Bottles of essential oilsNew research reveals that those with contact allergies such as atopic dermatitis may have their symptoms triggered by natural fragrances as well as the synthetic varieties.

It has long been known that synthetic fragrances and perfumed products such as dish washing liquid and laundry detergent are common causes for the skin allergies that cause conditions such as atopic dermatitis and eczema.

In fact hypersensitivity to synthetic fragrances is one of the leading causes of allergy in adults.

It had been assumed by many however, including doctors and patients, that natural alternatives using essential oils were safe for those affected by these skin diseases. Research conducted at the University of Gothenberg, Sweden, has now cast doubt on this assumption.

It had been assumed that natural aromas and essential oils were safer and were in fact better than their synthetic counterparts as their scents last longer.

Research carried out by Lina Hagvall and colleagues would seem to have turned these ideas on their head however. In her paper she states that the allergens responsible for allergic skin conditions are formed when chemicals in fragranced products react with the air (becoming oxidised) or when they react with enzymes in the skin. It had been thought that these processes only occured with synthetic fragrances but Hagvall's research suggests the same processes are happening with natural aromas as well.

In her thesis she reports on experiments with geraniol, a monoterpenoid and an alcohol, which is a primary constituent of rose oil and is found in smaller quantities in many other essential oils including geranium and lemon. The chemical is a common ingredient in perfumes and fragranced products.

Hagvall found that geraniol itself had a low allergenicity but through autoxidation (spontaneous oxidation when exposed to the air) and contact with enzymes in the skin it was converted to geranial, which is a much more potent allergen with the potential to trigger eczema and atopic dermatitis flare-ups.

This research is thought to be the first to confirm that natural alternatives to synthetic fragrances can in fact be just as troublesome for those with allergic skin disorders. Hagvall and her colleagues believe that a greater understanding of the mechanisms they have looked at could lead to a eduction in the number of cases of eczema and atopic dermatitis.

The results of this research is likely to shock many people who have been using naturally fragranced products containing essential oils in the believe they are entirely safe. The study highlights the fact that just because something is "natural" does not mean it is automatically safe.



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