Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bad Suppliers Will Scrooge Ya

Don't Get Toadally Scroodged
This will probably be my longest post ever here, but the subject is coming up so often on my group, weekly, in fact, I was urged to go public with it.

We recently had a chat going on my *private* natural perfumery (NP) group about NPers receiving fake aromatics from suppliers they trusted. It's not the first time this has been brought up, and it seems the same guilty suppliers are still selling bunk. Bad news for the naturals industry, since they misrepresent their oils, and we NPers are dedicated to using only natural aromatics.

Con artists, ripoffs, fakery and just plain lying have plagued the perfume industry for centuries. Nothing new under the sun there. When aromatherapy (AT) became popular a few decades ago, many enthusiasts jumped in and started importing oils and selling them to hobbyists and in turn, professionals, as the discipline grew.

I want to bring this discussion out in a more public venue such as this blog, since many newbies enter the field every day, and may not be in the private yahoo group to hear about the dirty side of the industry.

This greed and unresponsiveness of these suppliers is a terrible blight, since many of the hobbyist and beginning business people in NP shell out big money for their supplies. Of course, the bunk aromatics discussed are big money items, although even the rather inexpensive lavender oil can be tweaked by con artists to extend the oil while lowering the cost.

I'm just going to share some short recounts of what has happened to either me or my colleagues over the years. It will give you an idea what to look out for, but by no means offer you protection.

Suppliers Who Just Don’t Know the Product, Or an Honest Mistake?

AT came before NP for most of us. AT suppliers joined AT chat groups and many of us became friendly with them, and believed their spiel. For the most part, many were very honest and upfront, and if they found they were carrying an oil that was tampered with, they removed it from their site.

We also trust the supplier to know their aromatics. One, who touted she had everything GC’d (a GC is a gas chromatograph machine and the baseline test is called a GC)and vetted everything from the source on down, sent me almond oil two times when I ordered Jasmine sambac. Sambac is a darkly-colored, very highly-scented absolute. I called and asked what’s up, and was blown off with the excuse she didn’t like sambac. Well, where’s the GC I asked? No answer? Finally, on the third shipment, I got the sambac.

No explanation, no apology, dead silence from someone obviously caught selling an item she wasn’t familiar with, hadn’t had GC’d, and hadn’t even bothered to read the Arctander book she often said was her Bible to check the description. After that, she avoided my emails and phone calls, a withdrawal from someone that had called me four or more times a day occasionally, especially when she was going through a truly horrible patch of bad health and deaths in her family and that of a close friend. I suppose shame makes folks withdraw, but I’d rather she had withdrawn the bunk oils she was selling (see below for more info.)

The part that saddens me is how many novices ordered the pricey sambac and got the almond oil and never knew the difference? There are many novices out there spending lots of money to sample small amounts of pricey absolutes and Eos, and I’m afraid to think how often stuff like this happens.

Another supplier, not highly respected among AT or NPers because she serves the soapers industry (a nasty, unfounded prejudice) sent me frankincense when I ordered a helichrysum sample. I called, she immediately apologized, and sent the correct item. It was a clerk's error. This person does not post on chats, keeps to herself, never touts she has GCs done on her products, just is a very, very successful businesswoman who does not fabricate.

Another supplier, very big on the West Coast that is known for the uneven quality of the products, sent me saffron abs instead of another oil I had ordered. Called them, immediate shipment of the correct item, no questions asked.

Sometimes it’s a simple administrative error – the person filling the bottle reaches for something on the shelf, is unfamiliar with the oil, and picks up the wrong bottle, ships the wrong stuff. I can see this happening with the bigger outfits, and they were the ones to immediately correct the mistake.

We often have newbies post on my group “I bought some *** for the first time, but it doesn’t smell like the description I’ve read, what does everyone think?” We help them ferret it out, and if it seems like something I’ve shown above, we tell them to contact the supplier. I think it’s the only way a newbie can be sure they’re getting the real thing, and it can really save them money and going down the wrong aromatic road with the incorrect oil.

