Selected Toxicities of Common Essential Oils and Their Components

Limonene and Linalool are found in a multitude of the commonest aromatherapy oils.

Limonene is a common industrial cleaner and is also the main citrus oil component, which causes ACD, particularly when aged (Chang et al., 1997; Karlberg and Dooms-Goossens, 1997). The major volatile component of lactating mothers' milk in the USA was found to contain d-limonene and the component is used as a potential skin penetration promoter for drugs such as indometacin, especially when mixed with ethanol (Falk-Filipsson et al., 1993). Lastly, cats and dogs are very susceptible to insecticides and baths containing d-limonene, giving rise to neurological symptoms including ataxia, stiffness, apparent severe CNS depression, tremors, and coma (von Burg, 1995; see also Beasley, 1999).

Linalool, when oxidized for just 10 weeks, the linalool content fell to 80% and the remaining 20% consisted of a range of breakdown chemicals including linalool hydroperoxide, which was confirmed as a sensitizing agent. The fresh linalool was not a sensitizer; therefore, the EC regulations that are warnings about sensitization potential are looking for potential harm even on storage (Skoeld et al., 2002a, 2002b).

Most cosmetics and perfumes are tested on human "guinea pigs" using similar tests to those described for animals. These are demanded by the RIFM as a final test before marketing a product. Further data are accumulated from notifications from disgruntled consumers who report dermatitis, itching, or skin discoloration after use. These notifications can result in legal claims, although most cases are probably settled out of court and not reported to the general public.

The internet has made it possible for a trusting, although often ill-informed, public to purchase a wide range of dubious plant extracts and essential oils. Even illegal essential oils can now be obtained. Furthermore, unqualified people can offer potentially dangerous advice, such as internal usage or the use of undiluted essential oils on the skin for "mummification," or in order to rid the body of toxic waste. The latter can result in excruciating pain from the burns produced and the subsequent loss of layers of skin.

There is a recipe for suntan oil, including bergamot, carrot seed, and lemon essential oils (all phototoxic) in an aromatherapy book (Fischer-Rizzi, 1990). The author then advises that bergamot oil is added to suntan lotion to get the bonus of the substance called "furocumarin," which lessens the skin's sensitivity to the sun while it helps one to tan quickly. This could cause severe burns. Elsewhere, sassafras (Ocotea pretiosa) was said to be only toxic for rats, due to its metabolism and not dangerous to humans (Penoel, 1991a, 1991b) and a 10% solution in oil was suggested for treating muscular and joint pain and sports injuries. Safrole (and sassafras oil) is, however, controlled under the Controlled Drugs Regulations (1993) and listed as a Category 1 substance, as it is a precursor to the illicit manufacture of hallucinogenic, narcotic, and psychotropic drugs like ecstasy.

French practitioners and other therapists have apparently become "familiar" with untested oils (Guba, 2000). The use of toxicologically untested Nepalese essential oils and the like includes lichen resinoids, sugandha kokila oil, jatamansi oil, and Nepalese lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosa), also Tagetes oil (Basnyet, 1999). Melaleuca rosalina (Melaleuca ericifolia), 1,8-cineole 18-26%, is apparently especially useful for the respiratory system (Penoel, 1998), but it is untested and could be a sensitizer.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the United Kingdom may bring about changes in aromatherapy practice similar to their threat on herbal remedies. Aromatherapists are now using some potentially harmful products in their therapy. This immediately places them at serious risk if there is any untoward reaction to their specific treatment. It virtually means that bottles and containers of essential oils now rank with domestic bleach for labeling purposes and companies are now obliged to self-classify their essential oils on their labels and place them in suitable containers; this applies both to large distributing companies as well as individual aromathera-pists reselling essential oils under their own name. Finally, new legislation has gone to the Council of Ministers and may imply that only qualified people will be able to use essential oils, and retail outlets for oils will be pharmacies. Their definition of "qualified" is limited to academic qualifications—doctors or pharmacists.

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