A few people have requested that I write a post about the difference between natural and mainstream perfumes. I wanted to make it kind of a “how-to guide”, because this is probably one of the most difficult products to navigate due to the special exemptions given to the fragrance industry and related ingredients.
Hidden Fragrance Ingredients
Unfortunately, current Health Canada regulations allow manufacturers and the beauty industry to use the terms “parfum”, “parfum/fragrance” and “fragrance (parfum)” on product labels to indicate any ingredients that have been added to produce or mask (cover up/change) a particular odour. It is important to note that using these terms is not mandatory – Health Canada even specifies that companies can list each fragrance ingredient individually. However, most companies choose to use the more general terms to hide their ingredients from competitors and keep their formulas secret.
In addition, Health Canada regulations state that fragrance-free or unscented products may still contain masking ingredients that alter the scent, which can appear as “fragrance” or “parfum” on the label. If you are sensitive to scents and trying to avoid them in your products, you may still have a reaction from something that is “fragrance-free”.
In the United States, the Federal Fair Packaging and Label Act of 1973 has the same regulatory loophole that explicitly exempts companies from having to disclose the ingredients used as fragrances.
The fragrance industry is predominantly
self-regulating and most companies are members of the International Fragrance Association (IRFA), which has its own Code of Practice and safety standards used worldwide. However, as many studies and independent research and testing have shown, the IRFA does nothing to prevent companies from using chemicals in their products that are associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions. In addition, many of the ingredients allowed by the IRFA have not been thoroughly and properly tested for safety in personal care products. Read the full report by Environmental Defence here.
These ingredients can trigger allergies, migraines, and asthma symptoms, and many synthetic (man-made) fragrance ingredients have toxic environmental effects – especially within the Great Lakes and our water systems.
Choosing Safe Products
Ideally, you should avoid any products that use the terms “fragrance” or “parfum” on the label and only buy from companies who fully disclose their ingredient list.
That being said, I also know how difficult it is to find perfumes that abide by this standard. In fact, I have now been using only green and natural products for almost 3 years and I have yet to find a company that discloses 100% of ingredients in their perfume or fragrance products. Even the good guys keep their fragrance blend as a proprietary secret and hide some of their ingredients from competitors.
So, if you don’t want to stop wearing perfume altogether, here are my tips for choosing safer alternatives and finding the best options for fragrance products.
1. Look for companies that indicate that the fragrance blend is only made up of natural essential oils. Often they will do this by using an asterisk (*) or another symbol next to the term on the ingredients list. If it is not specified, try contacting the company directly. They won’t tell you what exactly is in the blend, but often the good companies will confirm that they only use natural botanical oils.
2. Avoid artificial fragrance ingredients. As I mentioned, synthetic or man-made fragrances are the most harmful to the environment and will generally be the strongest triggers for allergic reactions or irritations. Plant-based ingredients and botanical or essential oils are the way to go!
3. Make sure there are no other toxic ingredients on the label. When there is smoke, there is usually fire. If there are other ingredients listed on the perfume’s label that raise a red flag, you can rest assured that there will likely be others that are hidden as well. This goes for artificial ingredients too – if there are synthetics on the label, there are probably some in the hidden fragrance blend. A great resource for helping to identify toxic vs. safe ingredients is the Environmental Working Group’s SkinDeep Database. You can also check out my blog post on common toxic ingredients here.
4. Choose perfumes from companies you trust that have a strong set of core values. Because you cannot see the ingredients inside the fragrance blend for yourself, it means that you have to trust that the company isn’t hiding any extra, bad ingredients in there beyond natural fragrance oils. Does the company have values that are in line with your own? Do they put an emphasis on natural, plant-based, organic ingredients? Are they as transparent as possible about all other ingredients, company practices, and product standards? Try to gather as much information as possible and make a choice that you feel good about.
Here are some of the companies that I trust and have bought perfumes from:
I would also highly recommend contacting companies to let them know that you want to see more transparency on their labels instead of the terms “fragrance” or “parfum” – especially on social media! Tell them how important it is to you and that you believe customer safety should come before profits or proprietary concerns.
Which natural perfumes do you buy and which companies do you trust? Please share your recommendations in the comments below!
I hope you find this post helpful and I will see you all next week.
– Courtney xoxo