Another AT supplier who now sells to the NP industry has a disclaimer on her site about an oil that the “sambac” seller was discovered to be supplying the NPers with that was blatently synthetic. They often go in on buys, and had a well-known kilo of fiddled Bulgarian rose otto a few years ago rather ruin their reps, so if you get some sweetly floral, pourable, light colored linden blossom oil, return it. And ask them to stop selling it please.

How the linden blossom absolute fraud came to light: I got a call from a NPer who was trying to obtain some true linden blossom abs for a last minute replacement for a submittal that was due the next week. She had contacted the woman who was the second-tier supplier and headed the blending group that issued the deadline, and was overnighted some LBA. Except this NPer was familiar with real LBA and was full of consternation as to what to do. The woman selling the LBA got it from the “sambac” seller. She thought it was the real deal. Obviously, despite heading a blending group (not being a perfumer herself) she didn’t bother to GC stuff, since she thought the sambac seller had. Whew. Following me? Turns out all the perfumers had purchased fake LBA. She still buys from “sambac” seller, doesn’t GC and well….

…..It’s really a minefield out there.

How Can France Export More Lavender Oil than it Produces?

Well, heck I don’t know. Martin Watt, a well-respected debunker and skeptic recounts the story of how he was visiting a French distiller, and when he wandered off from the tour, and went behind a building, he found 55-gallon drums of lavender oil, imported from Italy, I believe.

EDITED TO CORRECT - MARTIN WATT'S INFORMATION:


I was recounting Martin's story from memory, and I got a lot of the details wrong. It's been years since he related it to me, so please forgive me. Here is what Martin wrote me today:

You got the report on me wrong. The lavender issue was I was told by a
supplier of real lavender in the UK, that when his friend visited this
factory in France, what was in the backyard were barrels of ho leaf oil
for the linalool content, as well as the chemical that converts linalool
into linalyl acetate. That means perfectly genuine lavender was going
in the front door and tourists saw that distilled. What they got in
their little bottles though was a different ballgame. Yet these
tourists would swear blind that they "saw the lavender distilled so they
knew the oil was genuine".
His page http://www.aromamedical.com/articles/falseoil.html succinctly describes many of the pitfalls on a grander scale. Geared towards the AT industry, but very relevant to this article.

Many distillers, brokers and suppliers stretch and tinker with our aromatics. That is a fact of life. ATers will care if the lavender is stretched with linalool, or tweaked to smell better, since they demand stuff straight from the still. NPers are more open to a fiddled oil, since they aren’t looking for therapeutic efficacy, but scent. Still, dumping rose geranium oil into rose otto dramatically cuts the price and extends the oil, and both NP and AT folks shouldn’t accept that, that is blatent thievery: http://www.positivehealth.com/permit/Articles/Aromatherapy/frank55.htm

Hey, This Stuff Doesn’t Smell Very Good/Strong/Similar

Always sample first! You can’t always ask for a GC, but if you are an experienced nose, get samples. Your supplier should supply a batch and lot number for the oil you’re getting. If not, ask for that, for sure.

My buddy in Turkey sold me a Lavendin in 1999. I loved the stuff. When I got back to him two years later, that variety was sold out, and he said a lot of people didn’t like it, so that’s why he was carrying a new lavendin. Heck, stock can turn over much quicker than that, maybe in a few months.

If I had just ordered without asking first about the batch and lot number, I’d have gotten a really different smelling product. He would not have been in the wrong, I would have been in the wrong for not trying to ascertain the sameness of the product.

That said, quality of a product can vary from year to year due to weather, soil or other conditions.
The West Coast supplier who mixed up the saffron is known for uneven quality of the oils. I always sample first and boy, did they have a watery (weak) frankincense, but yowza! their fresh ginger from Indonesia is fabulous. Still, when I reorder, I’ll cite batch and lot number, and get new samples if that original one is sold out.

Summary

I’m not even going to address gardenia (Monoi folks use perfume oils, *maybe* are making gardenia absolute nowadays, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it), violet flower, hyacinth, lilac, freesia and many of the other supposed natural oils that are out there. A NPers started blending with some very pricey stuff purchased from a well-known AT shop in her city, and when questions were raised about these rarely-if-ever extracted scents, sent me samples of them. All bunk. She was out a LOT of money.

