Raw Materials Forbidden Smell is Sweet: IFRA and Fragrance Safety

Forbidden Smell is Sweet: IFRA and Fragrance Safety

06/04/16 05:42:53 (38 comments)

by: Matvey Yudov

 

People pay much attention to safety and protection and the field of perfumery is no exception, of course – hardly anyone would like to spread carcinogens on a daily bais over his or her skin. Discussions the dangers of perfumery mostly come down to two statements, which even on superficial consideration seem to be mutually exclusive: on the one hand, the unhealthy fashion of the healthy lifestyle and passion for everything marked “100% natural and bio-organic” and, on the other hand, the conspiracy theory raging against greedy corporations constantly banning something and thus grabbing from perfumers their favourite materials.

Before we start talking about the safety standards in perfumery, I’d like to refresh some fundamental facts. They may seem like copybook maxims to many, but still I’d like to make sure that we all speak the same language.

I.   There are no such things as “absolute poison” or “absolutely harmless substance”. This idea was explicitly expressed 500 years ago by a Swiss chemist Paracelsus:

Everything is poison and no thing is without poison. Only the dose defines if the thing is not a poison”.

You may have also met its loose paraphrase “everything is a poison and everything is a remedy, it is only a matter of dose”. There are no harmless substances indeed. For any substance there is a quasi-legal dose or LD50 – the quantity required to kill half of the test group. For example, for common salt it is 3 gr per 1 kg of body weight. It means that 250 g of salt may be a lethal dose for an adult – even though we daily eat 10-30 gr of salt on average and that is only 10 times less than the lethal dose. There is even a record of an absurd case of death caused by water overdose – a woman very quickly drank several litres of water at a radio-show meant for entertainment.

And the opposite is equally true – any substance demonstrates its physical properties only above a certain threshold concentration. I hope you wouldn’t mind if I don’t dwell on homeopathy or “water memory” and such, but there is one important exception here – some substances, so called cumulative poisons, can actually accumulate in the body. For example, if heavy mercury vapours get into the lungs, they will stay there forever. But don’t panic – no such materials are used in perfumery, of course.

II.   The largely popularized statement “natural means healthy” does not stand up to any criticism. Natural and healthy are not synonyms at all. Moreover, natural is not always safe. Death caps, curare, opium, botulinum toxin, strychnine – all these are 100% natural and bio-organic things.

But in perfumery it is even more complicated, because all essential oils and absolutes are complex, polycomponent mixtures of hundreds of ingredients and their qualitative and quantitative composition is ever so changeable. For example, depending on the month of harvesting, bergamot essential oil may contain from 5 to 30% of linalool. And there are lots of other factors like that. Synthetic material is usually either a relatively pure individual component or a relatively simple mixture, while a natural essential oil may have among its numerous components a singular one with some unpleasant properties and it may be difficult to take it out without consequences for the smell.

In what way exactly can aromatic compounds do us harm (if we use them improperly)? Most often they can be toxic and neurotoxic, carcinogenic, teratogenic, they can cause photosensitivity and allergies.

Let’s see how perfumery materials may be banned or limited to use. First of all, there is local law and different state standards. Almost in every country of the world you have to get a certification to enter the official market with your perfumes. That’s how it is in Russia, for example (document here). The list includes 1328 substances, exotic to varying degrees and mostly high-toxic, but there are almost no perfumery ingredients. Basically, it is a limitation of the kind “there mustn’t be any buttons or metal reinforcement in a soup”. But the general idea is clear: we should be reassured that our favourite fragrance has no strontium nitrate in it (a fireworks component), nor any “cells, tissues or compounds of human origin” – and such ideas really were in the air.

It is certainly true that standards differ remarkably in different countries. European standards are altogether more strict than Russian and even than American ones. Each state has to decide on its own what their citizens can and what they can’t do. A simple example from our daily life: for years and years the elderly in Russia have been buying and taking corvalol or valocordin at wholesale and without a shadow of doubt, while in Europe such medicines, containing barbiturates, are treated as narcotic drugs – that’s for good reason – and you may get them only with a very strict prescription. Thus, if you would like to launch your fragrances only in the domestic market, officially you may take more liberties than if you try to certify your products in the EU.

