Date
24 September 2018
Dr. Karen Shum, chair of Consumer Council's research and testing committee, advised consumers to store and handle essential oils with care. Photo: HKEJ/Internet
Dr. Karen Shum, chair of Consumer Council's research and testing committee, advised consumers to store and handle essential oils with care. Photo: HKEJ/Internet

Watchdog warns of unlabeled allergens in essential oils

The Consumer Council said all essential oil product samples it has tested contain ingredients that can cause allergic reactions on the skin and the eyes, adding that what is concerning is that most of the products fail to put the allergens on their labels.

In February and March this year, the consumer watchdog collected 30 models of essential oils with fragrances that include lavender, sweet orange and eucalyptus.

According to the results unveiled on Wednesday, a total of 10 different fragrance allergens were detected and each model was found to contain at least two allergens, with two samples containing as many as seven, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The most common allergen found in the samples was limonene, which could cause irritation to the skin and the eyes.

Dr. Karen Shum Hau-yan, chairwoman of the council’s research and testing committee, said limonene, when oxidized, can lead to the risk of contact allergy.

As such, consumers are advised to store and handle essential oils with care to reduce the production of oxidized limonene substance that may expose them to allergy, Shum said.

While the amount of allergens found in the 30 tested samples generally exceeded the European Union’s cosmetics regulations, only four of the products printed the names of the allergens on their ingredient lists.

But the actual names or the number of allergens listed by the four products were different from those found through the council’s tests.

Although there is no legislation for mandatory disclosure of fragrance allergens in essential oils in Hong Kong, such information is crucial to the consumers, Shum said.

She urged producers to make every effort to ensure full and accurate product labeling.

Meanwhile, the council’s tests also found 12 models contained toluene, which can irritate the upper respiratory tract and the eyes or even affect the central nervous system if one breathes air contaminated with toluene over an extended period of time.

However, the concentration of toluene in the samples was not high.

An adult will have to undergo a daily massage of almost 300 times using the sample found to have the highest concentration of toluene before exceeding the tolerable daily intake adopted by the World Health Organization, suggesting that the risk is only minimal, the council said.

Nevertheless, William Chui Chun-ming, president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong, warned that long-term inhalation of air contaminated by toluene may irritate the upper respiratory tract and affect the central nervous system.

The council advised children, pregnant women, patients with hypertension, kidney disease or epilepsy, and people with skin wounds to be extra cautious in using essential oil products.

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TL/JC/CG

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