This common yet expensive essential oil is commonly adulterated

The Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program has published a new bulletin on the commonplace adulteration of this extremely expensive ingredient.

Hank Schultz, Senior Editor

June 26, 2024

4 Min Read

At a Glance

  • BAPP bulletin delves into Damask rose essential oil situation.
  • Adulteration of this very expensive ingredient is common and takes many forms.
  • Bulletin lists common adulterants and best ways for companies to find them.

A new bulletin detailing widespread adulteration of Damask rose essential oil has been published by the Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP).

The new bulletin shows how lower-cost essential oils, essential oil fractions or natural or synthetic chemicals have been used in the marketplace to ‘stretch’ authentic Damask rose essential oil or substitute for it altogether.

BAPP is collaborative effort between the American Botanical Council (ABC, the managing partner), the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) and the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) at the University of Mississippi. The Damask rose publication is 28th such bulletin published thus far and is among 88 peer-reviewed publications overall that have been produced by the program.

Ingredient has long history

Damask rose essential oil is from the flowers of Rosa × damascena, a member of the rose family noted for its powerful scent that has been hybridized and cultivated since antiquity and has been transplanted widely across many temperate parts of the globe. The name “Damask” refers to Damascus, the city in Syria that is more than 5,000 years old. Whether the flower was spread to other regions by the Romans or by medieval crusaders is a matter of conjecture.

According to BAPP, the oil is used in traditional medicine systems to treat depression and anxiety, to relieve stress, and as an ingredient in personal care, home care and cosmetic products. In some markets the petals are used to flavor confections.

Essential oils are the volatile fractions of aromatic natural substances and are obtained via a process of distillation. They are present in only minute quantities in even the most intensely scented natural sources, such as peppermint (Mentha x piperia).

Sky-high price is valid

Thus, by their very nature they are expensive, as it takes thousands of kilos of raw material to make a kilo of authentic essential oil. This has made them a prime target for economically motivated adulteration, a practice almost as old as the essential oil itself.

In the case of Damask rose essential oil, the BAPP publication notes that to create every kilo of authentic product, about 2 hectares (or about 5 acres) of Damask rose fields must be cultivated, and those fields need to yield about 4 metric tons of roses (or about 1.6 million individual rose flowers).

All essential oils are expensive and Damask rose essential oil particularly so. One product for sale that is billed as coming from organic fields in Bulgaria is currently priced at $1,350 for a 100 ml bottle.

Dizzying array of possible adulterants

The BAPP bulletin identifies a host of possible adulterants and/or undeclared diluents that can be found in lower-cost products on the market. Those include natural or synthetic isolates, enriched fractions from lower-cost essential oils (e.g., beta-citronellol, geraniol, geranyl acetate, rose oxide and 2-phenylethanol) and undeclared diluents such as vegetable oils or glycols. These adulterated products are often labeled as “Damask rose oil.”

Additionally, other essential oils such as geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) and palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii, syn. Andropogon schoenanthus) are sometimes fraudulently labeled as Damask rose essential oil.

The fact that essential oils are being adulterated is not news, said Stefan Gafner, Ph.D., chief science officer of the ABC and director of BAPP.

“The more affordable personal or home care products and food and beverages with a rose scent are unlikely to contain authentic Damask rose oil,” Gafner said in a statement issued by BAPP. “This is acceptable as long as the ingredients are transparently labeled,”

However, transparent labeling is a rarity in the market. The BAPP bulletin references a recent study that found of 32 products labeled as containing Damask rose oil, 18 of them tested as having been adulterated in some way.

“Mixtures with a rose-like aroma —  but no actual rose oil — are labeled as ‘authentic rose oil’ at a premium price for financial gain. This bulletin is meant to raise awareness of this longstanding issue,” Gafner added.

He further explained: “The more affordable personal or home care products and food and beverages with a rose scent are unlikely to contain authentic Damask rose oil. This is acceptable as long as the ingredients are transparently labeled. Unfortunately, there are some suppliers and manufacturers who sell all kinds of mixtures with a rose-like aroma —  but no actual rose oil — that are labeled as ‘authentic rose oil’ at a premium price for financial gain. This bulletin is meant to raise awareness of this longstanding issue.”

Olha Mykhailenko, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Botany at National University of Pharmacy in Kharkiv, Ukraine, wrote the bulletin. Ukraine is one of the leading producers of this essential oil. The bulletin includes a review of the available literature on Damask rose oil adulteration, data on its adulteration frequency and analytical approaches to detect adulterants. In addition, it provides information about the production and market importance of Damask rose oil and its therapeutic use and safety.

About the Author(s)

Hank Schultz

Senior Editor, Informa

Hank Schultz has been the senior editor of Natural Products Insider since early 2023. He can be reached at [email protected]

Prior to joining the Informa team, he was an editor at NutraIngredients-USA, a William Reed Business Media publication.

His approach to industry journalism was formed via a long career in the daily newspaper field. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and German, Hank was an editor at the Tempe Daily News in Arizona. He followed that with a long stint working at the Rocky Mountain News, a now defunct daily newspaper in Denver, where he rose to be one of the city editors. The newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes during his time there.

The changing landscape of the newspaper industry led him to explore other career paths. He began his career in the natural products industry more than a decade ago at New Hope Natural Media, which was then part of Penton and now is an Informa brand. Hank formed friendships and partnerships within the industry that still inform his work to this day, which helps him to bring an insider’s perspective, tempered with an objective journalist’s sensibility, to his in-depth reporting.

Harkening back to his newspaper days, Hank considers the readers to be the primary stakeholders whose needs must be met. Report the news quickly, comprehensively and above all, fairly, and readership and sponsorships will follow.

In 2015, Hank was recognized by the American Herbal Products Association with a Special Award for Journalistic Excellence.

When he’s not reporting on the supplement industry, Hank enjoys many outside pursuits. Those include long distance bicycle touring, mountain climbing, sailing, kayaking and fishing. Less strenuous pastimes include travel, reading (novels and nonfiction), studying German, noodling on a harmonica, sketching and a daily dose of word puzzles in The New York Times.

Last but far from least, Hank is a lifelong fan and part owner of the Green Bay Packers.

Subscribe and receive the latest insights on the health and nutrition industry.
Join 37,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like