Toxicity and perfume

Further insight into the health impact of fragrance in the context of product compositions scanning.

Modified on
May 18th 2022

Samuel Fillon

Magic Tea @ Unsplash

A constant mistrust hangs over us ! Whether for greed or pleasure, manufacturers are said to be poisoning us with every drop of cosmetics and perfume. At a time when we can hear anything and everything, many of us "scan" our bathroom products in search of the truth or explanations. Discovering "toxicity" in scented soil.

Like many jobs, the perfumer's career has undergone important evolutions during the 20th century. Originally artisanal and with few legal restrictions, regulations came to light over the 1960s and the 1970s with the creation of the IFRA ( international Fragrance Association) and the RFMI (Research Institute for Fragrance Materials), its counterpart in charge of research.

The IFRA supplies perfume producers with certifications which entitle the making of fragrance materials ( in cosmetics as well as in candles, body care etc.). The composition is strictly certified and verified - only a few thousand molecules are authorized at miscellaneous thresholds and perfume producers will have to bend over backwards to obtain this door opener.

Unlike other industries with fewer regulations, we do not carelessly produce perfume with anything and everything. Moreover, whereas American Law requests the proof of the insecurity and the hazardousness of a product to withdraw it from sales, European legislation compels manufacturer to give evidence of the safety of a formula before displaying it. Although a burden for some, it is nevertheless a safety measure for others.

Issues and controversies : the origins

Year after Year, the IFRA has prohibited more and more raw materials. There are numerous explanations for this including carcinogenic substances, threats to the ecosystem, but they are not enough to quell the irritation of perfumers who feel that the scope of their creativity is restricted and have to work again on all their unregulated perfumes because of new rules. On the contrary, consumer association criticize the IFRA for not get things moving enough and for not being sufficiently transparent. As a matter of fact, we are dealing with a very subtle issue : out of thousand currently authorized molecules, the IFRA and RIFM studies are not publicly published in scientific periodicals. So, if few molecules are moderate endocrine disruptor, it is very difficult to conclude anything concerning the cocktail effect which occurs when several dubious molecules are mixed.

Confidentiality : the protection of the big houses

As they are not « Oeuvres de l’esprit » under French law, perfume are not legally protected as a patent. Perfume brand are using a ploy to prevent counterfeit and to keep their formula a secret. In 1999, the European Commission stated that 26 components likely to cause allergic reaction must be reported to consumers. Nonetheless, the denomination perfume or fragrance - gathering 3,999 molecules since 2016 - remained to protect the secret of perfume formula.

Due to lack of information, the only solution is to stay watchful - depending on one’s sensibility - concerning molecules listed on labels. For more information on the composition of your perfume, you may consult the INCI lists dedicated to your perfume as well as a detailed deciphering on our app Sommelier du parfum (iOS and Android).