You have no idea what’s in your perfume. Of course, there’s a top note of rose and a middle note of jasmine and a musky, amber base (or something to that effect). But the chemicals that create these scents? You don’t know, the brand that makes your perfume might not even know, and according to the Food & Drug Administration, you have no legal right to know. If that sounds a bit sketchy, that’s because it is — and clean fragrance brands are on a mission to do something about it.
“The US federal law that governs the nearly $100 billion industry is 82 years old and only a page and a half long,” said Mia Davis, director of environmental and social responsibility at Credo own retailer, says The Zoe Report. “It’s very weak and has many shortcomings, the biggest of which is ‘scent’.” Davis explains that “fragrance” is considered a “trade secret” and as such, companies are not required to disclose the chemicals inside. their products – which could be any number of the 4,000 substances in the International Fragrance Library. “In many cases, [ingredients] aren’t even disclosed to the brands that buy the fragrance house’s blends.
Trade secret law dates back to a time when the industry’s top priority was to protect iconic fragrances. “There was less understanding or concern about the toxicity of fragrance ingredients,” Davis says. Today there is a concern that at least some of those 4,000 substances could be dangerous to human health – and rightly so. The term “fragrance” often encompasses “phthalates (which are endocrine-disrupting plasticizers), synthetic musks, sensitizers, allergens and chemicals whose safety has never been evaluated,” the Credo executive said. at TZR. In fact, only 34% of potential fragrance chemicals have passed safety testing, by the environmental working group.
In 2010, the EWG and the campaign for safe cosmetics joined forces to test 17 popular fragrances for undisclosed ingredients. Their research revealed an average of 14 hidden chemicals per product; 10 of them are associated with allergies and asthma, and 12 are possible hormone disruptors, including diethyl phthalate (a substance linked to sperm damage) and musk ketone (which Was found accumulate in fatty tissue and end up in breast milk). The campaign used this data to call for full ingredient transparency in the fragrance industry. The industry’s response? It would be “virtually impossible”, for Dr. John Bailey, Ph.D., Chief Scientist of the Personal Care Products Council…because perfumes usually contain too many ingredients to fit on a label. Like Christian Toscano, the herbalist behind natural perfume brand Roots Rose Radish, tells The Zoe Report: “Fragrances are more protected than us.”
Today, Credo is taking matters into its own hands with the Credo Perfume Transparency Policy. “The policy has two components,” Davis says. “The first encourages full disclosure of fragrance ingredients, and we have 71 brands that are fully disclosing.” Credo will prioritize these brands in stores, on its site, on social media and at in-person events. The rest of Credo’s more than 120 brands will now have to at least categorize their fragrance sources. “Categories include unscented, essential, certified organic, natural, naturally-derived, and synthetic oils,” says Davis. “That way, at least, consumers can know what kinds of fragrances are in the product they’re looking at – and if consumers are sensitive to certain chemicals in fragrances, which often happens, they’ll now have a better opportunity to return home about what might trigger a reaction for them.
The policy is groundbreaking for a multi-brand retailer, but a new breed of clean, direct-to-consumer companies are also championing transparency. “All of our products are sourced directly from the highest quality whole botanicals, steam distilled, then blended with a base of jojoba oil, which binds closest to the skin’s natural oils, delivering an even scent that works. with your chemistry,” Toscano said of her Creations Roots Rose Radish. (Bonus: Solid fragrances come in the fanciest natural shells.) Given the scarcity of all-natural fragrances, I asked the founder if it was harder to formulate with plant-based ingredients. “Absolutely not,” she said. “However, it’s more expensive to create formulas with quality ingredients and no artificial fillers.”
Cathleen Cardinali, the perfume designer behind the Thin Wild Mercury unisex line, agrees that safer, higher quality ingredients often cost more than their dodgy counterparts. But, “as an independent artist without a board pushing me to cut costs, I’m able to choose what I want to use, no matter the cost,” she told the Zoe Report. “I don’t use anything known to cause disease or cancer in humans, and I follow International Fragrance Association standards in the final formulation. IFRA has significantly stricter safety rules than the United States (which honestly isn’t that hard) “For example, they will only allow levels of 0.03% organic rose otto essential oil in a final formula,” Cardinali says. “I pay attention to everything, even minor skin reactions.
Thin Wild Mercury is not only committed to creating clean fragrances – its fragrances also span environmentally friendly territory. “When a painter cleans his brushes, how does the paint residue affect the water supply?” Cardinali reflected. “Perfumers have to ask themselves the same questions, because we also produce waste.” To reduce the impact of these products on the planet, Cardinali and co-founder Anthony Polcino take extra care when sourcing even natural ingredients. “I avoid anything on the endangered species list,” she shares. “People are excited that sandalwood is becoming more readily available, but it’s been endangered due to illegal trade and overharvesting, so I created my own sandalwood deal.”
The duo also carry their philosophy into packaging and shipping. “Everything is made in the USA – we partnered with a small design firm in Rhode Island to design our box and with local typography in Los Angeles to design the labels,” Cardinali explains. “We don’t use cellophane packaging like most fragrance brands do, and we don’t cut costs in exchange for cheap labor in all aspects of the brand.” In this way, Thin Wild Mercury produces perfumes that are “beautiful, safe and socially responsible”. (Oh, and they smell amazing — I can personally attest to that.)
All in all, the objective of the clean fragrance movement is not only to convince you, the consumer, cleaning up — is convincing the government to intervene and ensure the safety of citizens. “We push for transparency because brands and customers have a right to know what they’re using on their skin and what they’re breathing in every day,” Davis says. “If perfume companies know that chemicals are health or environmental related and they need to disclose them, they will think twice about using them.”
Ahead, 14 scents from seven clean scent brands are game-changing — and maybe even the law.