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Projeto 2020
Interview with Marco Valussi - Consultant for Essential Oils

Today we will learn more about the work and expertise of our consultant for essential oils, Marco Valussi.

Soon, we will be publishing a compilation of articles written by our consultant, with focus on his work and how his experience has enriched Scents from Nature.

With a remarkable path in the field of essential oils, Marco Valussi started with a diploma in Aromatherapy in 1995 from ITHMA, and obtained his degree in Herbal Medicine in 1998 from Middlesex University. He was also Director of the Professional School of Aromatherapy and Bodywork, teacher of Essential Oil Science and is a guest lecturer at the Masters in Medicinal Plants at the Universities of Florence, Siena and Pisa. He continues his work as an NGO consultant in developing countries. In addition to his work as a consultant, he works as product manager at Magnifica Essenza.

As an introduction to the articles and to give you a better understanding of our consultant's background we have prepared a short interview which we share with you below:

"How many years have you been working in the field of essential oils?"
'I gained my Aromatherapy Diploma in London in 1995, and I immediately started worked as an aromatherapy masseur.  So, we can say that I have been using EOs for 28 years.  I started my teaching career in 2000, so that is 23 years of teaching.  I have started doing consultancy work in the field of distillation in 2008, and I started my own distillation company in 2014, se we can say I’ve been involved in distillation for 10-15 years.'

"What led you to choose this area of specialization?"
'At the beginning it was only an added competence to my career as a masseur, but when I enrolled in the Phytotherapy Degree course at Middlesex University I realized it could be thought as a tool in the herbal medicine armamentarium. I saw that essential oils could be a bridge between herbal medicine (with many low-potency, wide spectrum, safe remedies) and classical pharmacology, and that their production was still low-tech enough to use it in non-industrialized countries, and I was intrigued by the possibility of producing my own remedies.'

"What are the potential applications and benefits of essential oils in different industries?"
'EOs are most notably interesting for their antimicrobial activity, especially because they appear to be less prone to inducing drug resistance in microbes, and because they can be, in certain instances, used as co-administration with antibiotics.  They are also quite interesting in the field of psychopharmacology, both because of their olfactory-stimulating capacity and because they are small enough to pass the BBB and enter in contact with cerebral receptors.  Because of their general biological-membrane stimulating activity, they have been used (as aromatic plants’ extracts) all over the world and for millennia as digestive stimulants and as respiratory stimulants, antispasmodics, expectorants. Some of them have other, less generalized, properties, such as anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antinociceptive, and so on. They are also a very important ingredient in perfumery, both natural and high-end, promising ingredients in agronomy as pesticides.'

"How can essential oils be effectively incorporated into existing products or used to develop new ones?"
'From a formulator’s point-of-view, because of their lipophilic nature, EOs can be easily incorporated into lipid-based products, such as creams, ointments, and so on, and because of their volatility they can be used in inhalations, aerosols, environmental fragrance, and so on, so skin and respiratory product are an obvious target of interest. Also, being that they are very potent at very low dosages, it’s easier to either add them to already existing products, to enhance or change their activity, or to imagine new products that don’t need a large dosage to be active. And they almost always play a double role, pharmacological and olfactory, enhancing the experience of the final user.'

"Are there any safety precautions or guidelines that businesses should follow when using essential oils?"
'Essential oils are generally speaking quite active products, dominated by small molecules which can relatively easily pass the biological membranes, hence great caution needs to be paid at the safety of the employees in the distillation industry, because they are, day by day, in contact with EO in the atmosphere and potentially on the skin.  This can cause allergies in atopic individuals; chronic, low grade toxicity because of long term inhalation of EO molecules, and so on.  Proper measures of personal protection (gloves, goggles, etc.) and air purification are necessary.  At the other end of the process, when EOs are sold to the general public a general note of caution is needed when dealing with special populations, such as children and elderly, pregnancy, breast-feeding, atopic conditions. Another big issue is the prevention of oxidation and aging of the EOs.  While EO are not prone to microbiological contamination and degradation, they can be sensitive to oxidation (depending on the amount of hydrocarbons in the EO), which can degrade the quality of the EO and change its chemistry so that the safety and the efficacy can be modified in unpredictable ways.  In general we know that oxidized EOs tend to be more allergenic and more irritant.  Precautions that need to be implemented include drying of the EOs (elimination of any excess water), protection from oxygen by using modified atmosphere in the containers, protraction from light and from excess heat.'

