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December 16, 2008

IFRA Gives Up Supporting More Natural Aromatics: Opoponax & Styrax Next for the Chop

by Tony Burfield December 2008

For a long time, many of us have suspected, rightly or wrongly, that IFRA’s underlying policy agenda is primarily to support synthetic aroma chemicals at the expense of natural aromatic ingredients. This is because synthetics have attractions over natural aromatics for the major aroma industry players, who, after all, financially support the IFRA/RIFM/REXPAN toxicology juggernaut. These perceived advantages include the fact that synthetic aroma chemicals are compositionally non-complex, which infers paybacks for simpler regulatory safety compliance. They are invariably cheaper, they can sometimes be produced in-house, & they and their applications may be patentable. Their composition is constant, and unlike natural aromatic ingredients, their price stability & constancy of supply are variables which are not so subject to the vagaries of the world’s ever-changing climate.

To set the scene further, IFRA have failed recently to properly support the continued use of citrus oils in perfumery in relation to the EU Cosmetic Commissioner’s proposed draconian restrictions arising from possible photo-carcinogenic risks from contained FCF’s, and look equally likely to cave in over SCCP proposals to limit atranol & chloratranol in lichen products (oakmoss, treemoss, cedarmoss etc.). IFRA’s failure to support santolina oil and melissa oil can also be added to the list. This policy of abandoning of ingredients they regard as less important, indicates that IFRA are not supporting the wider interests of the perfumery art, but merely reflecting the narrower business interests of their major sponsors. There is a vacancy to be urgently filled, therefore, for a competent safety organisation with a wider brief.

In a new departure, IFRA’s Information Letter 815 indicates that opoponax (which they claim botanically derives from ‘Commiphora Erythrea var. glabrascens Engler’ – we have reproduced their incorrect botanical formatting) does not have robust enough data to allow application of Quantitative Risk Assessment (QRA) methodology, and that there is a need for more ‘up to date’ sensitization data. IFRA claims it cannot support the required studies financially, and without these studies there is a high risk that IFRA will prohibit the material. Similarly for styrax (which they claim, with slightly more botanical accuracy, is obtained from exudations of ‘Liquidambar Styraciflua L. var. macrophylla or Liquidambar Orientalis Mill.’). It is not our fault, however, that IFRA have adopted a policy over sensitiser potency estimation (i.e. the QRA methodology) which it seemingly can’t afford, and which both the SCCP & Cropwatch have widely criticised as being flawed in practice (see Cropwatch Newsletter at http://www.cropwatch.org/newslet13.pdf).

Bear with me whilst we revisit the botany again. Mabberley (1998), Langenham (2003), Gachathi (1997) and others, describe opoponax qualities deriving not only from Commiphora erythraea Engl. var. glabrescrens Engl. growing in Somalia, Kenya, E. Ethiopia, and S. Arabia, but also from other species such C. guidottii (Chiov) from S. Somalia & Ethiopia, which Mabberley, the ANLAP data-base and Cropwatch regard as the primary source of opoponax. Other species used as a source of opoponax include C. kataf (Forssk.) Engl., C. holtiziana Engl. spp. holtziana & C. pseudopaoli JB Gillet. Cropwatch previously briefly reviewed the chemistry of the essential oils from these species at http://www.cropwatch.org/cropwatch11.htm. Let’s also remember that the SCCP Opinion on opoponax oil (Sensitisation only) SCCP/0871/05 adopted 15th March 2005 can be found at: http://europa.eu.int/comm/health/ph_risk/committees/04_sccp/docs/sccp_o_025b.pdf. Here the SCCP committee concluded that “The provided data do indicate that Commiphora Erythraea Glabrescens has an allergenic potential.” Cropwatch, you might remember, declared the SCCP Opinion on opoponax sensitization scientifically invalid on a number of points, not the least that the RIFM evidence cited failed to accurately identify the botanical & geographic origins of opoponax qualities used in the sensitivity protocol testing, and failed to establish the absence of adulteration, and dismissed the remainder of the evidence too flimsy to merit serious consideration.

Opoponax oil is a useful material that the perfumery art cannot afford to lose. Freshly dipped on a perfumers strip it is sweet, oily, and balsamic and almost effervescent in character, and is used in oriental accords, and to reinforce opoponax resinoids. It also finds use to freshen top notes in apple accords and to give a sweet lift to chypre fragrances. Whereas opoponax oil is primarily a top-note material, the sweeter, buttery, toffee-like and balsamic opoponax absolute is used in oriental-type fragrances as part of the sweet balsamic base notes. Under the existing IFRA Standard, opoponax extracts and distillates prepared from the gum must not exceed 0.6% concentration in product.

Styrax also, apparently, to be potentially abandoned by IFRA on QRA testing-cost grounds, also has an important place in the art of perfumery and is derived from a number of Liquidambar spp.: Liquidambar styraciflua L. var. macrophylla; L. styraciflua L. var. orientalis; L. styraciflua L. var. integriloba, & L. styraciflua L. var. formosana. Styrax gums have been banned IFRA since 1977; only extracts & distillates are permitted under the existing IFRA Standard, and the final concentration in product must not exceed 0.6%. Styrax resinoid has a complex odour comprising sweet, balsamic & fresh elements and possesses a great deal of lift & radiance. It has been used in perfumery as a fixative in oriental fragrances, and in chypres. It is also useful in constructing hyacinth and leather notes, and for powdery accords, with vanillin, heliotropin etc. As Cropwatch points out in its latest Threatened Species Data-base A-Z listing, styrax qualities used to be heavily used as fragrance ingredients, but IFRA requirements to produce a skin-neutral product have resulted in ingredients with less useful attractive odour characteristics, and so its fragrance ingredient usage has plummeted. So not only has IFRA been instrumental in the decline of styrax usage in perfumery, it is now apparently performing the last rites over a fatally disabled ingredient. Although commercially available from several producing areas, Honduras (‘American’) and Turkish (‘Asian’) styrax from Liquidamber styraciflua & L. orientalis respectively have dominated the market, but the US has always favoured the Honduras material. However with worries that the Liquidamber orientalis forest in the Eastern Mediterranean/Turkey is now greatly reduced through wood-felling and resin extraction (Topal et al. 2008 say the species is facing extinction), Cropwatch can no longer support the use of commodities from this species in perfumery.

The inevitable reduction in availability of Asian styrax as the Turkish forests disappear, will probably result in the increased extraction of other styrax sources. Just as long as they leave the styrax trees alone in the Valley of the Butterflies on the island of Rhodes.…


Gachathi F. N. (1997) “Recent Advances on Classification and Status of Main Gum-Producing Species in the Family Burseraceae” available at http://www.fao.org/documents/show_cdr.asp?url_file=/docrep/X0098e/X0098e01.htm

Langenham J. (2003) Plant Resins: Chemistry, Evolution, Ecology, Ethnobotany Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

Mabberley D.J. (1998) The Plant Book 2nd rev edn. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Topal U., Sassaki M., Goto M. & Otles S. (2008) “Chemical compositions and antioxidant properties of essential oils from nine species of Turkish plants obtained by supercritical carbon dioxide extraction and steam distillation.” International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 59(7-8), 619-634.

Posted by Tony Burfield on December 16, 2008 in Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Perfumery, Regulatory Issues, Safety/Toxicity | Permalink


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