Victory of Science over Fear for Essential Oils

The Issue:

As part of the Green New Deal in 2023, the European Union’s Chemical Agency (ECHA) planned to promote a  “sustainable-by-design” point of view. To that end, it shifted its attitude toward essential oils from a risk-based approach to a hazard-based mentality, reflected in new versions of REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals) and CLP (Classification, Labeling, and Packaging) regulations. This meant that the ECHA would consider essential oils hazardous complex chemicals of more than one constituent substance if just one molecule could hypothetically pose a threat under laboratory conditions. In practice, essential oils would have been unjustifiably labeled as dangerous despite their safety record and potentially being banned altogether.

These regulations would have dire consequences, with a domino knockdown effect on these products and the clean beauty market in top EU producer states such as Bulgaria, France, Italy, and Spain and consumers in Czechia, Poland, Estonia, and beyond. The Consumer Choice Center had to act for the sake of European consumers and a widely beloved industry.

CCC Response:

We understood that a policy standard based on hazard was conceptually confused, empirically unfounded, and economically disastrous. Adopting a standard of zero risks through test data analogs and Q-Sar predictions in a sterile laboratory setting was not how consumers ever could or even wanted to navigate the real world. Exposure and the conditions of that exposure mattered. It also went against the scientific evidence for essential oils, which have proven to be safe and environmentally friendly repellents and vital ingredients for perfumes and cosmetics thanks to their hydrophobic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antioxidant properties. Most of all, it completely ignored its economic consequences for those working in these industries and the impact on every EU consumer (particularly those in Eastern Europe) during an acute cost of living crisis and a hostile geopolitical environment.  

Once we learned of the proposed regulatory changes, we began conducting extensive research, contacting media outlets and affected member states, and urging decision-makers in the European Parliament, Commission, and ECHA to change course before it was too late.

On the 26th of April, 2023, we published our findings in the report “Hazard vs. Risk: EU’s Green Deal Fragrance Misstep,” where we made the full case against hazard-based thinking and argued for a grounded risk-informed method using the best available research. The report confirmed our worst fears about the regulatory change in numbers. While the future of the €2.29 billion market became uncertain, countries such as Bulgaria, France, Italy, and Spain stood to lose a combined 892 million euros in export revenue.

We made sure to inform decision-makers and the broader public about these facts. Our articles were featured in the Parliament Magazine, Brussels Times, Brussels Report, Emerging Europe, and CEA Magazine. We discussed the issue extensively on our own ConsEUmer podcast and were featured on the CEA podcast.

The Outcome:

The EU responded on the 26th of September 2023 – and agreed with our assessment. They introduced Amendment 32 to the CLP, that exempted substances of renewable botanic origin from hazard-based thinking. The derogation was reconfirmed on December 5, 2023, when the trialogue (comprising the EU’s Commission, Council, and Parliament) agreed to exempt essential oils from the CLP revision.

We will continue to fight for evidence-based policy. But for now, consumers can enjoy their favorite essential oils products in peace. 

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