methyl eugenol safety

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Safety about essential oils


  • 4/10/2015 From www 1/11


    Cropwatch Three b

    OPINION: Methyl eugenol-containing essential oils.

    Tony Burfield May 2004

    Worries about possible risks due to the methyl eugenol content of natural materials herbs,

    essential oils - have surfaced in the recent past but there is a dearth of information on the

    subject directly available in the public domain to aromatherapists or complementary health

    practitioners. The following feature is an attempt to add some background information to this


    The warm, musty-mild-spicy odoured aromatic compound Methyl Eugenol (aka eugenolmethyl ether, or 4-allyl-1,2-diomethoxybenzene) is prohibited from being directly added as

    an ingredient to fragrances intended for retailed cosmetic products, due to worries about its

    potential carcinogenicity.

    As it occurs naturally in many essential oils and extracts, the addition of these ingredients is

    not restricted outright, but on provision that the methyl eugenol content does not exceed the

    following concentration in the following finished products according to the IFRA standards(see

    Fine Fragrances 0.020%*

    Eau de Toilette 0.008%

    Fragrance Cream 0.004%

    Rinse off products 0.001%

    Leave-on products/

    Oral hygiene products 0.0004%

    Non skin (as defined on IFRA website) 0.010%*.

    *The limit of 0.02% for the starred items applies to the concentration in the fragrancecompound.

    In effect this means that there is an obligation on ingredient suppliers, under the

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    requirements of due diligence, to supply information to customers, to make sure that theyreceive the necessary information in order for them to comply with the above requirementsof the IFRA Standards. To spell this out in more detail, reporting the methyl eugenol contentof the specific batch of the ingredient will then allow the customer to further calculate finallevels of methyl eugenol appearing in the finished product. It is difficult to see how manysmall essential oil suppliers, without resort to internal analytical expertise, will be able toperform this function. Additionally, it is relatively easy to find plants for sale on the Internet,whos essential oils contain high levels of methyl eugnol e.g. Black tea tree plants can beordered at No warning about the potentialtoxicity of methyl eugenol is presented.

    It has long been established that methyl eugenol occurs in essential oils such as CanadianSnake root, Bay, Citronella, Laurel, Emodia, Fennel, Betel, Brisbane Sassafras, Pimento,Hyacinth etc., and its occurrence often coincides with the additional presence of eugenol(Poucher 1991). And so, purely as a guide, here below is presented a snapshot guide tothe reported methyl eugenol content of several further essential oils.

    Published data on Methyl Eugenol Contents of Essential Oils.

    1. FEMA have published data to members on methyl eugenol contents of essential oils(no geographic origins specified).

    2. The BFA on 12.02.02 circulated BEOA data from 09.11.01 on the methyl eugenolcontent of a number of analysed commercial oils. Oils were classified by botanicalname (no chemotypes were distinguished) and by origin. There are no particularsurprises, although methyl eugenol contents on rose otto seemed low-ish comparedwith other published data, and the range of methyl eugenol contents of the 23 basiloils (all apparently from Egypt) was relatively large. No data on fennel oil (identified bythe EU Scientific Committee on Food as a dietary source of methyl eugenol) wasincluded. The BEOA data document makes comment that expert analysis of genuineessential oils shows how widely essential oils vary in composition, and makescomment that the BACIS commercial data-base of essential oils shows methyleugenol contents of 258 oils, that some of this data is misleading, and notrepresentative of genuine high volume essential oils used in commerce.

    3. IFRA data on methyl eugenol contents of essential oils, as presented on the IFRAwebsite in May 2004 does not define the plant source species, thegeographical origins of oils or any chemotype information. A document circulated byIFRA (to members only not in the public domain but most of the information thesame as on the IFRA website) on April 6th 2004 lists 21 essential oils, again giving nobotanical identification, only giving geographic origins for two types of oils (citronellaand rose), and giving chemotype information for basil only. As has been observedpreviously by this author, the standard of botanical reporting in IFRA documents, andin EU legislation leaves a great deal to be desired.

    4. A list of plants containing methyl eugenol, duplicating the species names of many ofthe entries below, can be found on the Agricultural Research Services data-base at

    Table I - Various References re: Methyl Eugenol content of EOs.

    Essential oil Remarks Methyl eugenolcontent

    Reference key(see below)

    Acorus calamus Calamus Indian 1.0% Shiva et al.

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    Acorus calamus CalamusMediterranean

    0.9% max BEOA

    Acorus calamus (?) Calamus oil

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    winterianus (Java type)

    Cymbopogon sp. Citronella oil

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    East Indian Nutmeg oil tr 1.2% EOS



    West Indian Nutmeg oil 0.1- 0.2% EOS

    Myrstica fragrans


    Nutmeg oil < 1.0% IFRA website

    IFRA 06.04.04Myrstica fragrans


    Mace oil < 0.5% IFRA website

    IFRA 06.04.04Myrtus communis Myrtle oil 1.21% TQ

    Myrtus communis Myrtle berry oil 2.3% Mazza

    Ocimum basilicum Sweet basil oil Often below

    0.2%, Comores

    (exotic type) to


    Ocimum basilicum Oil of Egyptian origin 5.6% max BEOA

    Ocimum spp. Basil oil < 6.0% IFRA website

    IFRA 06.04.04Ocimum basilicum Basil Oil 2.6% FEMA

    Ocimum basilicum var.


    Described by F & P as

    Exotic type Basil oil

    1.6% F & P.

    Ocimum basilicum var.

    feuilles de laitre

    Described by F & P. as

    European type Basil oil

    2.5 to 7% F & P.

    Ocimum basilicum var.

    grand vert

    Oil 55-65% F & P.

    Ocimum basilicum var.


    Described by F & P. as

    Small Basil

    55-65% F & P.

    Ocimum gratissimum

    var. thymoliferum

    Described by F & P. as

    Basil oil thymol type

    1.7% F & P.

    Ocotea pretiosa (Brazilian Sassafras

    oil- methyl eugenol


    > 50.0% TB



    Geranium oil China

    Geranium oil Bourbon

    Not detected in

    either oil




    Geranium oil Egypt Not detected BEOA

    Peumus boldus Leaf 100-125 ppm Duke

    Pimenta dioica Pimento leaf oil to 2% TB

    Pimenta dioica Pimento leaf oil 2% FEMA

    Pimenta dioica Pimento leaf oil 15.4% TQ

    Pimenta dioica Pimento leaf oil 3.9% BEOA

    Pimenta dioica Pimento berry oil to 8% TB

    Pimenta dioica Pimento berry oil 15.0% BEOA

    Pimenta dioica (?) Pimento berry oil < 15.0% IFRA website

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    Pimento leaf oil

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    aromaticum Syzygium-aromaticum

    Clove leaf oil Indonesia 0.5% TB


    Clove oil

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    26.09.01, which can be viewed at

    The committee remarked that methyl eugenol is a multi-site, multi-species carcinogen, being

    both genotoxic and carcinogenic. Average human intake from diet of methyl eugenol

    amounted to 13 mg/person/day and the 97.5th percentile was 36 mg/person/day (on a body

    weight basis these values correspond to 0.19 and 0.53 mg/kg bw/day, respectively). The

    committee was unable to establish a safe exposure limit.

    Subsequently IFRA decided to severely restrict the limits of methyl eugenol in finished

    fragranced products in 2001 (36th Amendment to the Code of Practice).

    Low methyl eugenol rose oil has been commercially offered by a small number of aroma

    houses. Removal of the methyl eugenol content by high vacuum fractional distillation seems

    to adversely affect the typical rose character in products offered. Removal of the methyl

    eugenol content by spinning band or spinning cone distillation may be more satisfactory, but

    production time is at a premium on this expensive technology. Rose oils naturally very low in

    methyl eugenol are known in Eastern Europe and further East, but the quality is very poor to

    actually unacceptable for mos


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