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Tea tree oil (TTO) is an essential oil obtained from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, M. linariifolia, or M. dissitiflora. Because of the commercial importance of TTO, substitution or adulteration with other tea tree species (such as cajeput, niaouli, manuka, or kanuka oils) is common and may pose significant risks along with perceived health benefits. The distinctive nature, qualitative and quantitative compositional variation of these oils, is responsible for the various pharmacological as well as adverse effects. Authentic TTOs (especially aged ones) have been identified as potential skin sensitizers, while reports of adverse allergic reactions to the other tea trees essential oils are less frequent. Chemical sensitizers are usually electrophilic compounds, and in chemico methods have been developed to identify skin allergens in terms of their ability to bind to biological nucleophiles. However, little information is available on the assessment of sensitization potential of mixtures, such as essential oils, due to their complexity. In the present study, 10 “tea tree” oils and six major TTO constituents have been investigated for their sensitization potential using a fluorescence in chemico method. The reactivity of authentic TTOs was found to correlate with the age of the oils, while the majority of nonauthentic TTOs were less reactive, even after aging. Further thio-trapping experiments with DCYA and characterization by UHPLC-DAD-MS led to the identification of several possible DCYA-adducts which can be used to deduce the structure of the candidate reactive species. The major TTO components, terpinolene, α-terpinene, and terpinene-4-ol, were unstable under accelerated aging conditions, which led to the formation of several DCYA-adducts.

Reference: Chem. Res. Toxicol., 2016, 29 (7), pp 1108–1117; Cristina Avonto†, Amar G. Chittiboyina†, Mei Wang†, Yelkaira Vasquez†, Diego Rua§, and Ikhlas A. Khan*†‡

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