Concern has been growing over the last few years that natural perfumery oils could be regulated out of existence because natural oils are complex mixtures of aroma chemicals and often contain chemicals that are limited by safety rules. A recent Perfumer & Flavorist article about a possible new way to safety test natural ingredients caught my eye, partly because of the parallels to current food and diet research.
In his article Will All of Our Flowers Be Gone?, Kim Bleimann (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Berjé Inc.) discusses whether we should test natural perfumery oils in their whole form rather than judging their safety by the levels of individual chemicals in them. For example, should we judge the safety of rose oil by tests conducted on the whole rose oil, or should we judge the safe limit for topical use by the maximum safe amount of each isolated chemical found in rose oil? We currently do the latter, but this article suggests that we should also investigate natural oils in their whole forms because some initial tests show that safe levels of whole oils may be higher than would be allowed if judged by the individual chemical components on their own.
This observation sounds similar to research in the food and diet arena, where whole plant foods have been found to be beneficial for all kinds of diseases, but supplements containing individual substances extracted from plants have not been nearly as effective as the whole plant food, and in some cases have even shown negative effects. Dr. Greger from Nutritionfacts.org has posted a number of videos on this topic, such as the benefit of whole turmeric vs curcumin supplements and the difference between beta carotene naturally found in food vs in supplement form. In the case of beta carotene, the isolated supplements seemed to increase cancer rates, whereas whole foods that contain beta carotene decrease cancer rates. The synergistic effects of all the substances in the foods seem to be important. The dose matters too: a much higher dose of an isolated component like beta carotene is possible in a pill than in whole foods, and more is not always better.
It is hard to say how much this pattern seen in food research might apply to the topical use of plant oils in perfume, but the subject seems worthy of research, and Mr. Bleimann states that a number of natural perfumery oils are now being investigated in their whole forms. The results will be interesting. Until now, the main approach to saving natural perfumery oils has been to develop oils with less of the components of concern, for example creating rose oil with reduced methyl eugenol. Developing standards based not only on individual components but also factoring in research on natural oils in their whole form is another approach that could help preserve the use of natural perfumery ingredients.