between IFRA/RIFM  and the journalist who reported the story has been internally circulated by at least one perfumery trade organisation, and that the journalist in question now works for another publication. Cropwatch has no idea whether these two events are linked. In the interests of transparency, by the way, the correspondence between the NTEF & Cropwatch is available on request from Cropwatch, as it was neither confidential nor "off the record".

2. Because Cropwatch is an Independent Watchdog, our brief is not to take sides, but to investigate issues surrounding the safe use of natural ingredients to the best of our ability. With this particular matter, we are possibly spilling over into alleged risks associated with synthetic aroma chemicals (synthetic coumarin etc.). In the real world, however, we have to be realistic: a perfume industry based 100% on natural materials would run out of ingredients very quickly, and further exploit aromatic plants to the point of extinction. It should also be mentioned that I wrote an article in 2004 on Chemophobia (on my old website at http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~nodice/new/magazine/chemophobia/chemophobia.htm) where I attempted to show that scare articles on cosmetics & perfumes such as those featured in the otherwise sensible Ecologist magazine, discredit themselves with poor technical content. 

3. The history of this matter can further be added to, by reference to the fact that I mentioned the 'Angel perfume story' to a senior member of DG-Ent. (in passing over a sandwich break) at the UEAPME (European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) Cosmetics Forum meeting in Brussels on Nov 9th 2007. I will now forward this note and a summary of events to the EU Cosmetic safety regulator, in the interests of background information on current topics in cosmetic safety. Of principle note is the claim that "As obtained thru' court documents, Clarins hid from the public their own laboratory’s confirmation that this version of the Angel formula was known to cause ocular cell necrosis." (see 4. below). If this is true then we need to know more about it.

4. The situation is further complicated by an allegation of reformulation (see "Is Clarins Angel Perfume by Thierry Muegler more toxic than before" by Angel de Fazio 27th Aug 2007) which you can find at http://pressreleasesonline.biz/pr/Is_Clarins_Angel_Perfume_by_Thierry_Mugler_now_more_toxic_than_before and other places. The feature contains various incorrect assumptions. The first analysis ("deformulation") is extremely poor and compounding these ingredients would produce a unholy mixture bearing no relationship to Angel perfume whatsoever. The second analysis is a merely a listing of so-called allergenic constituents in the perfume as required by IFRA/EU law.- again you could not construct an Angel perfume from this data listing. It appears to me that the allegations of reformulation of Angel perfume arise from a basic misunderstanding the true nature, purpose & usefulness of this data.

It gets worse. The article further treats us to listings of fragrance chemicals supposedly contained in Angel perfume with their alleged health risks, but the author does not seem to understand the difference between hazard and risk, or that toxicity is dose-related.  In this context a clear cut case of health risk from Angel perfume has not been presented, period. Further, many of the substances mentioned above are common ingredients of perfumes and/or essential oils, and are not unique to Angel perfume.

Angel Perfume

Cropwatch is still uncertain why this perfume has been particularly identified for criticism . The NTEF claims that it contains the allegedly dangerous ingredient: coumarin. However there are retailed fragrances still currently available, arguably with higher coumarin contents - for example the original "Joop Home" (Joop 1989) or "Le Male" (Jean Paul Gaultier 1995). Further, if you look at Cropwatch's review article on coumarin and its mistaken identification as an allergen in a previous SCCP Opinion at http://cropwatch.org/nlet4art4.htm you might also get some impression of the importance of coumarin in perfumery over the last century, and those natural perfumery ingredients which contain it. Coumarin was the first synthetic (synthesised by WH Perkin 1868) to be used in a fragrance (Fougere Royale), and since that time coumarin is identifiably fundamental to the fougere accord, together with lavender and bergamot.

You could take the view that Angel by Thierry Mugler (Clarins) has the elements of a chypre fragrance (with respect to the patchouli-evernyl accord), but more importantly is perhaps the first ground-breakingly successful "gourmand" fine fragrance. It is very sweet, having chocolate, red berry, praline, vanilla & cassis aspects. In a comprehensive analysis, you would expect to find veltol, patchouli, evernyl, hedione, frambinone, vanillin, canthoxal, a cassis base and certain lactones.present. Coumarin is of course a lactone.

If there is a convincing case of an identifiable health risk due to a particular fragrance ingredient in Angel, or in any other perfume, then Cropwatch, the perfume industry, & health & safety regulators, generally want to know about it. In defence of the perfume trade, when a problem is identified, moves to ban or withdraw the product take place pretty quickly. e.g. as with the removal of versalide some time ago, and with citralva in the European market just lately (although this material still currently used in the US, or so we believe). 

Coumarin toxicity.

As we mentioned in the coumarin review indicated above, a history of scientific dithering on alleged human carcinogenicity & toxicity of coumarin, says more about questions of the robustness in the methodology employed, than anything else. For example allegations of toxicity, carcinogenicity and allergenicity have been put down to impurities arising from certain manufacturing routes, and may not be present in pure coumarin or in natural materials containing coumarin. Coumarin's regulatory limits in food stuffs in the EU imposed in 1992 (2mg/Kg max in food & beverages, 50mg/Kg in chewing gum, 10mg/Kg in alcoholic drinks & 10mg/Kg in caramel confectionery) compare with a 2mg/Kg limit currently imposed by the FDA.  I suggest to you that these limits are precautionary-principle based limits based on suspicion of human carcinogenic activity rather than its robust demonstration.

We are quite concerned about the specific point of the potential bioavailability of coumarin from topical application of Angel perfume and its subsequent proposed metabolism in the liver. We believe that the typical dose of applied perfume and the rate at which coumarin can cross the dermis is too low to present a hepatotoxic insult and that any amount which is metabolised will safely be biotransformed down the 7-hydroxycoumarin route. However we are currently looking at the literature more intently to clarify whether this view is indeed correct.

Nina Immers Comments on the Angel Perfume subject

Nina Immers' long comment mentions a number of areas where fragrances might pose health risks, including a number of articles from toxicologists, who's work, many of us in the trade are quite familiar with. No overview, analysis or critique of any of the content of any of these articles is presented. With respect, we can't find too much in the comment on that is specifically related to Angel perfume, but there is a statement that coumarin is hepatotoxic in mice because it is metabolised to  coumarin 3,4-epoxide (yes, agree!), and there is evidence that this metabolic route occurs in humans (oh really ??). Traditionally we regard the metabolism of coumarin to proceed in humans fairly exclusively via the relatively less risky 7-hyrdoxycoumarin route and not to involve coumarin 3,4-epoxide at all, so we would be interested to find out more about this specific claim.

Aside from this we can agree with Nina Immers that inhalation toxicity of aromatic materials per se has not been investigated as thoroughly or robustly as their dermatological properties, and Cropwatch has specifically made this point to the EU Cosmetics Commission. We can further agree that the link between asthma & inhalation of aromatic materials needs investigative prioritising, again a point made to the EU Cosmetics Commission, although we don't see any evidence that any expert body that we can readily identify.is capable of properly undertaking such a task. We believe it is the case that these points have been taken on board by the EU regulators. On the other hand, we believe it is a mistake to take an overly simplistic view of fragrance allergy as the cause of modern day ills presented by Nina Immers, now that advances in the understanding of genetic predisposition to allergy and other parameters (such as the contribution of dietary factors) are beginning to emerge. Further the benefit side of aromatics in the risk/benefit health equation is unaddressed by Nina Immers, which makes the presented views quite unbalanced.


1. We await hard information on any substantiated proof of ocular damage from any ingredient(s) of Angel perfume.

2. As things stand, we may present a counter view to the FDA on coumarin toxicity, but only if the need arises. 

3. The authors of these pieces have done themselves few favours by presenting an unconvincing case which shows up their lack of understanding of toxicological matters as much as anything else. In Cropwatch's views the perfume industry frequently needs criticism, but is unlikely to be very bothered by the technical arguments presented in this particular attack. .

Tony Burfield

for Cropwatch


Posted by Tony Burfield on November 18, 2007 in Perfumery, Regulatory Issues, Safety/Toxicity | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

November 12, 2007

NTEF Attacks Angel Perfume via FDA

In what could be a major challenge to the American labeling regulations that allow manufacturers to skimp on accurate reporting of cosmetic ingredients, the FDA has accepted a petition from the National Toxic Encephalopathy Foundation (NTEF) to have Angel Perfume declared "Misbranded", and asked that its importation be halted until the issue is resolved. That could take a long time, given a 180 day turnaround process according to the FDA's procedures, and the general slowness of the regulatory process. Or ultimately the FDA could ignore the issue.

NTEF, which is a watchdog organization on perfume toxicity, claims on its website that the Angel perfume contains toxic ingredients that are not listed on the label. The particular ingredient of concern is coumarin, which is similar to a chemical used in rat poison and is definitely considered harmful. NTEF has requested that the FDA declare the perfume a drug, and prohibit its importation.

Angel perfume, which according to Wikipedia is the #1 perfume in France and the #8 seller in the US,  was formulated in France in 1992 by Thierry Mugler and is now distributed by Clarins, mainly through Nordstrom and other department stores.

Angel perfume actual ingredients, as determined by NTEF scientists by chemical analysis, include essential oil chemicals including alpha-pinene, d-limonene, pachouli alcohol, azulene, and many others as well as coumarin [not listed in the MSGC report, however] and diethylphthalate.  Coumarin is a common ingredient of cassia, tonka bean, clary sage, and lavender, and many other aromatic ingredients used in aromatherapy and perfumery, as well as many food items (strawberries, anyone?). Coumarin, according to a French perfumery article has been banned as a food additive in most countries for many years based on animal research that found it can be toxic in doses of 100 mg/kg/day, which are supposedly 100 times the amount that is typically used in perfumery. NTEF claims toxicity at lower level and cites several references. The issue they are most concerned about is harm to the eyes, but they are also listing possible pregnancy problems, and reduced sperm motility as possible problems, among others.

As pointed out in an article in Cosmetics Design Europe, coumarin is used in over 5,000 cosmetic formulations. The article goes on to attack the NTEF in an irresponsible manner.

I've looked over the information on the NTEF web site, and have a number of concerns about the quality of their evidence. They seem to confuse natural and synthetic chemicals, as I mentioned above coumarin didn't seem to be listed on the MSGC, and their claim that an excerpt from the Clarins 2004 Annual Report verifies their claims is questionable (I didn't see much in the way of Financial records there).  The best (highest quality, that is) article linked from their site is this one, which goes into more specific data about stated contents and their changing history, and specifically how these may be toxic. I'm not saying they are wrong; it's probably up to the FDA to determine the truth, but I think the facts may not be completely supported by the evidence they present.

I discussed this with Cropwatch via e-mail, and they pointed out that coumarin is a common perfumery ingredient and question why, if it is actually toxic, that Angel perfume should be singled out. Coumarin in a perfume would pose a very low bodily health threat because it would not migrate through the dermis. Ultimately, there is a question about whether the FDA will take the health claim seriously.

This issue will probably be around for awhile and we encourage your comments and opinions.

Posted by Rob on November 12, 2007 in Perfumery, Politics, Regulatory Issues, Safety/Toxicity | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 09, 2007

Knight Science Journalism Tracker » USA Today: Should we all worry over estrogen-mimicking pthalates, bisphenol A, etc? (A: looks like it)

This article summary of a USA Today article suggests that the tide of scientific opinion on pthalates is turning towards concern about their effects.  Long time readers of this blog will remember last February when there was an attempt to blame gynecomastia (enlarged breasts) on lavender and tea tree oil. At the time many of us wondered if perhaps some other ingredients of the materials or packaging might have caused the effects noted. I did a literature search on pthalates but could only conclude that there were lots of opinions on both sides of the issue. Eventually the gynecomastia question will need to be revisited to reach valid conclusions about whether essential oils or other factors were actually the causative.

Posted by Rob on November 9, 2007 in Lavender/Tea Tree/Gynecomastia, Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 08, 2007

Notes and News November 8

  • tgdaily reports that online perfume seller perfumebay has lost another round of its trademark appeal against eBay. perfumebay vows in their blog to fight on and appeal the case the the Supreme Court. 
  • A "Community-Based Lemon Grass Oil Production" project has won an award in the Philippines. The project plans to construct three essential oil facilities "using appropriate technologies and practical approaches in creating sustainable livelihood and alternative sources of income for poor upland communities in Negros Occidental." The project is being run by the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation Inc. (AIDFI).
  • A Japanese company is developing the computer controlled use of aromas for hi-tech marketing, according to an article in The Guardian. Preliminary experiments with lavender and orange scents produced an average sales increase of 4.8% when scents were released at a shopping mall. The study is being done using equipment developed by Air Aroma.

