Volatile chemical emissions from essential oils


Essential oils, widely used in society, emit numerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some of these VOCs are considered as potentially hazardous under federal regulations. However, essential oils are exempt from disclosure of their ingredients on their label. Thus, the public may lack information on emissions and potential hazards from essential oils. This study examined VOCs emitted from a range of commercial essential oils, including tea tree oils, lavender oils, eucalyptus oils, and other individual oils and mixtures of oils. Using headspace gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), the study analyzed 24 commercial essential oils, including 12 with claims of being “natural” or related terms, such as organic, 100% pure, or plant-based. Results identified 595 VOCs emitted from the 24 essential oils, representing 188 different VOCs. The most common VOCs emitted were alpha-pinene, limonene, acetone, linalool, alpha-phellandrene, beta-myrcene, and camphene. Among the 589 VOCs identified, 124 VOCs, representing 33 different VOCs, are classified as potentially hazardous. All natural and regular essential oils emitted one or more potentially hazardous VOCs, such as acetaldehyde, acetone, and ethanol. Toluene was also found in 50% of essential oils. Moreover, for the prevalent VOCs classified as potentially hazardous, no significant difference was found between regular and natural essential oils. This study provides insights and information about emissions of commercial essential oils that can be useful for public awareness and risk reduction.

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The study received support from the Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship (RTP), through the University of Melbourne; the Australian Department of Education and Training (Australian Postgraduate Award); and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). This article is dedicated to the memory of Neda Yarmahmoudi.

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Correspondence to Neda Nematollahi.

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Nematollahi, N., Kolev, S.D. & Steinemann, A. Volatile chemical emissions from essential oils. Air Qual Atmos Health 11, 949–954 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-018-0606-0

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  • Essential oils
  • Fragrance
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Emissions
  • Ingredients