Volatile chemical emissions from essential oils with therapeutic claims

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Neda Nematollahi.

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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

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Keywords

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