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Q: What does solvent-free mean and why is it important?  
  We take purity one step further, by not only providing products free of artificial fragrances, but also free of solvent (hexane) extracted essential oils.

We have found that people with sensitive skin are susceptible to the chemical solvents used to extract essential oils and plant extracts.

There are now three major methods used to separate an essential oil or extract from its plant source (roots, bark, flowers, leaves, seeds, stems, etc..). The traditional and purest method is called steam distillation, which uses only pure water to separate and harvest the essential oils. The second method uses carbon dioxide (CO2) instead of water to separate the oils/extracts.The third method utilizes petrochemical solvents, such as hexane and ethanol, to isolate the essential oil from its plant source. Naturally, we prefer essential oils and extracts that are isolated using either steam distillation or carbon dioxide.

Generally speaking, you cannot ascertain an essential oil's extraction method simply by reading the ingredient label. However, some companies do identify them. Carbon dioxide extracted essential oils may be written on the label as "CO2 extracted". Essential oils with the word "absolute" after it, are typically solvent extracted using hexane and a type of alcohol (ethanol) [e.g. Rose Absolute]. Solvent based isolation methods can extract more essential oil per pound of plant source than steam distillation can, thus they make solvent extracted essential oils less expensive to buy.

Unfortunately, traces of these chemical solvents are found in the final product and can easily irritate people with sensitive skin and noses. 

Bottles of hexane/ethanol extracted essential oils still contain 1-5% ethanol and traces of hexane (1).

Delicate and expensive plant sources (like roses and vanilla) are more likely to be solvent extracted than less expensive plant sources (like lavender and chamomile).  This could be why some people with sensitive skin, do not typically enjoy or tolerate rose scented products. We estimate that ~90% of skin care manufacturers that use rose essential oils in their products, use the solvent extracted variety.

In addition to their irritation potential, aromatic petrochemical solvents like hexane, are toxic and long term exposure to them can place a heavy burden on the body's detoxification pathways. If you already have chemical sensitivities, exposure to hexane extracted essential oils can exacerbate symptoms.  

At Pure Complexions, we make it easy to find solvent-free skin care products! Not only do we find the purest products on the market, but we ascertain the extraction method used in each essential oil they contain. Once a product passes our preliminary approval, we then test the products on our own solvent sensitive staff for the final vote.  

When we state a product is "solvent-free" - it means that the essential oils/extracts in that product are isolated by safe steam distillation or carbon dioxide methods (not hexane).
 

 
Q: What type of reactions do solvent extracted essential oils cause?  
  Solvent extracted essential oils can cause reactions that are similar to artificial fragrance exposures and can include;   
 
  • Headaches
  • Skin Rashes
  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Hives
  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Burning
  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • "Breathing Difficulties"
 
  Because solvent extracted essential oils are so common, it is not unusual, for people with solvent sensitivities to think they are sensitive to ALL scented products.  
     
Q: Do all of your manufacturers use solvent-free essential oils?  
  No, not all of them. We maintain a list of our solvent-free manufacturers on our FAQ page. We also identify our solvent-free essential oils within a product's ingredient list. We either mark each individual essential oil with "solvent-free" or label the entire product with "scented by solvent free essential oils". Only a few of our products, namely highly requested items, have questionable solvent status. If the product is not labeled "solvent-free" than you can assume we could not confirm its extraction method yet.

For those manufacturers that use a mixed array of essential oils, we try to offer their safest products that are least likely to contain solvents and/or are unscented. (For example Devita and  Logona cannot guarantee the use of solvent-free essential oils).
 
     
Q Is it possible to be sensitive to both solvent extracted and solvent-free essential oils?  
  Yes. There are three levels of "fragrance" sensitivities;
  1. Artificial Fragrance Sensitivities (mild)
  2. Solvent-Extracted Essential Oil Sensitivities (moderate)
  3. Solvent-Free Essential Oil Sensitivities (severe)

Within these levels, the quantity of essential oils used is also a major factor. For example, small concentrations of lavender essential oil used as a preservative agent may not be problematic for a severely sensitive person, however, higher concentrations of lavender essential oil intended to scent a product may become an issue.

Depending on a person's toxin load (diet, inflammatory levels, environmental exposure, liver function, gut flora, etc..) he or she may vacillate between a moderate and severely sensitive state.

We cater to the full spectrum of fragrance sensitivities.

 
     
 

Resources:

  1. 2007. Essential Oil University: http://essentialoils.org/shop/cat/2
 

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