A landmark event for safety and composition control of perfumery products took place in 1973 in Geneva. The international perfumery market was not satisfied with the one-sided and bureaucratic approach of state authorities and its key players decided to create an organization, responsible for safety issues in perfumery. They earnestly wanted to produce unquestionably safe fragrances and, consequently, to save us and themselves from troubles, that nobody needs, and corresponding expenses. This is how the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) was founded. They asked for help fromnthe Research Institute for Fragrance Materials, Inc. (RIFM, founded in 1966).

Who are the founders and the permanent members of the IFRA? The same well-known organizations: Firmenich, Givaudan, IFF, Robertet, Symrise, Drom and Takasago International. They pay for the RIFM work, whose international expert team (dermatologists, toxicologists, pathologists, environmental security analysts), not connected with the perfumery industry at all, study and test perfume ingredients.

The object is to elaborate standards of use for different materials, with detailed analysis of every ingredient and a verdict how and whether to use it at all in perfumery and cosmetics. The use of some materials can be seriously restricted (for example to only  0,01% in final product for methyl-heptincarbonate (Folione), violet leaf in Dior Fahrenheit), or even entirely forbidden like, for example, Musk Ambrette - Nitro-musk, popular in the first half of the last century.

 

The IFRA has a lot of local branches – there are organizations somehow connected with it in many countries: FFAANZ in Australia, AIFRA in Brazil, CISF in Colombia, JFFMA in Japan, ANFPA in Mexico, FFAS in Singapore. There are also IFRA United Kingdom, IFRA North America and IFRA Europe. Besides, in Europe we have DVRH in Germany, PRODAROM in France, Federchimica Assospecifici in Italy, NEA in Holland, AEFAA in Spain and AREP in Turkey. All the members must scrupulously follow all the IFRA instructions. In total, the organizations controlled by the IFRA own 90% of the perfumery market.

For each banned or restricted material there are results of relevant research, published in a peer-reviewed journal. Anyone can may check out all the publications at the official website ifraorg.org. Besides, every year they release amendments with the renewed standards, in accordance with the results of the latest research. Thus, some materials disappear from a perfumer's palette for good and lots of existing perfumes undergo serious transformations – the formula is altered and adjusted to the new IFRA standards. It is always a pain in the neck – sometimes perfumers spend more time transforming the old fragrances in an effort to squeeze them into the Procrustean bed of the IFRA, than creating new fragrances. English speaking bloggers have even coined a new term “zombie perfumes” - it was high time to honorably bury them, but they are still produced and in a very miserable form, bearing little resemblance to bygone magnificence and brilliancy. But it would be true to say that the IFRA is not the only reason of such a “zombification” – it often happens that producers decide “while they are at it” to replace a couple of expensive ingredients.

There is an oft-expressed idea that all the IFRA restrictions and bans are introduced to lobby the interests of large producers of perfumery ingredients and most of the bans are obvious counter insurance – we used to have amazing fragrances and everybody was safe and sound and happy. Luca Turin writes in his book that he has never heard that somebody died of Guerlain Mitsouko, but on the contrary he is sure that a lot of new people were born thanks to it.

I am much inclined to agree with him, but the history may give us lots of counter-arguments: the Romans used to sweeten the wine with lead acetate or lead sugar – and I think there’s no need to explain why they shouldn’t have done that. Just a century ago, people thought that radium drugs would do them good, and even in my Soviet childhood we tried to treat almost all illnesses with a combination of amydopyrine, activated carbon and potassium permanganate.

Coming back to Mitsouko and other fragrances of the past, more than once I’ve heard the stories myself that somebody has bought a bottle of a longed-for vintage chypre (sometimes half of the composition is the first pressed bergamot essential oil) and get sunburnt. That is a photosensitivity effect, caused by bergapten and some other terpenes from bergamot oil. Nowadays, either a bergamot without bergapten, or a replacing fragrance base is used.

