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June 29, 2008

Pine Oil Tick and Mosquito Repellent

In one of those strange serendipitous moments that can happen with Google Alerts, I visited an article entitled "Tick and Mosquito Repellent Can Be Made Commercially from Pine Oil" which describes "a naturally-occurring compound prepared from pine oil" that deters mosquito biting and repels ticks.

After I read the press release, which contains the curious statement

Some segments of the public perceive efficient synthetic active ingredients as somehow more dangerous than botanical compounds, giving additional importance to the discovery of plant-based isolongifolenone.

my interest was piqued , so I read the patent which has been issued covering the preparation of the compound and "its use in repelling arthropods". Would this product meet the requirements of the NPA Natural Products standard? Would it meet the requirements of the NIRC definition of "Natural"? It's been over 40 years since I had my last chemistry course, but I think I can figure this out.

Reading through the patent, some interesting facts are revealed. Deet has long been considered the standard for mosquito repellency,

However, Deet is a plasticizer and clinical literature reports the association of Deet with neurotoxicity in humans (Robbins, P. J., and M. G. Cherniack. J. Toxicol. Environ. Health, 18: 503-525 (1986)). Thus, there is a great need for effective alternatives to Deet.

Essentially the process of producing takes isolongifolene, which is a naturally occurring component of Pinus longifolia, and converts it to isolongifolenone, which is also naturally occurring in smaller quantities. This is done via oxidation with tert-butyl hydroperoxide in the presence of a catalyst chromium hexacarbonyl. The process has a high yield but may not meet the natural standard because benzene is used to recover the catalyst (which itself is a considered toxic).

According to Wikipedia

In common with many of the other homoleptic metal carbonyls (e.g. nickel carbonyl and iron carbonyl), chromium hexacarbonyl is toxic and thought to be carcinogenic.

Tert-butyl hydroperoxide doesn't have its own entry in Wikipedia, but a search of the ToxSeek database reveals 143 entries.  Without detailed analysis, one can only conclude that it is a toxic hazard.

The NPA Natural Standard

To see what this means, let's look at the definition of natural in the NPA Standard:

Ingredients that come or are made from a renewable resource found in nature (Flora, Fauna, Mineral), with absolutely no petroleum compounds.

OK, that may work, except for the Tert-butyl hydroperoxide, benzene and the chromium hexacarbonyl.  A check of the NPA Standard's list of prohibited ingredients doesn't have any of those on it, except for the prohibition on petroleum.  We can only conclude from this standard that the isolongifolenone would only be natural if all the traces of either the catalyst or the chemical used to remove it are completely removed.

A look at the processes allowed or disallowed in the NPA Standard reveals that this process is not on either list.  Not surprising, considering that it wasn't known when the standard was written.

NIRC Definition of Natural

The NIRC definition of Natural requires a natural material to be "present in or produced by nature, produced using minimal physical processing, and directly extracted using simple methods, simple chemical reactions or resulting from naturally occurring biological processes."  Based on this part of the definition, our product would seem to pass.  However, the NIRC definition goes on to require that "Natural Ingredients are . . . not produced synthetically, free of all petrochemicals, not extracted or processed using petrochemicals, [and] not extracted or processed using anything other than natural ingredients as solvents."

So it looks like it won't meet this requirement either, even worse than the NPA definition, because of the petrochemical ban and the non-natural catalyst and solvent situation. Even if you could get all traces of the chemicals removed from the isolongifolenone, the processing is not natural.


Based on this analysis, the repellent isolongifolenone cannot be considered a "natural" product under the definitions of either the NPA or the NIRC.

Related Information

While researching this subject, I came across a 2005 Indian study on the effectiveness of Pine Oil as an insect repellent. The pine oils used in the study was analyzed, but didn't reveal the presence of either of the two compounds involved in the patent (they were probably included in the 13% unidentified ingredients. The paper states that pine oil is used traditionally as a repellent in India.

Posted by Rob on June 29, 2008 in Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Research, Safety/Toxicity, Standards | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 18, 2008

NPA moves ahead with its "Natural" Product Seal

The Natural Products Association (NPA) has announced that applications for its "Natural Standard" certification are available. The certification process will be based on the NPA Standard published on May 1 [PDF] and discussed here previously (which is not quite ready for prime time, in this reviewer's opinion). Certification will cost $500 per product for members of the NPA, and $1,250 for non-members. The standard requires that labeled products must be made with at least 95% all natural ingredients.

Since the NPA's membership fees for suppliers are not posted on their website, it's difficult to determine what impact this will have on small suppliers who would like to use the seal.  Since the public seems to be more aware of the "Organic" designation, and there are two competing seal programs (OASIS and NSF/ANSI) out there, it may turn out that there isn't even a place for a natural products standard and certification program.  There have been other attempts to define "natural" products, notably the Natural Ingredients Resource Center (NIRC) and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CFSC). The problem with all of these is that they tend to define "Natural" (a positive) by stating what isn't natural (a negative definition).

