Exclusive Interview

How formulators can tackle the problem of adulterated tea tree oil

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Jerome Chopard, chair of the marketing committe at ATTIA
Jerome Chopard, chair of the marketing committe at ATTIA
With as much as 73% of all tea tree oils on the market thought to be adulterated, an executive at the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association (ATTIA) walks formulators through the strategies to avoid it.

Ahead of a keynote presentation at next month’s Sustainable Cosmetics Summit​, in Hong Kong, Jerome Chopard, chair of the ATTIA marketing committee, spoke to Cosmetics Design in an exclusive interview that he says expresses the opinion of the association and its members, highlighting its struggle to ensure only the purest and most effective tea tree oil ends up in personal care formulations.

“The easiest way to minimise the risk of purchasing adulterated tea tree oil is to purchase it as close to the source as possible, ensure that the supplier has a current Code Of Practice Certificate or purchase from individuals or organisations that have both a good reputation and an established and independently audited Quality Assurance (QA) system,”​ said Chopard.

“Once a product is delivered to you, quarantine it, take a sample and examine it very carefully: smell, colour and appearance – trust in your own experience! If it doesn’t “feel” right then it likely isn’t.”

The verification process

The next steps are more thorough, but are also particularly vital in the verification process, as Chopard explains:

“If you are unsure and the certificate of analysis does not come from a independent recognised laboratory, then have it tested yourself (preferably by an internationally accepted organisation). The standard we use for tea tree oil is ISO 4730: 2004. It is also worth informing your supplier that random quality testing will be performed.”

The ISO certification has been specifically designed to determine the physical parameters of the oil, as well as providing the key component ranges, ultimately providing an assurance of authenticity.

In 2012 test samples showed large scale adulteration

In a 2012, testing of 42 commercial samples sourced from Europe, North America and Australasia, showed that more than 50% of them were adulterated with the worst incidence in Europe where 73% showed signs of adulteration, underlining the magnitude of the problem.

The majority of this oil appears to come from China, where it is often sold as non-compliant on the open market, then used by others to produce the adulterated tea tree oil.

The main form of adulteration in tea tree oil appears to be industrially produced terpinen-4-ol which is either derived from sabinene or distilled from other essential oils such as eucalyptus sandalwood or pine oils when these are ‘normalised’ prior to sale,”​ said Chopard.

“Terpinen-4-ol is the most abundant terpinene in tea tree oil and the addition of this to substandard, inferior, heavily oxidised or contaminated material can bring it up to standard.”

The reward for taking the right steps 

But there is a reward for the hard work that has to be put in to ensuring that the tea tree oil you use is unadulterated, and it is one that manufacturers can use as a marketing tool.

“Effective communication informing the consumer about the manufacturer’s quality purchasing program is the key. Cosmetic companies rely on reputation, word of mouth and advertising for their success. This success is founded on trust and it is critically important that cosmetic companies form alliances with trusted producers and suppliers,” ​said Chopard.

“By demonstrating their care and attention to the detail of quality assurance which, for essential oils such as tea tree oil, starts with the seed selected to grow the plants and goes right through growing, harvesting, distillation and storage - can cosmetic companies reassure their customers that the products they produce are made using the finest purest ingredients available.”

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