Volatile chemical emissions from essential oils with therapeutic claims


Essential oils emit many volatile organic compounds (VOCs), with some considered potentially hazardous. However, little is known about specific emissions from essential oils that make therapeutic claims for health and well-being. This study investigated VOCs emitted from 14 commercially available essential oils with therapeutic claims, such as beneficial for coughs, colds, flus, relaxation, sleep, tension, headaches, stress, or skin irritation. The essential oils were selected from different brands and types, such as tea tree oil, lavender oil, eucalyptus oil, geranium oil, peppermint oil, bergamot oil, orange oil, and oil blends. Analyses were performed using headspace gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). The analyses found 1034 VOCs emitted from the 14 essential oils, representing 378 VOC identities. The most prevalent VOCs (in more than 90% of the oils) were acetaldehyde, alpha-phellandrene, alpha-pinene, camphene, limonene, methanol, terpinolene, 3-carene, acetone, beta-phellandrene, ethanol, and gamma-terpinene. Among the 1034 VOCs emitted, 251 VOCs, representing 60 VOC identities, are classified as potentially hazardous. The most prevalent potentially hazardous VOCs were acetaldehyde, limonene, methanol, acetone, ethanol, and 3-carene. Toluene was found in more than 70% of the essential oils. Each of the essential oils emitted 9 or more potentially hazardous VOCs. Fewer than 1% of all VOCs identified and fewer than 1% of all potentially hazardous VOCs were listed on any essential oil label, safety data sheet, or website. Results from this study provide new findings on VOC emissions from essential oils with therapeutic claims, which can help to improve public awareness about potential exposures and risks.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. (AOEC) Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (2020) Exposure Code List. Asthmagens. http://www.aoecdata.org/. Accessed Jul 2020

  2. (EPA) Environmental Protection Agency (2017) Initial list of hazardous air pollutants with modifications. https://www.epa.gov/haps/initial-list-hazardous-air-pollutants-modifications. Accessed Jul 2020

  3. (EPA) Environmental Protection Agency (2018) Prioritized Chronic Dose-Response Values. Weight of evidence for carcinogenicity. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-05/documents/table1.pdf. Accessed Jul 2020

  4. (OEHHA) The Proposition 65 List 2020. Chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/proposition-65-list. Accessed Jul 2020

  5. Cavanagh HM, Wilkinson JM (2002) Biological activities of lavender essential oil. Phytother Res 16(4):301–308

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Chiang HM, Chiu HH, Lai YM, Chen CY, Chiang HL (2010) Carbonyl species characteristics during the evaporation of essential oils. Atmos Environ 44:2240–2247

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Chiu HH, Chiang HM, Lo CC, Chen CY, Chiang HL (2009) Constituents of volatile organic compounds of evaporating essential oil. Atmos Environ 43:5743–5749

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Francis GW, Stusdal TK (2014) Differential evaporation of aromatherapy mint oils. Air Qual Atmos Health 7:481–487

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Huang HL, Tsai TJ, Hsu NY, Lee CC, Wu PC, Su HJ (2012) Effects of essential oils on the formation of formaldehyde and secondary organic aerosols in an aromatherapy environment. Build Environ 57:120–125

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Milhem SA, Verriele M, Nicolas M, Thevenet F (2020) Does the ubiquitous use of essential oil-based products promote indoor air quality? A critical literature review. Environ Sci Pollut Res 11:1–47

    Google Scholar 

  11. Nematollahi N, Kolev SD, Steinemann A (2018a) Volatile chemical emissions from essential oils. Air Qual Atmos Health 11(8):949–954

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Nematollahi N, Doronila A, Mornane PJ, Duan A, Kolev SD, Steinemann A (2018b) Volatile chemical emissions from fragranced baby products. Air Qual Atmos Health 11:785–790. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-018-0593-1

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Safe Work Australia (SWA), Hazardous Chemical Information System (HCIS): search hazardous chemicals, http://hcis.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/HazardousChemical, Accessed Jul 2020

  14. Sarkic A, Stappen I (2018) Essential oils and their single compounds in cosmetics—a critical review. Cosmetics 5(1):11

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Shaaban HA, El-Ghorab AH, Shibamoto T (2012) Bioactivity of essential oils and their volatile aroma components. J Essent Oil Res 24(2):203–212

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Steinemann A, Nematollahi N, Rismanchi B, Goodman N, Kolev SD (2020) Pandemic products and volatile chemical emissions. Air Qual Atmos Health. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-020-00912-9

Download references


We thank the supporters of this study: the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub, funded by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program; and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Land and Water. We also thank the anonymous reviewers of this paper.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Neda Nematollahi.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material


(DOC 808 kb)


(DOCX 46 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Nematollahi, N., Weinberg, J.L., Flattery, J. et al. Volatile chemical emissions from essential oils with therapeutic claims. Air Qual Atmos Health 14, 365–369 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-020-00941-4

Download citation


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