Essential oils for use as fragrances in cosmetics offer opportunities to manufacturers of such oils in developing countries. Safe products are a must; this requirement includes a verifiable supply chain from producer to exporter. Marketing stories are built around the origin of the essential oil, which can be enhanced with certifications. Innovation opportunities include physical modifications to make oils safer. When oils are scarce, producers can either create sustainable value chains or provide alternatives.
Essential oils can be produced from various plant sources, as well as from different plant parts including resins (plant exudates), leaves, flowers, fruits, bark and wood. Most essential oils are extracted using steam distillation. Other extraction methods include water distillation, expression – most notably from citrus peels (mechanically or cold pressed) – solvent extraction or enfleurage (from flowers). Extraction methods mainly depend on the raw material that is being extracted.
An essential oil is a complex mixture that may contain over 100 chemical compounds. Essential oils are colourless to pale yellow or brown and are insoluble in water. Examples include:
- flower oils, often produced by enfleurage or solvent extraction (such as rose, geranium and jasmine absolute);
- resin oils (such as frankincense and opoponax);
- fruit oils (such as citrus oils);
- leaf oils (such as patchouli or cajeput oil);
- herb oils (such as peppermint oil);
- bark/wood oils (such as sandalwood and cedarwood oils).
These oils are used in traditional medicine, the cosmetics industry and aromatherapy. The focus of this product fact sheet is on essential oils as a component in fragrances for cosmetics products (listed as “parfum” or “aroma” on the ingredients label). According to the IFRA, fragrance blends may contain up to 250 different ingredients, which are a mixture of essential oils, natural aromatic molecules and complex synthetic aroma chemicals. A “palette” of more than 3,000 ingredients is used by the fragrance industry to create, manufacture and supply up to 80,000 unique proprietary blends.
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