"What quality standards should be considered when sourcing essential oils?"
'The answer partly depends on the final use the EO is going to have.  There are certain standards that are relevant only for certain fields of application, as for instance analyses for cosmetic allergens or dietary allergens.  But in general I’d say that the following standards are always relevant:
• Standards of environmental sustainability: plant conservation (IUCN, CITES, FairWild), environment (pollution, CO2 footprint, circular economy)
• Traceability
• GAP, GMP
• Third party GC with or without ISO standard
• Pesticides residues
• Peroxide levels (for the EOs that are particularly rich in hydrocarbons or oxidizable molecules)
• Date of distillation/ expire by date'

"Can you please provide information about the extraction methods used for different types of essential oils and their impact on quality?"
'Essential oils, by international definitions (ISO, Pharmacopoeias) can be obtained via three distinct methods: steam distillation (divided in direct steam, indirect steam and water distillation); mechanical manipulation of the zest of citrus fruits (obtaining the so called c.p. EOs, or cold-pressed EOs); destructive distillation or resinous materials (an extremely uncommon method, quite forgotten today, and the source of EOs which are quite different from all the other ones).  Distillation is the most common method used, and it is indeed a very ancient one.  Although in and by itself a simple, relatively low-tech process, there are many details that can go wrong in a distillation, from the duration, the amount of steam used, the packing of the still, the treatment of the material before the distillation. This means that in order to run an efficient and high quality distillation the operators need to know the process and the plant material extremely well, in order to maximize yield and quality.  Of course, post-distillation procedures are also important for maintaining the quality over time. So we need to minimize oxidation and cross-contamination.'

"Based on your knowledge of Scents from Nature essential oils which oils are the most distinctive? Why?"
'I was immediately drawn to three EOs which were unknown or almost unknown to me, and which showed peculiar and complex olfactory profiles: Myrothamnus flabellifolius (Resurrection bush), Brachylaena huillensis (Muhuhu), and Colophospermum mopane (Mopane). Resurrection bush was interesting because of its important ethnopharmacological role in traditional African folklore and medicine, and because of its peculiar smell, citrusy-spicy-terpenic and later on frankincense-like.  Muhuhu is a dense, heavy EO, composed only or mainly by sesquiterpenes, and not the most well-known, such as amorphene, copaen-15-ol and gleenol. Its smell is characteristic, very perfumery, pleasant, vetiver- or sandalwood-like, with a fixative quality.  Mopane is fairly new EO to the market, with a very terpenic top note that becomes sweet with some warmth, and later on more pungent and warm, with a very fresh top note and some spiciness.'

"What do you consider to be the best properties of these essential oils?"
'Resurrection Bush is a good antimicrobial, and perhaps a stomachic, digestive and gastroprotective remedy. Mopane is dominated by alpha-pinene, and this suggests moderate antibacterial and antifungal activities, anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects. Muhuhu showed antimicrobial activity , and when it contains high levels of β-caryophyllene it might show a good anti-inflammatory,  anticonvulsant, analgesic, myorelaxing, sedative, and antidepressive effects.'

"What do you consider to be the best part of being an NGOs consultant in developing countries?"
'There’s a general pleasure in visiting other countries and knowing their culture, but specifically it has always been very stimulating for me to work with people for whom the essential oil industry is an important economic asset, and not a cottage industry or a hobby. This has allowed me to learn how to optimize the production chain, and to appreciate that although quality of the final product is fundamental, if the production is too expensive the product will not sell, hence we need to take into account the economic sustainability of the whole process.  A consequence of the fact that in these countries distillation can and usually is a strong asset, is that collaborating in this field is extremely satisfactory, because you have the feeling that what you’re doing is going to make a difference for the livelihood of workers and their families.  Moreover, it also means that you participate in a common effort to rehabilitate traditional knowledge of MAPs, and to make this knowledge a source of economic autonomy for people struggling with they daily lives.'

"What are the factors to consider when evaluating potential suppliers or manufacturers of essential oils?"
'In my opinion the best tool for evaluation is the willingness of the supplier to share information about the company and the products. Some relevant questions are: are they direct producers or distributors/brokers? What level of control do they have on the supply and production chain? Do they have a formal traceability system?  What level of information do they offer? Do they grow their crop from verified genetic material? Do they offer GCs of every batch of EO? Is the analysis done by a third party or by an in-house lab? Do they provide the distillation date? If not, do they provide a use-by date? If they do, do they justify it, explaining how they arrive at that date? Are they open about the process, is it possible to visit the lab?  Do they abide to ISO standards? Do they test for peroxides or any other measure of oxidation?  What kind of post-production measures do they take to ensure proper conservation of the EOs?'