Hong Kong Consumer Council calls for label transparency

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Hong Kong Consumer Council calls for label transparency
The independent statutory authority analyses 30 essential oil models and finds allergens to encourage greater transparency in usage instructions and ingredient labels.

Essential oils are used throughout the beauty and personal care sector in body massage, for the use in the bath and to support sleep.

Fragrance allergen testing

Hong Kong  Consumer Council performed a test on 30 different models of essential oils that are currently available on the market. Of these 30, the Council detected a total of ten different fragrance allergens.

Referencing the EU cosmetics regulations, by analysing these 30 models, the Council sought to detect the presence of fragrance allergens, other organic compounds, heavy metals, microorganisms, and their levels from a list of 26 fragrance allergens.

EU guidance indicates that products that contain any of these 26 allergens that outpace specified levels between 0.001% and 0.01% for leave-on and rinse-off cosmetics respectively must stipulate the names of these allergens on their ingredient lists.

Most popular scents

These essential oils contain a variety of scents, which are extracted from flowers, fruits and leaves. These recent test results, which were published on 15th August, revealed three popular and noteworthy flavours: lavender, sweet orange and eucalyptus.  

The Council selected ten models for each flavour, creating a total of 30 models. The prices of these varied from, $55 (€48) to $340 (€298).

Lavender was ranked considerably higher in price, with eucalyptus coming in second, followed by sweet orange.

Dilution instructions

A total of 14 models failed to display detailed dilution instructions relating to the amount used on its packaging or labelling.

Without this clear information, consumers may experience confusion or difficulty in using these products appropriately.

“The Council is highly concerned about the non-disclosure of allergens and the lack of dilution instructions which may increase the risk of having allergies upon usage,” ​it ​noted in a recent press release.

As such, the Council is strongly urging agents to detail the presence of allergens in their essential oils to ensure the safeguarding of consumer health. 

As essential oils are highly concentrated, dilution is another area that brands need to be aware of. The Council reported that only 16 models contained dilution instructions for skin applications. User instructions and informative labelling are necessary to offer clear dilution guidance to help avoid misuse that may lead to skin irritation and allergic reactions.

Test results

The results found that ten fragrance allergens including limonene, linalool, geraniol, coumarin, eugenol, benzyl benzoate, citral, farnesol, benzyl alcohol and citronellol were present. Each model was found to have at least two allergens. Two lavender samples contained a total of seven allergens - the most identified from any sample.

Two of the models tested contained up to seven allergens. The Council also reported that almost 90% of these essential oil models failed to disclose any allergens on the packaging labels. Four models with samples that did indicate what specific allergens were present, were contradictory to the actual allergens that the Consumer Council had found in its test.

In addition, of the 12 models containing the word “organic”​ on packaging, only nine of these were able to offer and submit the necessary certificates to the Council. Of those analysed, 24 of the models were labelled “For External Use Only” or “Not to be Taken Internally”.  Of these, only one lavender model contained labelling for dietary use but failed to include any detailed instructions on how to use it. 

Limonene presence

The allergen limonene was identified in all samples. Limonene is a natural substance in lemon and citrus trees. The sweet orange scent samples, therefore, contained the highest average limonene content of 69.8%.  

Limonene may cause skin and eye irritation. It can also give rise to the risk of contact allergy when it is oxidised.  As a result, consumers are recommended to store and handle essential oils with care to lower the probability of exposing themselves to these allergies through oxidised limonene substance production.  

Regulatory support needed?

None of the total 30 models contained heavy metals, micro-organisms, preservatives and some substances prohibited in cosmetics products, yet the number of allergens in all models exceeded the limits set by the EU cosmetics regulations. Transparency among consumers is vital to build brand trust and ensure safety. The Council, therefore, recognises that all allergen names must be labelled on product packaging. 

The Council stated that while there is no legislation in Hong Kong that stipulates brands must disclose fragrance allergens in essential oils, it should be complete and accurate to reassure and satisfy consumer safety concerns.

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