Many ask me to recommend suppliers. I do sometimes on my private group. On that group, I also demand that anyone who posts must have first hand knowledge of the deal that went down. It must have happened to them, not hearsay.

Why won't I publish a list of respectable suppliers? Because two suppliers had me fooled for years with their constant claims of GC'd oils, stringent demands from their sources, etc. One once sent a GC to a friend of mine. I had requested GCs from her, but always got excuses. I had the friend, whom she didn't know, request one. It was a generic GC, xeroxed on her letterhead, no date, no lab identified, etc. It would fool a newbie, but not me - I'd want the lab ID'd, the date, the lot and batch number, etc., not a xeroxed dummy GC. I still have it, like I have the GC from an Indian supplier that showed only peaks, no ID on the chem. So strange. The salesperson didn't know what the GC meant, and some of their oils were totally fake.

Get educated, get skeptical, get into a chatty community where discussions can remain private, like my yahoo group (otherwise have proof if the stuff is bunk if you go public – and I have proof about the linden, sambac and other allegations I’ve made here, but I haven’t named names) and remember that the herb and perfume industries are two of the most dishonest industries around. That’s sad to say, but it’s centuries old, and it’s not going to change any time soon. Even Martin doesn’t name names on his site – what’s the use? We all know who he’s talking about, for the most part, and if we don’t, at least we know what to look for.

The internet allows a newbie in Connecticut to hook up with a NPer group and suss out fake hyacinth, it helps a soaper perfumer in Wales learn that her linden and magnolia are very suspect. The AT and NP industries would not exist as they do without the internet, and we’re all very thankful for that. We’re all helping each other source good products, and the community is growing by leaps and bounds, and we’re creating beautiful perfumes made from as well-sourced-as-possible natural aromatics.

Then there's the story about the co-op buy of neroli from that No Cal company --- for another time, although I wonder how the suppliers that bought it passed it on to their customers, if they did so – thousands of dollars were at stake, or they'd suffer a loss. Be Careful, everyone!

28 comments:

  1. An impassioned, fascinating, and educational plea for caution.

    Thank you, yet again, for sharing what you know.
    You probably have little idea how much that means to me...
    I've never understood why people hoard their knowledge; if knowledge were manure, its dissemination would cause amazing growth, don't you think ?

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  2. Good work, and I agree with you 100%. When I purchase something I expect it to be what I ordered. Regardless of it being an essential oil or a bolt of fine silk fabric.
    The cost to maintain a professional perfumers studio/lab is more than most folks could ever imagine. Easily into the tens of thousands and then some.. Not to mention the record keeping and vast encyclopedia of kowledge one must have.
    I collect Rose Oils like some women collect shoes, always on the hunt for the next perfect one. Sniffing out the truth, and making good decisions is a vital part of the game, and staying ontop of it is a job in itself.
    Best, Z........

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  3. Chaya

    This subject comes up so much in my group, over and over. Glad I could share the general gist of it with y'all.

    ZZ

    Thanks, your professional opinion means a lot, and knowing you personally, I know you won't settle for second best in anything.

    Sniffing out the truth....yes indeed! ;-)

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  4. I just realized that I didn't mention the suppliers of the Guild! I have been buying from them for years, and have never had one bad oil or questionable deal, or paid an overinflated price.

    I guess I was so focused on the warning against the bad in this post, I subconsciously didn't even want to post about them in the same article!

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  5. Ok Ok you shamed me into posting a comment! lol!
    I would say the realisation that I had mistakenly used a synthetic or inferior material in my perfume would be deeply disturbing to me. The thought is scary. I am only a beginner in the natural perfumers' world and I hope it never happens to me.
    Knowing people like you makes it less likely!

    Ruth

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  6. Yes, Mz. Ruth, shame you I did -- but thanks for posting. It's better a little spanking shame for reading and not posting than buying bunk linden blossom absolute and selling a perfume with it!

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  7. Yes, Anya Dear, ya wet-noodled me too! So here's my post: I'm tickled that you took the time and effort to put this together for all folks need to know. I got burned out of my money in my first substantial purchase, which was from a supplier that my sister-in-law uses. She's into FOs -- I should not have gone there. Your posting will help so many people. There's safety in numbers and knowledge is power. Thank you so much!

    Andrine

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  8. Anya, Thanks for this great article. I am so amazed when I confront some very big spa professionals on their product that claim to be all natural oils. Yeah I know that there is now way in H@@l that they are going to first uptain a true oil on some of them and second that if they did they would be selling the highly scented product at the price that they have on the items. I just look at them and say you should really be careful how you label your products. Thanks again for a great article. Sometimes we get our hopes up for a great oil we have searched long and hard for and our rational can take a flying leap...

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  9. Thank you Anya, for going public with this issue.
    Essential Oils are big money, and like all such items, attract scammers. This is no surprise. Surprising is however, that there is nothing in place to protect buyers. This lack of effort makes things worse, since it makes it a "legal crime" attracting yet more.
    Thanks to your efforts and your NP group (and its members)a lot of these issues can be weeded out, ultimately resulting in supporting the good and honest businesses.

    There is power in numbers, and your group has passed the 1000 mark quite a while back -Gratulations to an awesome job in educating, informing and growing a new generation of perfumers, while providing a friendly and fun environment. Even professionals still learn, because there is no end to learning about natural scents (and where to obtain them).

    You are kind to withold names in this issue, either way. I hope there are some thankful people out there.

    I feel however, there should be a "blacklist" of some sort for the worst offenders, or at least a feedback system, like e-bay and such, has. It would be a fair enough reflection on their business. Can't argue too much with positive and negative numbers, even considering that some will not leave a comment, some will be complainers. The comments would be for quality and service to judge the details of the transactions.
    Something like that would not make all well, but put enough pressure on where it counts - profits.
    In time things could change, to at least have good choices available.


    Maybe in the future -one can only hope. For now, it's really great that someone (you Anya) had the guts to address this issue. I'm sure there will be some complaints by some trying to protect their own interests.
    Over 1000 people are behind you, probably many more.

    Thank you

    SBH

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  10. Great work Anya.... been looking forward to seeing this posted.

    Definately hit the spot on this rather unhappy state of affairs. We as NPs expect the right to make an informed choice and if that right has been thwarted by lack of documentation it affects their spirit as a natural perfumer and their business ethos.

    NP group is not only a great way of sharing information but it can provide a haven for support education and query.....

    Thanks again Anya for putting this out there

    Janita

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  11. A lot of these problems could be avoided if people would only attempt to learn the trade they are entering first before pushing out products. I have found numerous so called NPers and soapers(including some big name ones) who do not have the first clue about sources of genuine supply, safety issues, chemistry, botany or much else involved in creating a quality product. These people simply believe what suppliers tell them and pass that on without checking on its accuracy. There are thousands of web sites with that kind of junk on them!

    Oil suppliers are no different to any other trade in that if they can make a fast buck by lying they will. Only by knowing what questions to ask and more on the technical side of the trade, can you stand a little chance of making it through the minefield.

    Basically many people elbowing in to this trade are too damned lazy to learn about it by taking decent courses. With my own course around 50% of students purchase it, but do not complete it once they realise you have to STUDY. You cannot learn this trade just from web sites or off the Internet as so many seem to assume. On the newsgroups there are only a tiny handful of real experts, yet many giving the air of authority.

    When I once posted the truth on suppliers to a newsgroup and what things to be on the lookout for, I was banned because the group owner could not take the truth.
    Martin Watt

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  12. Thanks for posting this. I am new to natural perfumery but not new to purchasing essential oils. I expect when I am spending a lot of money on precious absolutes or essential oils to get quality especially since I am not familiar with some of them. Actually, I expect to receive what I think I am buying regardless.
    I am a member of your group and a huge thank you to everyone for sharing all the great informaiton.

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  13. Anya, I add my thanks to everyone else's for your clear and concise explantion of the problem.

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  14. Ruth,
    Using a fake oil in one of our perfumes is an artist's worst nightmare.

    None of the blenders who got the second-hand bunk LBA were real commercial entities, so perhaps the general public did not get on the receiving end of unnatural perfume ;-) Still, it was a scandal.

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  15. Andrine, glad to have you comment, and glad to have you in the group, you are dedicated and very energetic in your natural perfumery endeavors.

    Too bad you didn't find us earlier and save the big $$

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  16. Hi Sandi

    The spa industry is slowly coming around, and education is key. Keep talking to them in a friendly manner, or better yet, bring a nice aromatic or perfume for them to sniff.

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  17. SBH, one of the companies who sold fake LBA has the "Aromark" designation, so we can see that means nothing. Most of those caught with bunk used personal persuasion to "certify" their oils with buyers. Sad, but true, and I was one who fell for it -- until I got my first bunk from them.

    There is strength in numbers, and the growth of my group has shown that. I put up with lurkers and those who steal posts to use them elsewhere because the community is so strong we have to accept all types for the greater good of the growth of natural perfumery, and that is fine.

    The blacklist idea would only send some futher down the Black Hole. We can chat privately and if they get upset, it just shows they're lurking there, not contributing, so be it.

    I used to maintain a recommended sellers list, but two cons weaseled their way on it!

    Other than the Guild list, all of the sellers I trust over years of experience with them, let's just keep up the chat privately in the group.

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  18. Thanks for the kind words, Janita, coming from a longtime and respecter natural perfumer like yourself, that means a lot.

    Our community is worldwide (wave to Wales!) and growing stronger every day, and I had no idea, until I saw the posts here and in the group, that this information needed to go public.

    So many don't come from the experience of the AT industry groups, where this kind of bunk was exposed for years, I didn't realize that the wide world had no idea about it all!

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  19. Martin, everything you say is true. I put it down to being naive and trusting that so many, new to the industry, don't think to vet the supplies.

    That is changing, I hope. Your work in safety and whistle-blowing is very important, as we all know, well, in my group at least, since I always tout your manual Plant Aromatics. I often reference your website, as I did in this article, for info on bunk oil sellers, so many, hopefully, are catching on to the cons of the industry.

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  20. Hi Anonymous

    It's the newbies like yourself that are the most vulnerable to losing money on bunk oils, so I'm glad you're in the group and catching on to the industry.

    Don't be afraid to ask about an oil you purchase, as we often help vet them if there is a question about authenticity.

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  21. Hi Lucy

    As I said before, I guess the post was long overdue in the public forum, which surprised me.

    Guess the next one will be on safety, something many newbies don't know much about, but which is as important as oil sourcing.

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  22. Anya-

    Thanks so much for putting this out there! Although I only dabble lightly in Natural Perfumery, I do use essential oils extensively in my Aromatherapy practice and so I really count on my suppliers to sell me quality oils. I often get asked by my students how they can know if they are getting quality oils, and two of the things I tell them are get to know your supplier, and get involved in discussion groups like yours where they can learn from others' experiences (good and bad). Thanks for the great blog and for hosting the Natural Perfumery discussion group!

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  23. Enlightning, educational and enjoyable reading. Once again, I am thanking the fates that led me to the NP Group at yahoo. The words of wisdom and experience from you, Martin and many others have saved me thousands in just a few short months.
    I'm right there with Chaya in that I feel knowledge should be like smiles...freely shared and often.
    Unfortunately, I have just this past weekend experienced exactly what you have written here. Via my Sister/Partner, we have ferreted out mis-labeled oils, mis-represented blends and a general "who the heck cares" attitude of a California company with whom she had long dealt. No more and never again and have shared our findings - discreetly and with good taste - with a fellow business woman. Now we have 3 product lines to recreate, reformulate and the myriad liabilities to consider.
    A continuance of knowledge shared (and/or smiles too?) will prevent this from happenng to others.
    Thank you from all 3 of us for posting this.

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  24. Hi Deborah

    It was in aromatherapy where most of us originally learned of the rampant adulteration and just plain fakery of oils. Everyone was so naive. Like you, I'm glad the internet gives us the chance to compare notes.

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  25. Vykky--
    Yours is surely a cautionary tale, having to reformulate and start your line over again. I know of several perfumers who had to do the same with at least one of their perfumers. The cons who sold them the bunky oils are still out there promoting themselves as authentic, natural oil sellers. It's really a shame, but glad you're in the group and we could help you on your mission of integrity.

    Late breaking news: a respected perfume chemist is going to share a PDF of a long article he wrote on how the cons adulterate oils, and it should be available on the group for download in a day or so.

