Volatile Chemical Emissions from Essential Oils


The following post is yet another example of Dr. Anne Steinemann’s brilliant and tireless efforts to provide the science necessary to document the dangers associated with the widespread and ever-increasing use of fragranced products. In my film, Fragrance-Free Workplaces, chemist Jeff May, who heads May Indoor Air Investigations and serves on the Board of Directors of the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation, also addresses the issue of toxic chemicals in essential oils.


 Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, pp 1–6, online publication 08 August 2018


Neda Nematollahi, 1, 2; Spas D. Kolev, 2; Anne Steinemann, 1, 3, 4.


1  Department of Infrastructure Engineering, Melbourne School of Engineering, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

2  School of Chemistry, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

3.  College of Science and Engineering, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia

4.  Climate, Atmospheric Sciences, and Physical Oceanography, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, USA.



Essential oils, widely used in society, emit numerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some of these VOCs are considered as potentially hazardous under federal regulations. However, essential oils are exempt from disclosure of their ingredients on their label. Thus, the public may lack information on emissions and potential hazards from essential oils. This study examined VOCs emitted from a range of commercial essential oils, including tea tree oils, lavender oils, eucalyptus oils, and other individual oils and mixtures of oils. Using headspace gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), the study analyzed 24 commercial essential oils, including 12 with claims of being “natural” or related terms, such as organic, 100% pure, or plant-based. Results identified 595 VOCs emitted from the 24 essential oils, representing 188 different VOCs. The most common VOCs emitted were alpha-pinene, limonene, acetone, linalool, alpha-phellandrene, beta-myrcene, and camphene. Among the 589 VOCs identified, 124 VOCs, representing 33 different VOCs, are classified as potentially hazardous. All natural and regular essential oils emitted one or more potentially hazardous VOCs, such as acetaldehyde, acetone, and ethanol. Toluene was also found in 50% of essential oils. Moreover, for the prevalent VOCs classified as potentially hazardous, no significant difference was found between regular and natural essential oils. This study provides insights and information about emissions of commercial essential oils that can be useful for public awareness and risk reduction.

The online version of this article (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-018-0606-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.