Essential oils and COVID-19: Industry warns no sufficient evidence for efficacy amid sales surge

By Guan Yu Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has seen a surge in demand for essential oils with claims of antiviral and antibacterial effects, although the industry has warned there are no sufficient evidence of its efficacy ©Getty Images
The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has seen a surge in demand for essential oils with claims of antiviral and antibacterial effects, although the industry has warned there are no sufficient evidence of its efficacy ©Getty Images

Related tags: Essential oils, Japan, COVID-19

The ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has seen a surge in demand for essential oils with claims of antiviral and antibacterial effects, although the industry has warned there are no sufficient evidence of its efficacy against the pandemic.

Japanese OEM manufacturer of aromas and fragrances, Alfa-Point, said demand for its tea tree and eucalyptus-based essential oils were growing.

Ryuichi Sugawara, president of Alfa-Point, told CosmeticsDesign-Asia​ that sales of its essential oils grew more than 35% year-on-year.

Since the situation of coronavirus has not yet returned to normal, there is a possibility that it (sales) will grow further in the future​.”

Its tea tree and eucalyptus-based essential oil contain tea tree (from Australia), eucalyptus (from China), as well as purified water and ethanol.

He said: “Other than those listed in the Japanese Pharmacopoeia, essential oils that do not fall under the category of cosmetics and do not declare any medicinal properties are miscellaneous goods by law despite having high concentrations of aromatic components and therapeutic components​.”

According to him, there are currently no regulations for sales and import of essential oils.

The company is currently working on conducting an “antiviral test” of its essential oil at the Kanagawa Institute of Industrial Science and Technology.

Scientific evidence

Essential oils have been previously studied​ for its effect on the influenza virus both in vitro​ and in vivo​.

Daryl Thompson, director of scientific initiatives at Singapore biomedical firm Global Biolife told CosmeticsDesign-Asia​, "There is existing research that verify that compounds contained within essential oils do indeed have antimicrobial properties including that of viruses as well as specific strains of coronaviruses​."

However, he stressed that studies had not been undertaken on COVID-19.

Market survey and advice

According to a survey by the Japan Aroma Environment Association (AEAJ) on the aroma market, the market was valued at JPY 356.4 billion (USD3.3 billion) in 2018, which was up 7% from 2015.

By segment, essential oil formulated products accounted for the bulk, at JPY 301.2 billion (USD 2.8 billion).

As aromas are increasingly incorporated into consumers lifestyles, the AEAJ warns consumers that there is plenty of disinformation on websites about using essential oils to combat the coronavirus. 

AEAJ expressed that, “(There is still) no evidence to show that the antiviral effects of essential oils are effective against COVID-19. It is crucial to be throughout on handwashing and keeping adequate social distance to stay safe​."

Even for Global Biolife which is currently developing a fragrance formulation​ to fight another infectious disease, tuberculosis, Thompson told us, "During the present global emergency, I would recommend that manufactures strictly adhere to good manufacturing processes and not take advantage of the situation to sell untested products,

While scientifically we can agree that some essential oils have virucidal properties, the best defense for this current outbreak is to wash your hands diligently​."

Warning notice

In March, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued several warning letters to companies which market their products as a prevention or treatment for COVID-19.

Among these companies is a UK-based essential oil business, Quinessence Aromatherapy LTD​, and US-based GuruNanda LLC​.

The FDA stated: “The FDA has determined that your website offers essential oil products for sale in the United States and that these products are intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, cure or diagnose COVID-19 in people. FDA has determined that these products are unapproved new drugs sold in violation of section 505(a) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), 21 U.S.C. 355(a).”

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