As any organization with the powers to ban, the IFRA has to take unpopular measures sometimes, which cause a stir in the perfumery world – up to gathering petition signatures to cancel the latest amendment or prohibit the organization altogether. One of the strongest myths about the IFRA is that it bans or limits to minuscule doses natural materials, forcing everybody to use synthetic substitutes that it produces itself. But it is all a little bit more complicated in real life and if a fragrance does not comply with the IFRA standards, every perfumer has to cope with the problems on his or her own. Sometimes a fragrance base that substites limited ingredients is actually released, but it is rather a goodwill gesture. As for the all-out ban of natural materials, it reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous comment on his untimely necrology in the New York Journal: “The report of my death was an exaggeration”. It is enough to go through the full list of the materials – 191 in total, the full ban – only up to 77, of which only 8 (!) are natural: alantroot oil, boldo leaf oil, chenopodium oil, santolina oil and such. I’ve tried hard to find at least a mention of a fragrance with boldo leaf oil in it – but in vain.

The threshold for some of the materials is a pure convention. For example, the permissible level for Jasmine Sambac Absolute is 4% in the finished product – note that all the limitations are set for the finished product with a solvent. Thus, for an eau de toilette with a 10% concentration there should be 40% of it in the concentrate. The original Chanel No. 5 formula had 4% of jasmine (in the concentrate, not finished product) and the absolute record-holder Robert Piguet 1945 had as much as 7% of jasmine. This is a crazy amount – with the prices at $15,000 for a kilogram of the absolute, such expenses would seem unreal even for the most pretentious modern producers. Probably, the most famous, iconic jasmine soliflore Serge Lutens A la Nuit has only 0.35% of jasmine absolute and by modern standards it is quite a lot.

As early as the 50s, for 80% of new fragrances a jasmine note was created with cheap synthetic compounds like benzyl acetate. Unfortunately, as the production output increases, the cost-cutting is inevitable and the IFRA often becomes a very handy scapegoat, enabling to justify all the metamorphoses with the classic fragrances of the past.

I hope that this article will help to get a full picture of what is actually going on. Of course, without strict regulations, based on research, the perfumery industry would become chaotic, but on the other hand I feel so awfully sorry for some fragrances of the past, which we will never see or smell in their original state.


 

Mat Yudov

Mat Yudov is a chemist, perfumer, and musician. Mat is a researcher and specialist in the chemistry of aromatic materials. He graduated from Moscow State University "Lomonosov" in 1999. He writes for the popular perfume blog leopoldray.blogspot.com (in Russian).

 



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drakecito
drakecito

Totally agree with Celticelle.

All this is fine, very beautiful. That animals are not killed. Not carcinogenic substances are introduced. Fantastic.
But anyone really believe it?
I'll just say one thing. Look at the effect produced by the snuff in smokers (and which are not) and think that "SNUFF IS NOT PROHIBITED".
They put some ugly pictures on packages and that's it, so all this IFRA, if you can only use a certain percentage of oakmoss, etc .. is a joke.

Very good and interesting article, thanks.

Aug
15
2016
celticelle
celticelle

It's interesting what the IFRA has chosen to attack and restrict in its "protective" duty. I have a very strong allergy to citrus oils in bath products and body moisturizers, yet I've never read about any restriction of this. Do I expect all citrus oils to be banned because of my allergy? No, I simply avoid them in lotions and bath products. I find sprayed Iso E Super to be very irritating, and my husband has actually become temporarily anosmic when using a perfume over a period of days that had a high concentration of it, yet again, no investigation and no restriction by the IFRA. It's a chemical that is produced by the big aromachemical companies who now seem to control the IFRA.

Yet they went after oak moss with great vengeance, something that was used as a fixative to provide lasting power to a perfume. Now with many of the modern perfumes you're stuck with having to respray every 2 hours, resulting in more and more of the fragrance being used up. Coincidence? I think not!

Jun
10
2016
sophywt
sophywt

I think the cost is an important reason behind those reformulation, though IFRA could have found some better way to carry out its regulation.

That's to say these perfume houses are using IFRA as an excuse when they water down their products by using cheap materials.

