Can aromatherapy produce harmful indoor air pollutants?

October 20, 2011
Environmental Engineering Science is an authoritative monthly online peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal publishing state-of-the-art studies of innovative solutions to problems in air, water, and land contamination and waste disposal. It features applications of environmental engineering and scientific discoveries, policy issues, environmental economics, and sustainable development. Credit: © Mary Ann Liebert Inc., publishers

Spas that offer massage therapy using fragrant essential oils, called aromatherapy, may have elevated levels of potentially harmful indoor air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ultrafine particles, according to an article in Environmental Engineering Science, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

Fragrant essential oils, derived from plants, may release various VOCs into the air. VOC degradation caused by the reaction of these compounds with ozone present in the air can produce small, ultrafine byproducts called secondary (SOAs), which may cause eye and airway irritation.

Taiwanese researchers Der-Jen Hsu (National Kaohsiung First University of Science and Technology), Hsiao-Lin Huang (Chia-Nan University of Pharmacy and Science, Tainan), and Shiann-Cherng Sheu (Chang-Jung Christian University, Tainan) tested both fragrant and Chinese herbal essential oils for SOA formation in a controlled-environment study chamber under different test conditions. They also performed air sampling and analysis in spa centers that offer massage therapy using essential oils.

The authors compared SOA levels associated for the various fragrant and herbal essential oils tested and present their results in the article, "Characteristics of Air Pollutants and Assessment of Potential Exposure in Spa Centers during Aromatherapy." They conclude that the layout and ventilation within a particular spa may affect the level of produced during massage with aromatherapy.

"Dr. Der-Jen Hsu and his colleagues have done a very nice job in bringing attention to often overlooked health risks associated with luxuries intended to enhance our sense of well-being," says Domenico Grasso, PhD Editor-in-Chief and Vice President for Research, Dean of the Graduate College, University of Vermont (Burlington).

Explore further: In presence of fragrant cleaning products, air purifiers that emit ozone can dirty the air

More information: The article is available free online at

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