The NPA definition of "Natural" from their May 1 version of the standard is:

Ingredients that come or are made from a renewable resource found in nature (Flora, Fauna, Mineral), with absolutely no petroleum compounds.

The NPA goes on in their draft standard to specifically list allowed and prohibited ingredients (although the natural ingredients are on an attached list that doesn't seem to be attached) and then has an "Illustrative List of Allowed Ecological Processes".

This contrasts with the NIRC definition (partially quoted):

Natural Ingredients include  plant, animal, mineral or microbial ingredients...

  • present in or produced by nature.

  • produced using minimal physical processing.*

  • directly extracted using simple methods, simple chemical reactions or resulting from naturally occurring biological processes.*

Neither of these definitions really have much "meat" compared to the definitions included in the "real" standards that have been proposed (OASIS & ANSI/NSF Organic Standards), both of which have over 60 definitions of terms that need to be precise so people know what the standard really means.

The "Natural" standard process has not been transparent and subject to the scrutiny that it needs to be subjected to. Moving ahead with it before it has been vetted by the industry and consumers is definitely not in the best interest of either. There has been some discussion of these issues in closed mailing lists, but that does little to force the NCA to open up the process and produce a real standard that has some meaning and can work effectively.

For more information, an article in the June Perfumer&Flavorist discusses "The Case for Natural Personal Care Standards." (Sorry, they make you pay for it.) Although the article contains some misinformation, it is a generally good overview of the state of standards issues as it stood before the Natural Beauty Summit.

Posted by Rob on June 18, 2008 in Politics, Regulatory Issues, Safety/Toxicity, Standards | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 08, 2008

Natural Beauty Summit tackles certification fragmentation

Cosmetics Design-Europe reported on the natural Beauty Summit held last month in New York with the headline Natural Beauty Summit tackles certification fragmentation.  We reported in this blog on the Summit before it happened, and although we were unable to attend, have been gathering information that goes beyond the sketchy report in CD-E, and we'll be reporting more in depth about the various standards and the process of their development in the near future.

Apparently the discussion got rather heated as the panel made presentations focusing on six different approaches to standardization for certification of natural and organic personal care products in North America: the USDA NOP, a Retailer's standard proposed by Whole Foods markets, Organic standards proposed by NSF and OASIS. CD-E referred to the NSF standard as being for consumer goods, but it appears to us to be equivalent to the OASIS standard and they seem to be two wheels on the same unicycle.

However, when it came to the panel discussion, Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Weleda and Intelligent Nutrients, and chair for the conference's first session on Sustainability, chose to challenge the panel on the fact that they were contributing to the fragmentation of the certification process and consumer confusion.

The panel discussion became heated, with Rechelbacher accusing the panel representatives of being self-serving and panel members defending themselves by explaining that the development of the market in the US had made private certification necessary.

Rechelbacher apologized for his comments, but stressed that he wanted to see greater regulatory harmonization.

The Natural Products standard proposed by the NPA apparently wasn't included in the discussion. As we pointed out in our discussion of that standard (see link) the orderly Standards development process mandated by ANSI isn't being followed by most of the standards developers. The one exception is the standard being proposed by NSF, which is going through the ANSI standards development process and has gone through it's first round of review, although the public has apparently not been brought in on the process yet. And neither have the independent small producers.

Coming soon: a comparison of the NSF and OASIS organic standards.

Posted by Rob on June 8, 2008 in Aromatherapy, Politics, Regulatory Issues, Standards | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 05, 2008

Struggles of Honest Aromatic Crops Businessmen in Afghanistan

image Yesterday's 'Morning Edition' on NPR featured an heroic effort in the hills of Afghanistan by Shafiq Azizi and his business partners to grow and extract roses and other aromatics as an alternative for the poppy growers who trade in the world-wide heroin industry.  Hoping to set an example, they have expended frustrated efforts and a considerable sum of invested money.  Sounds idyllic, however, Shafiq  and Barnett Rubin (an Afghanistan expert and owner of the company that supports Azizi's efforts) are finding the prospect of legal business in Afghanistan is not so attractive to those already engaged in growing poppies.  Also, the corrupt Afghanistan government is hindering any progress or growth of the rose production for perfumery by soliciting bribes and unduly hindering their operations.  An initial $29,000 investment funded the first rose fields and the building of a commercial still, but major setbacks have the investors backing out.  Hopefully, local entrepreneur Abdullah Arsallah's determination to break the cycle of the drug business, and the willingness of a farmer in a nearby village, Haji Ibrahim, will revive the effort. You can read this complete report by Ivan Watson and view video.  We will attempt to keep an eye on this situation and report further progress.       

Posted by Marcia on June 5, 2008 in Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Human Rights, Oil Crops, Perfumery, Trade Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 04, 2008

New Study Confirms psychoactive effect of [Frank]incense

A new study published in the The FASEB Journal, a journal of experimental biology

"found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior.” 

The press release goes on to cite this study as an explanation of how burning incense may have had a spiritual effect--a fact that is obvious to holistic aromatherapists. The significance of this study is that the study the mechanism that causes the effect was discovered.