Posted by Rob on November 8, 2007 in Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Marketing, Notes and News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 07, 2007

November Cropwatch Newsletter is released and posted

Tony Burfield has been busy and prolific; just not here.  The November Cropwatch Newsletter is now out and posted on the Cropwatch Web Site. Tony has been so prolific that most of the newsletter is actually linked to long PDF documents discussing several issues:

  • Update of the list of Threatened aromatic plants used in the aroma industry (PDF 62 pp).
  • a presentation by Professor Jurgen Reichling of the University of Heidelberg given at the 38th ISEO Symposium in Graz in Sept 2007, entitled “External application of essential oils in animals.” (both PDF and Power Point)
  • a presentation by Dr. Hassan Khalid et. al. of CIMAP on “Trade of Sudanese natural medicinals and their role in human & wildlife healthcare” (PDF and Power Point)

Tony also includes some news and hints about materials coming up in the next issue.

We didn't link directly to the PDF links because you should go to the source site to get them and read them. These are definitely important and interesting papers, and the Power points have some great pictures, particularly from the Sudan.

Posted by Rob on November 7, 2007 in Aromatherapy, Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Research | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Blog Profiles: Veria - Aromatherapy Blog by Judy Griffin, PhD

A few months ago I noticed the startup of the Veria network that is running a Health and Wellness channel on Dish satellite TV. I had intended to blog about it, but apparently never actually posted it.  This week  I went back to the site to see how it was progressing and discovered that although there is apparently no recognizable aromatherapy or perfumery content on the show, there is an Aromatherapy Blog hosted by aromatherapist Judy Griffin, PhD. (If this link doesn't work, go to http://www.veria.com, click on community, then pick Blogs off the list.)

Judy Griffin is an aromatherapist from Dallas-Fort Worth Texas, the author of at least two books (Flowers that Heal: Aromas, Herbs, Essences and Other Secrets of the Fairies and  Mother Nature's Herbal ), with over 20 years of experience in aromatherapy, herbalism, and aromatherapy.

Judy has done a series of blog posts, averaging one or two a month, that provide a good introduction to aromatherapy for those who are unfamiliar with it. She starts with an introduction "The Power of Scent" and moves through discussions of carrier oils, essential oil safety, hydrosols, aromatherapy for children and for pets, and hair care. The blogs contain recipes and safety tips. The latest blog posts is Exotic Essential Oils: Part One.

This is an excellent introduction and emerging information blog on aromatherapy. One problem I see is that the blog interface is nonstandard, but that is a function of the Veria.com site, which has all the bells and whistles (TV Schedules, News, Veriapedia, blogs, forum, product list, and shopping cart) combined into a common web site design that requires some compromises with each of the standard geek formats. Overall this is successful, so my quibbles about the loss of a few blog features (links, lists, feeds, etc.) are just that. One thing that would improve the site is to add full video for the network programs, for the benefit of those who don't have Dish TV but would like to see them (they do show trailers . . .).

Veria is attempting an ambitious program in the wellness/alternative world with a TV channel, a chain of wellness centers (only one open so far, in Plano Texas), online news, blogs, and forum, as well as an online store. There are blogs and forums on many other topics than aromatherapy. They are apparently getting a fair amount of traffic, since their Alexa rating is around 200,000.

Posted by Rob on November 7, 2007 in Aromatherapy, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

November 05, 2007

Magickal Realism » You, Me, and the FDA

Magickal Realism (Blogging the naturals life) is doing a series on the FDA and the rules and regulations affecting cosmetics and natural perfumery. Just out is Part 2, which is getting into the details of the regulations, preceded by last week's Part 1 Introduction. This is a good introduction for the layperson or user about what the FDA does and how it affects manufacturers, artisan perfumers, and consumers (and it has some great pictures). It also has links to the actual regulations.

Posted by Rob on November 5, 2007 in Perfumery, Regulatory Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack