Cosmetic Products and Essential Oils: History, Safety, and Regulation

There's often an allurance to essential oils - jasmine, lavender, tea tree, patchouli, peppermint, and rose are a few oils that exist of hundreds, each with their own characteristics, uses, and histories. Essential oils are highly potent compounds; for example, it requires about forty pounds of roses to produce only ¼ ounce of rose essential oil. The mass production of essential oils has, therefore, heavily relied on various methods to accelerate and cheapen the process. What are we paying for when we buy essential oils, and what is known about the safety of these products? What does history reveal about the safety and regulation of cosmetic products, such as essential oils?

The emergence of synthetic biology and technologies has allowed scientists to create “essential oils” that are synthetically made in the lab, as opposed to using natural sources extracted from plants, trees, flowers, etc. Even naturally sourced essential oils cannot be used without caution, for they are highly potent, volatile, and must be used responsibly. In addition, many “essential oils” products are labeled as “natural”, even though most are indeed synthetic or contain synthetic additives. The use of chemicals to mimic the fragrance of essential oils is a large concern for consumers, health care professionals, individuals with multiple chemical sensitivities, spa professionals and more, for such chemicals are rarely listed on product packaging. Furthermore, the cases of severe allergic reaction due to essential oils (natural and/or synthetic) have been on the rise, and essential oils are now one of the top twenty substances reported to American Poison Control Centers. A plethora of misleading and inaccurate information regarding essential oils can be found anywhere - on the internet, product packaging, and through those that share common misconceptions. Essential oils appear in current trends like that of “natural medicine”, “aromatherapy”, and the like, making the need for research and education even more pressing. ;xNLx;;xNLx;The safety of consumer and cosmetic products has long been of concern to the public, especially women. In 1933, for example, a 38 year-old woman had her eyebrows and eyelashes tinted with the product Lash Lure; a chemical in the product, paraphenylenediamine, resulted in ulcers, weeks of horrendous irritation, and eventual blindness. This woman was not alone, as was exemplified in the numerous case studies of the “Chamber of Horrors” collections. The “Chamber of Horrors” was exhibited to Congress in 1933 in efforts to illustrate needs for new policies regarding product safety. Ruth de Forest Lamb, a female author and educational officer at the FDA, published The American Chamber of Horrors in 1933 to detail the collection’s contents, and highlight the need for consumer protection and safety. As products continue to diversify and now, synthetically evolve, consumer safety concerns continue to grow. As part of The UCLA Center for the Study of Women’s initiative, “Share the Air”, this historical timeline aims to highlight the evolution of cosmetic product safety and essential oils over the past 200 years. ;xNLx;;xNLx;This timeline is comprised of five major categories: Safety and Regulation, Scientific Reports and Studies, Synthetic Science, Business, and Gender.;xNLx;;xNLx;Safety and Regulation: As the American Pharmaceutical Association, Food and Drug Administration, and other entities have developed guidelines for consumer products, the history of regulatory events regarding cosmetics and essential oils can be followed.;xNLx;;xNLx;Scientific Reports and Studies: The timeline also notes scientific reports and studies regarding medical research and other findings that directly relate to essential oils' implicative nature in health and technology. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Synthetic Science: Synthetic science has especially blossomed in recent history, and serves as a huge catalyst in the formation of fraudulent and sometimes dangerous chemicals that are sold on the market as “essential oils”.;xNLx;;xNLx;Business: Businesses play a huge role in the production and distribution of cosmetic and essential oil products, and some noteworthy events are captured in this timeline. ;xNLx;;xNLx;Gender: Thousands of women have been involved with product safety, policy, research, and more. This timeline highlights the success of some of many women that have contributed to cosmetic and essential oil product safety, activism, education, and the like. In addition, essential oils have gendered implications in terms of product branding, marketing, and safety.

1828-01-01 00:35:53

Early Breakthrough in Synthetic Science

Urea, commonly known as urine, was synthetically made in a laboratory by German scientist Friedrich Wohler. This finding inspired other scientists to begin synthesizing hundreds of other organic compounds in the lab.

1856-03-20 09:08:37

The "Slime of Life"

Felix Dujardin claimed to have found "the slime of life", which he believed possessed the chemical basis needed to build new forms of life.The slime was made by crushing microscopic animals down into a gelatinous pulp.

1870-09-01 23:21:28

The Pure Food Movement

The Pure Food Movement - a grass roots phenomenon that sprouted in the 1870s - was a principal source of political support for the Food and Drugs Act of 1906.

1880-03-04 23:07:33

Discovery of Terpenes

F. W. Semmler releases findings on terpenes and terpene derivatives. Through these new findings, essential oil after essential oil were analyzed. Scientists began synthesizing the oils' constituents and manufacturing new products in the market.

1899-09-01 04:32:17

Patent: Synthetic Violet-Oil and Process of Making Same

"An improvement in the manufacture of perfumes by condensing an aldehyde of the formula C ll O, as cit-ral, withmethylpentenone (oxid of mesityl) under the influence of an alkaline reagent, substantially as described. The result is a yellowish oil having very sweet and delicate odor resembling that of violets and iris-root and boiling at about 162 centigrade under a pressure of ten millimeters."

1900-07-01 00:51:16

Invention of Chromatogrophy

Mikhail Tsvet invents a chromatography system, which allows individuals to separate the molecules of a given chemical. Chromatography is now often used to test essential oils and their authenticity.

1900-09-06 23:21:28

Medicine Circuses and Entertainment

Hamlin's Wizard Oil exhibited popular and spectacular shows, where "medicine men" would attract crowds and sell the products. In 1905, news coverage spread of the great harm experienced by a group of women that bought and used the oil.

1902-07-01 16:20:25

Poison Squad

Harvey Wiley creates the "Poison Squad", which was a group of volunteer men that agreed to only eat food that was treated with certain amounts of measured chemicals. The goal of the "Poison Squad" was to test which and what chemicals are safe for human consumption.

1902-12-01 16:39:52

American Pharmaceutical Association Founded

Harvey Wiley announced the formation of the American Pharmaceutical Association.The Association aimed to standardize pharmaceutical products and their testing standards.

1906-01-01 00:35:53

Food and Drugs Act of 1906

The Foods and Drug Act of 1906 was one of the first major regulatory laws established by an organization that is today the FDA. The Food and Drugs Act of 1906 aimed to prevent the distribution and sale of misleading, toxic and/or faulty products.

1908-03-06 07:05:18

M. Brown and Sons

Morris Brown begins producing and trading peppermint oil in Indiana, shifting his life's work from farm produce, to the production of peppermint oil. In 1974, M. Brown and Sons merged with the Lebermuth Company, and continues to manufacture essential oils to this day.

1908-07-01 16:20:25

Inspection Manuals

Dr. Wiley wrote the first Inspectors Manual in 1908, which aimed to identify health hazards in consumer products.

1922-09-01 04:32:17

Patent: Combined Face Powder and Skin Bleach

"The composition of matter consisting of a combination of a face powder with a skin bleach, said skin bleach including zinc perborate, sodium peroxide, and oil of lemon, whereby to produce a preparation displaying the property of a face powder'and a skin bleach combined."

1929-09-06 04:32:17

Patent: Procedure in the Production of a Perfume or Cosmetic

"1. As a new product suitable for use as a cosmetic or a perfume, a composition of matter comprising an oil, selected from a group consisting of fatty oils and paraflin oil, admixed with from 5 to 20 per cent by weight of an essential oil; the said oils being mutually dissolved, the composition being free from cloudiness and the liquid mixtures possessing viscosities which follow a substantially hyperbolic curve. 2. The composition of claim 1 in which the essential oil is lavender oil. 3. The composition of claim 1 in which the essential oil is lavender oil and the oil is paraflin oil. 4. As a new product suitable for use as a cosmetic, a composition of matter comprising parafiin oil and approximately 5 per cent by weight of lavender oil. 5. In the production of cosmetics, the process which comprises adding a small proportlon of an essential oil to an oil, selected from a group consisting of fatty oils and parafiin oil, and irradiating the same until cloudiness disappears and mutual solution is produced."

1930-03-01 07:05:18

Essential Oil of Turtle

"Turtle Oil" is advertised and sold as a skin care product. Since turtles live to be quite old, it was thought that turtle oil must have "rejuvenating" properties for the skin.

1930-07-03 10:43:56

Beginning of Food and Drug Administration

The Bureau of Chemistry changes its name to the Food and Drug Administration, which persists today.

1932-07-07 10:30:09

Patent: Deodorant Composition, Assigned by Feminine Products Inc.

"Use for this purpose a synthetic wax known as glyco wax since ingredients are free from possibility of decomposition and mix perfectly with the other ingredients of my preparation. Perfumes of any suitable type may be added, if desired, and such perfumes as oil of bey, oil of cloves, lavender oil and oil of bergamot or various mixtures of such substances have been found satisfactory. As a cutaneous sedative, I prefer to use zinc oleatc." This patent was assigned by Feminine Products Inc.

1933-07-06 22:10:22

The American Chamber of Horrors

The female author, activist, and FDA chief educational officer, Ruth De Forest Lamb, published the book "The American Chamber of Horrors". The book describes a collection of case studies of various atrocious, life threatening, and fatal reactions consumers had to various drug and cosmetic products.

1933-12-01 12:35:14

Lash Lure

The product "Lash Lure" induced severe allergic reactions among several women, some of whom became blind. These events prompted more activism to take place for consumer safety.

1938-04-01 01:49:48

Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938

This act required that all drugs be labeled with adequate instructions, especially if the drug is known to have harmful effects. The act also gave the FDA authority to randomly inspect any drug manufacturing facilities.

1962-01-01 04:52:25

Kefauvner-Harris Amendments

The Kefauver-Harris Amendments were passed in the United States, which required all products marketed to be proven "safe and effective".

1962-03-01 13:09:04

Frances O. Kelsey Recognized by President John F. Kennedy

Frances O. Kelsey, a female doctor and FDA medical doctor, received the Distinguished Federal Civilian Service Award from President John F. Kennedy. Kelsey refused approval for the sedative thalidomide, which was eventually found to have led to thousands of infant deformities and abnormalities throughout Europe, where it was widely used.

1982-02-03 12:52:27

National Trade Association of Herbal Products

The "American Herbal Products Association" was formed; the association is the national trade association of the United States, and now has over 350 member companies.

1983-11-01 05:22:31

Toxic Exposure Centers

Sixteen AAPCC Toxic Exposure Centers are established throughout the United States.

1983-11-01 12:53:56

Toxic Exposure Surveillance Systems Established

The American Association of Poison Control (AAPC) began establishing "Toxic Exposure Surveillance Systems". The Systems promote prevention, education, regulation, research, and more.

1987-01-01 08:51:28

Medical Malpractice

Don Gary Young, the owner and CEO of Young Living, owned a "naturopath" clinic in Rosarita beach in the '80s. The clinic claimed to help heal individuals naturally from cancer, heart disease, and other ailments. A Los Angeles reporter sent the clinic blood samples of a seven-year old cat. The clinic responded saying that the patient's blood indicated "aggressive cancer", and that they offered a detoxification program for $2000 a week. The cat was actually healthy, however, and even belonged to a veterinarian. Young's clinic tried to convince the reporter otherwise.

1989-12-01 13:19:53

Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy

The Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy was formed with the mission of improving education standards in all aspects of aromatherapy, including the safe and effective use of essential oils.

1991-10-18 17:59:18

Toxic Exposure Surveillance Systems

Seventy-three Toxic Exposure Surveillance Systems are set up around the United States.

1992-01-01 00:35:53

Adultered Chemicals in Chinese Hospitals

A large-scale study in Taiwan found that, on average, 24% of tested samples contained adultered, synthetic chemicals; such chemicals are used to mimic natural medicines used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as essential oils. However, product labels did not accurately list the sample ingredients.

1993-01-01 01:04:14

The Company Young Living is Established

Utah resident Donald Gary Young founded the company Young Living. Young Living is a major world business in the essential oils market, and has branches in Utah, Japan, Australia, Europe and multiple other places across the globe.

1993-02-05 16:45:15

Unconventional Medicine in the United States

Eisenberg reports that at least one in three Americans have used "unconventional therapies". Unconventional therapies are any interventions not taught broadly in US medical schools, such as massage therapy, aromatherapy, and more. Eisenberg concludes that medical practitioners must be aware of such interventions, and ask their patients about these medical histories.

1994-11-01 05:22:31

The Dietary Suplement Health and Education Act

The Dietary Suplement Health and Education Act classified herbs as "dietary" supplements, and also made the FDA responsible for proving in federal court that a product is in fact "unsafe" before it can be removed from the market.

1998-06-13 08:23:03

Essential Oil Testing

Essential oil chemist, Dr. Robert S. Pappas, started the Applied Essential Oil Research Organization; the organization aims to provide consumers with free and reliable methods of testing essential oils for safety and legitimacy.

1998-07-01 16:20:25

Cosmetic and Personal Care Products

Cosmetics and personal care products accounted for 210,224 toxic human exposure cases

1998-11-01 05:22:31

24,803,585 Incidents Reported

24,803,585 total human exposures reported to the AAPPC Toxic Exposure Surveillance System.

1999-03-01 01:18:19

Plant Induced Seizures

The essential oils of 11 plants were found to be powerful convulsants (eucalyptus, fennel, hyssop, pennyroyal, rosemary, sage, savin, tansy, thuja, turpentine, and wormwood) due to their content of highly reactive monoterpene ketones.

1999-05-06 16:05:07

Essential Oil Poisoning

Alan Woolf publishes an article in the Journal of Toxicology outlining the hazardous and toxic implications of essential oils. Risks may include "product variation, adulteration, or contaminants, adverse reactions, overdose or misuse, and the possibility of as yet undetected toxicities, such as mutagenesis or carcinogenesis".

2006-09-01 00:58:11

Effects of Evaporating Essential Oils on Indoor Air Quality

Researchers analyze the volatile compounds released into the air as a result of evaporating essential oils. The researchers state that some compounds, such as terpenes, can result in adverse health effects. "Exposure to fragrance and essential oils from the air has also induced or worsened respiratory problems including decrease of pulmonary function and increase of chest tightness, wheezing and exacerbates asthma in susceptible subjects".

2010-03-03 11:22:04

Effects of Rose Oil in Vivo

Rose oil and rose scented products have long been popular items purchased and gifted to women. A scientific study found that rose oil is harmful to organisms in vivo, making the use of rose oil by pregnant mothers of special concern. Rose oil was found to increase the number of chromosome aberrations and other cells abnormalities.

2010-08-01 17:04:12

Essential Oil Poisoning

Over 10,000 cases of essential oil poisoning were reported to the US Poison Control Centers.

2012-09-07 23:21:28

Procter and Gamble Co. Patent

Compositions containing one or more derivatives of essential oil compounds for use in personal care compositions, such as compositions for oral, throat and skin care are disclosed. These derivatives include acetals of parent essential oil aldehydes and ketones; esters or ethers of parent essential oil alcohols and phenolics; and esters of parent essential oil acids. Optionally the compositions will contain additional antimicrobially- or anti-inflammatory-effective components including those also derived from plant essential oils or synthetic versions thereof.

2014-08-01 19:03:18

Monq Company is Established

MONQ, a company that sells vape pens for essential oils, was established. According to their website: "MONQ is an acronym that stands for Modified Observation of Natural Qualia. Let me start with Qualia. Qualia is a poorly understood word. It stands for how you, or I, experience the world. The redness of a strawberry, the sweetness of vanilla, or feeling nervous, feeling stressed, as opposed to feeling calm. So we believe the use of MONQ you can change how you interact with the world."

2014-09-02 23:21:28

Essentials Oils in Electronic Cigarettes

The scientific journal "Toxicology In Vitro" found that the chemical "CAD" used in cinnamon flavored electronic cigarettes is a highly bioactive compound, sometimes used at toxic levels in the refill fluid (toxic for embryonic cells), and is derived from the essential oil of cinnamon bark.

2014-10-01 05:43:00

FDA Sends Warning to Companies Young Living and doTERRA

The companies Young Living and doTERRA had false claims on their websites, stating that essential oils can cure serious conditions such as herpes and cancer. The FDA sent a notice of corrective actions to be taken, for the essential oil products were not FDA approved, and were utilizing false advertising claims about essential oils.

2015-09-02 23:21:28

Global Market Value of Essential Oils

The global market value of Aromatherapy and Essential Oils was estimated to be 7.5 billion dollars in 2015, according to a study shared by Globe Newswire.

2016-06-01 18:06:24

Exposure Increase of Essential Oils

Essential oils were included in the list of "substance categories with the greatest rate of exposure increase (top 25)" in 2016, according to data from the American Association of Poison Control.

2016-09-01 23:21:28

180,065 Reported Incidents

In 2016, 180,065 incident cases were reported to the American Centers for Poison Control, due to adverse reactions to cosmetic and personal care products.

2017-02-01 16:45:15

1/3 of Adults Use Alternative Medicine

Nearly thirty percent of adults reported using complementary and alternative medicines, according to a study by Mayo Clinic. Such medicines often include essential oils.

2017-03-02 10:33:21

Trafficking Illegally Harvested and Transported Plants

The company Young Living was sued by the United States Federal Government for illegally trafficking rose oil from Peru into the United States. Rosewood trees, which are a source of the rose oil, are a threatened species in Peru.

2017-09-01 23:21:28

Kinin Company is Established

According to Kinin's website, "KININ makes personal essential oil diffusers that fit in your pocket. Products are used to enhance mood. It's not smoking. It's not 'vaping', it's more like 'welling' - utilizing the heated coil delivery system to interact with essential oils". On KININ's safety FAQ, however, they mention the risk of severe allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, and a list of 20 different essential oils and the varying complex side effects that can result from each one.The toxic dangers of cinnamon essential oils for pregnant women are noted, for example, as was also exemplified in a previous research study. To sum up, know what it is you may be 'welling'.

Cosmetic Products and Essential Oils: History, Safety, and Regulation

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