There is an earlier study (2) on the anti-inflammatory effects of  Boswellia by the same authors that isolated the compound from Boswellia carterii, the common frankincense. The study authors suggest that the exact mechanism of the effect may be by activating TRPV3 that is found in neurons throughout the brain. TRPV3 is an ion channel implicated in the perception of warmth in the skin, as well as in the brain.

For this study, the incensole acetate was injected intraperitoneally into the mice, and then the mice were subjected to behavioral tests. A control group of mice that were known to be insensitive to TRPV3 stimulation was also used.

The psychoactive effects of frankincense are well known to aromatherapists, who are also aware that the the burnt resin has entirely different chemical composition than the essential oil components(3). Since the administration in this case was by injection and because incensole acetate is a (relatively minor - 2.3%) constituent of the essential oil there may be a different effect through inhalation of the essential oil; in any case this study did not address that. Reference (4) studied the Pyrolysates (burnt products) and found that insensole rises to 22% and incensyl acetate to 15.5%, so the effect may be greater when incense is used.

The study has been widely reported on in the scientific media, but as usual the press release was used as the major source and no one appears to have asked any interesting questions, which are answered in the full paper.

It would be interesting to see this study repeated using the essential oil.


(1) Arieh Moussaieff et al. Incensole acetate, an incense component, elicits psychoactivity by activating TRPV3 channels in the brain, Published online before print May 20, 2008 as doi: 10.1096/fj.07-101865. Abstract at http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/abstract/fj.07-101865v1

(2) Arieh Moussaieff et al. Incensole acetate: a novel neuroprotective agent isolated from Boswellia carterii, Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism advance online publication 16 April 2008; doi: 10.1038/jcbfm.2008.28. Abstract at http://www.nature.com/jcbfm/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/jcbfm200828a.html

(3) Lis-Balchin, Maria.  Aromatherapy Science: A guide for healthcare professionals. Pharmaceutical Press: 2006. p. 193.

(4)  Basar, Simla. Phytochemical Investigations on Boswellia Species. Dr. dissertation. University of Hamberg 2005. Online at http://deposit.ddb.de/cgi-bin/dokserv?idn=975255932&dok_var=d1&dok_ext=pdf&filename=975255932.pdf

Posted by Rob on June 4, 2008 in Aromatherapy, Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Incense, Research | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 01, 2008

Is This The End of The Indie Beauty Products Boom as We Know It?

handmade_toiletries The past decade has seen an explosion of small, independent aromatics products companies emerge from the kitchens and basements of America.  From aromatherapy wellness products creators, indie natural perfumers,  sultry incense  formulators,  handmade soap makers and makers of bath products galore - creative entrepreneurs have conjured up myriad offerings from bath fizzies to sugar scrubs to pampering spa products. 

Then, along came the Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2008, announced last month, proposing to give the FDA authority to affect new regulations that could stop the growth of this creative movement dead in its tracks.  For some, it could be the end.  Under the new rules proposed, The FDA could mandate an annual registration fee of no less than $2,000 (possibly more) per manufacturing facility.  This could put some out of business.    

The Personal Care Products Council (formerly the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association), has already testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, outlining the self-regulatory efforts of the major cosmetic industry over the past several decades.  From the written testimony of Pamela G. Bailey, CFO and President of the PCPC,   "The result of manufacturer safety practices and voluntary initiatives under a existing framework of Federal law has been an outstanding safety record that has been commended by previous FDA Commissioners.  Cosmetics and personal care products are the safest category of products regulated by the FDA."  Stephen F. Sundlof, D.V.M., Ph.D., Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, also submitted testimony which included the following:  "We believe the proposed legislation should be more closely targeted and prioritized according to risk. Several of the legislative sections appear not to be sufficiently focused on high-risk products. Some of these requirements would divert resources, which could detract from important product safety and security priorities."   While these larger entities are not arguing for or against the proposed legislation, these seem to be cautionary statements that would lead us to believe the larger industry has faith in existing industry efforts to self-regulate cosmetic safety via the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) established by CFTA in 1976 and funded entirely by the industry, evaluating more than 1,300 ingredients and publishing peer-reviewed scientific literature, available to the public. 

We are fortunate to have Donnamaria Coles Johnson who because of her passion for cosmetics and beauty products has tirelessly championed for small beauty products companies.  If you are a small cosmetic manufacturer and are not a member of the Indie Beauty Network, you are missing a plethora of ideas, education and networking to assist your business development.  Donnamaria has put up a public page to address this latest FDA issue, open to the public for comments and suggestions.   She will be preparing a position paper, using members' comments that will carry our voice to be heard by the Committees in charge of vetting public comments.  You can find Donnamaria's message and governmental links here:  http://www.indiebusinessforum.com/forumdisplay.php?f=41 

We urge all small natural cosmetic manufacturers to keep abreast of this issue and join efforts as needed to make sure that indie business doesn't get left behind.     

Posted by Marcia on June 1, 2008 in Certification, Organizations, Politics, Regulatory Issues, Research, Safety/Toxicity, Trade Issues | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack