Byline: Andrea M. Grossman

NEW YORK — The collective scent that’s formed when 600 aromatherapy, personal care and fragrance products are brought into one — albeit large — dome can wrinkle even the most resilient nose. So this season, when the air at Extracts, a trade show for such products, seemed a tad more tolerable, there had to be a reason why, aside from perhaps better ventilation.
Apparently, essential oils, the natural oils extracted from plants, were the main source of fragrance in more products this season than in past Extracts exhibitions, replacing synthetic fragrance. That’s because essential oils, when used in their purest form, promise aromatherapy benefits, an increasingly popular selling point.
Melissa essential oil, for example, is a known antibacterial. Chamomille is used widely for calming the nervous system. Mint and grapefruit are used to energize.
Essential oils also offer the pure essence of a particular plant, one that Tommy Dionisio, owner of Irvine, Calif.-based Aroma Naturals, said will convert, with a single whiff, even the most loyal wearer of a top-selling fragrance.
“Even though we grew up on Wonder Bread,” Dionisio said, “once you get a taste of wheat bread, why would you ever want to go back to white?”
Dionisio and about 60 other top executives at Extracts are proud of their products that use essential oils as their only aromatic ingredient. Pride aside, they are also consumed with concern, especially as essential oils become mainstream.
Many of their worries include the misrepresentation of the aroma of certain plants, such as lavender, the most popular essential oil. Their reasoning has the ring of a description of wine.
“Lavender smells different from one part of a region to another,” said Rosie Warda, vice president, sales and marketing, of AromaLand, a leading manufacturer and wholesaler of essential oils based in Santa Fe, N.M. “Depending on the soil, the altitude, the weather conditions and whether pesticides were used, lavender will smell different,” Warda said, explaining that AromaLand’s labeling lists a plant’s origin, parts used and extraction method.
Blending essential oils with synthetic fragrance, a common practice, also confuses the customer, Warda said.
These concerns have led Dionisio and Warda to propose creating an Essential Oil Seal. The nonprofit group administering the seal, Aromatherapy Certification Association, based in California, would serve as the arbiter of which products use only essential oils as their aromatic source, rewarding those who meet the grade with the trademarked seal.
Their mission is multifaceted. The first is to educate consumers as to the difference between essential oil and synthetic fragrance. The second is to insure that consumers are buying what they are looking for and not what clever packaging can sometimes misrepresent. The third is to protect the integrity of the essential oil business.
“The first word the industry turned useless was ‘natural,”‘ Warda said. “Then, the same thing happened with the word ‘aromatherapy,’ which has ended up representing products with all types of synthetic fragrance.”
Dionisio said the reason for an essential oil seal, as opposed to an aromatherapy seal, is because the words “100 percent essential oil” can’t be misinterpreted.
“One way people understand it is if you compare essential oil to diamonds. Either you bought a diamond or not. And think of the people who thought they bought a diamond, but actually bought a cubic zirconia,” he said.
With the help of 60 different companies who signed a petition at Extracts to support the effort, Warda hopes to launch the seal this summer. The new seal, which is still in rendering form, would consist of the letters “EO” to signify that a product contains only essential oils as its aromatic essence.
Companies such as Coty, makers of the leading line of bath and body products in the mass industry, The Healing Garden, believe that while 100 percent essential oil-based products have their place in the market, blending oils with synthetic fragrance better serves the customer.
“There is a very valid reason why we use a combination of synthetic and natural elements,” said Anastasia Ayala, senior vice president of global fragrance for Coty Beauty Americas. “The primary reason is for consistency of quality. Naturals are not easily managed, the life span is short and consistency is not there. When you use a combination of natural and synthetic fragrance, you guarantee potency and that the consumer will buy the same thing today that she bought last month.”
And with extracts from plants like Melissa selling for about $10,000 a pound wholesale, it’s no wonder that blending is common.
Whether manufacturers opt for synthetic blends or the real thing, stores such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats are teaching consumers the benefits of essential oils, and with that, the difference between wheat bread and white.

Editor’s Note: In the Aisle is a new feature covering topics of interest in the Health & Beauty Aids industry.

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