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  26. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  27. The post that got me banned from a 'suppliers' group (now closed). Some on this list may find the points helpful for general guidelines. Sorry long.
    ---------------------------

    I find it rather worrying that this group is being used to recommend certain oil suppliers based on the "experience" of group members. The reason for this is because with my long association with the essential oil trade, I know that most people people on these groups do not really have a clue about quality. I have no problem with people recommending companies that provide good service, but quality of oils I have a big problem with.

    For example using words such as "These are the best I have ever experienced" mean absolutely nothing as far as quality or genuiness of essential oils is concerned. As a rule of thumb the better an oil smells, the more likely it is to have been touched up by fragrance chemist. The facts are that the vast majority of aromatherapy traders do not have the first clue about the quality of oils that they buy via middlemen. Also don't be fooled by those who claim they get ALL their oils direct from growers, that is hogwash. Others such as ****.com are selling oils from trees that are on the endangered list, as well as selling dangerous oils such as calamus.

    There are analysts turned suppliers, who knowingly sell adulterated oils to aromatherapy outlets. There are others who claim to do analysis but have had no training in the fragrance trades or experience working for big oil distributors. Only a tiny number of aromatherapy suppliers can afford to have their oils analysed by experts. There are those who pay for the cheapest analysis, simply so they can claim their oils are genuine - cheap analysis will not detect good adulteration. In reality, this trade is awash with oils that are not all they are claimed to be. If that matters depends of course on what the end use is. For example, it would be unwise to use a semi synthetic French 40/42 lavender oil on a mild burn, but a few drops in the bath or in cosmetic products is fine.

    "I trust my supplier". That is the biggest load of nonsense I have heard. There are only a tiny number of aromatherapy suppliers that I would trust and those are on my web site. There are some who do their utmost to only sell quality products, but there are a hundred fold more who just do not care as long as the cash is flowing. The internet is bursting with people selling oils who know nothing, but their web sites are impressive. For example only last week I found the below on an impressive looking web site, unfortunately I lost the URL.
    ---------------
    Examples of a know nothing, or care not, supplier-see my asterisks:

    About this oil: Cassia is also known as cassia bark or Chinese cinnamon.....Cassia oil should not be used on the skin as it is a dermal irritant, dermal sensitizer and is a mucus membrane irritant and must be avoided in pregnancy. May also be used daily as a room fragrance, **bath oil or personal perfume**. Cassia oil should not be used in massage therapy.

    Origin: China. Top Note. **Cold pressed.** 100% Pure!
    ---------------
    Firstly, Cassia oil is steam distilled from the bark yet this author claims cold pressed.

    Secondly, Cassia oil is not permitted in cosmetic products because of its high incidence of skin reactions. So to suggest it can be used "daily" in a bath clearly indicates someone who knows nothing about the safety of what they are selling. Yet, I came across this site because someone was recommending them as having a good knowledge on oils!!!

    So beware of believing a fraction of the hype on suppliers web sites. Bear in mind there is no system in place for verifying the claims made on internet sites. Anyone can say anything they like and will usually get away with it.

    Martin Watt .
    ----
    Martin Watt
    http://www.aromamedical.com

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  28. Thank you for this great article Anya! I have been a member of your group since August, and learned through reading past posts and getting helpful information from yourself and members to Sample, Sample, Sample!

    I was not very unfamiliar with pure essential oils and absolutes beyond a general idea of how they should smell and look. Getting a few samples of the same oil from several suppliers helped me to ferret out the lesser quality oils. I created a saucer for each, labeled them, diluted them each in the same manner with jojoba, and wore each one to see how they developed over time. I even let them develop over several days and repeatedly tested them. In this manner I was able to better determine if one of the oils was not what it should be, and also find the oil that I preferred. One person’s favorite Jasmine is not necessarily another’s! I currently get my supplies from 4 different companies and I only use a few oils!

    It is very sad that someone would knowingly sell products that are not what they appear to be, and go to such lengths to deceive. I feel fortunate to have so much help and support from your Natural Perfumery group, and will hopefully be able to minimize my loses.

    Thank you again for helping to open our eyes!

    Best Regards,

    Julie

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