However, as with the rest of the essential oil industry, concerns are growing over the purity of ylang ylang oil. Adulteration is becoming increasingly commonplace in its production and suppliers are now looking to address these problems by implementing new, sustainable measures to ensure its continued purity.
Earthoil is a leading supplier of ylang ylang oil. In the following article, Giles Bovill, Sales Director, Earthoil, takes a closer look at ylang ylang and focuses on its growth in Madagascar. He examines the production methods used in this region and how this approach can help overcome current adulteration issues.
The ylang ylang tree is a fast growing plant which can reach heights of up to 30 metres during its 25 years of flower-producing life. Blooming all year round, the tree yields a large amount of flowers. Ylang ylang trees require extensive pruning, which restricts their growth to two metres high. This process leads to more flowers being produced, which in turn allows more oil to be extracted. A tree that is over five years old will produce 20-25kg of flowers per year.
The smallest flowers on the plant produce the most subtle perfume, while the wild flowers have little perfume. Starting as green flowers, the ylang ylang plant becomes yellow with a strong perfume 20 days later. Although the plant bears flowers throughout the year, a wet environment encourages further growth, meaning the plant flourishes in the rainy season.
Ylang ylang oil is produced by distilling the fresh flower cananga odorata var. genuina, which is collected in a range of fractions, depending on its rate of gravity. To produce 2-2.5kg of ylang ylang oil, manufacturers need about 100kg of flowers. The oil is very fluid, clear and has an unusual fragrance, containing high notes of hyacinth and narcissus.
Made in Madagascar
Ylang ylang is well suited to the Madagascan climate and, as such, the country has thriving ylang ylang production. This opens up significant commercial opportunities. Earthoil has been working closely with a group of 16 Madagascan farmers, who maintain a large plantation containing over 20,000 certified organic ylang ylang trees. Employing 100 workers from the region, the flowers are handpicked from plantations located on the east coast of Madagascar – this region provides easy access to collect the ylang ylang by boat, as there is still only one road on the island. The flowers are picked before 9am to avoid the intense heat of the sun, and ensure that the flowers don’t lose their distinctive aroma volatiles.
To enable manufacturers to position their ylang ylang oil as certified, the flowers must be grown in the Nosy Be and Comores areas of Madagascar. If grown outside this location, the ylang ylang oil is sold as conventional, even if it has been grown organically – this has less consumer appeal. With the plant flowering throughout the year in favourable conditions, Nosy Be can produce up to 50 tonnes of ylang ylang per year. Current plans are also in place for these plantations to be certified Fair Trade by the end of 2013 – a move which has been met with approval from the cosmetic industry.
After they have been gathered, the ylang ylang flowers are then distilled. In a production process that is steeped in tradition, the flowers are distilled the same morning to ensure the highest quality oil.
The distillation process employed by the Madagscan growers is basic but effective. Starting with hot water and using wood as the fuel, the process hasn’t changed for almost 30 years. Some other grower groups have modernised their distillation methods. The Comores farmers, for example, now use gas as their energy source instead of wood, further increasing the quality of the grades of oil. Ylang ylang growers only have to pick enough flowers to distil in same the day, which is between 130 and 150kg. A few hours after distillation, the quality of the oil is checked in a bamboo tube. The density is then double-checked before blending according to a grading system which was originally established for perfumers in Grasse.
Blending is the final stage of the production process. It is important to carry out this step at the end of the distillation process to guarantee the purity of the end product. They also assess the fractions before going to the factory, so that the heat can be amended if necessary. It is worth noting, however, that the quality of the ylang ylang oil differs depending on when it is produced. For example, extra quality oil is only produced in high season from March to May.
The genuine article
As manufacturers try to meet demand for the ylang ylang oil, there are growing concerns about adulteration. Essential oils, by definition, should be produced by purely physical means, and be 100 per cent pure and wholly derived from the named botanical source. Fragrance houses are demanding low prices, even when products are highly sought, resulting in unethical practices becoming more prevalent. Lower quality essential oils are now replacing pure or complete oils. The resulting product is of inferior quality and is often used in cheaper perfumes and the soap and cosmetics industries. In response to cheaper essential oils and adjuncts being blended together with other natural and synthetic materials, companies such as Earthoil are now looking to demonstrate their ethical practices and highlight their genuine, fair and ethically sourced ylang ylang oil. The ylang ylang oil produced via Earthoil’s farmer groups in Madagascar is pure and 100 per cent natural while also benefitting from a short supply chain. And, as Earthoil is so closely involved with the farmer group and the production of the oil, it is well placed to provide its customers with complete traceability for the oil. This is a key advantage for natural cosmetic companies who only use fully traceable ingredients in their products.
Adulteration is a key issue for the ylang ylang industry and its influence is having a negative effect on the quality of the oils entering the global cosmetic and fragrance market. By working closely with farmers such as the growers in Madagascar, companies such as Earthoil can now provide high quality, natural and sustainable ylang ylang ingredients for the global cosmetic market to overcome the negative effect of adulteration.
Ylang ylang offers a powerful and distinctive fragrance making it particularly suitable for use in perfumery. Many well known perfumes use ylang ylang thanks to its intense sweet, exotic notes – Chanel number 5 is perhaps the most well known. Ylang ylang is now well established in modern aromatherapy too. The oil is popular among consumers for its calming and relaxing effect on the mind. The sweet and floral aroma can help ease anxiety and is renowned for its soothing properties. Commonly used for its antidepressant benefits, the oil also has aphrodisiac, nervine and sedative properties.
As well as for medical purposes, natives utilised the flowers for cosmetic application, by mixing them with coconut oil to protect their hair from salt damage in the sea. Other early uses for ylang ylang on the islands include skin care, as natives believed that the flowers helped protect them against snake and insect bites.
To this day, ylang ylang oil is still used in the beauty industry to improve symptoms of hair loss, skin conditions such as acne and blemishes and oily skin, as well as to stimulate cell growth and reduce the signs of aging.