Chandler Burr in his book mentioned how the perfume house cut down the "vintage time" of a scent (eau sauvage if i remember right) from 4 weeks to 2. And it alters the scent, no wonder. As he wrote it frankly, I guess this is something the whole industry are used to, only SA and PR won't tell you that thing explictly as Mr. Burr did. Turin or some nose also mentioned a similar story about how YSL's Opium are cheapened during all these years - it uses high quality materials at first, but when the market boom, they can't get enought those high quality materials so cheap things are used instead.

We complain these houses sentence death to lots classical scents, but no one talks about the cost to keep these scents alive. I really doubt even if these houses kept any of classic scents, the cost is affordable to normal people, after all, perfume lover is a small group comparing to their normal customer group. So why these house care about a small group of people who might not bring huge profits to them? They are business, not charity.

Jun
08
2016
SuzanneS
SuzanneS

Thank you for the article!

I have Visa Robert Piguet 1945 formulation 16oz bottle in the red and green tartan box. Im assuming thats what he meant, since he did not state Visa. How does one find out that kind of technical information that it has 7% jasmine in its formulation? Information on Vintage Visa is scarce on the net. (we dont even have a listing for it on Fragrantica...just curious)

IFRA. It seems to me that there is a conflict of interest between the organization, and the companies that belong to it, also establishing a elite network of companies to keep prices primarily fixed and high, irregardless of quality natural ingredients once found in some of the iconic fragrances of years past.

You play ball with them, or as the small niche guys find out.. its harder to compete or create new start ups to make the market more competitive. It seems that these larger companies are creating the illusion that they are the be all end all of perfumery..much like the oil conglomerate OPEC in the middle east.

Its also a convenient scapegoat for all the houses and fragrance industry (much like the MPAA for the movie industry) to go .."See! Evil IFRA ties our hands!" "Restrictions! Reformulations!" When this informative article leads us to believe its not the IFRA flexing its mighty muscle to protect us, perhaps more to the companies advantage to protect them from lawsuits due to allergic reactions, and the bottom line of making the decision to go with more cost effective, bottom line profit enhancing synthetic formulas, which are largely untested on the long term effect on people.

It has started a backlash of a vintage market with prices soaring for pre-regulation perfumes, savvy consumers such as those at Chanel returning their most recent formulations due to longevity issues, while the corporations scratch their heads and wonder why they are loosing market shares. Instead of developing a new No5 (to be released this fall), how about improving what they do have, and taking the mantle of luxury seriously with quality ingredients used in years past?

Im sure that horse has long left the gate thanks to the bean counters at the respective fragrance houses that ultimately have to answer to stockholders. Making a profit is good business, but giving the consumer thin, bland current formulations with no body or soul that couldnt even trigger the coveted reptilian brain response that makes your eyes roll back in your head because you smelled something of substance isnt good long term business policy.

We are seeing the coveted market share of millenials 18-36 yrs shun fragrance all together with its perception of "only old people" wear perfumes. Why would they take to it? It isnt unique anymore, just look at some of the postings from that age group on the Fragrantica Board lamenting, "Everything starts smelling the same. "

On the artistic front, yes I do consider these works of art..one poster below compared it to destroying the great works of art like the Mona Lisa. That's exactly what they are doing. I agree about harming animals for musks etc. I believe no animal should be harmed for a perfume, but there have been gross liberties taken in these classic formulas where they did not have to do other than bottom line profit.

I find it hard to reconcile, that there has been a lot of marketing touting synthetics are better, etc, yet none of them have improved dramatically any classic that have been around for years thanks to technology. If I am mistaken, please let me know.

Ive thought a lot on this issue, because simply, I miss the power of fragrance. Power to recall back memories long forgotten, visit a time capsule of an era long gone, build new ideas and fantasies, daring formulations of art, instill fiery passions, build a powerful feminine mystique or simply be a well dressed gentleman.

Jun
07
2016
Jyrhara
Jyrhara

Thanks for the article! As a profane in the world of perfume I find it very interesting to learn a little more.
I think the idea of retaining the components and adding a label is not so bad. If 5 percent of the people suffer from allergies due to a certain substance, why shouldn't the other 95 be allowed to use it anyway? The fact that this solution is not used, says that allergies are not really the issue...
As for myself, I will try before buying, and if something irritates my skin I just won't buy it - end of story.

Jun
07
2016
rockegg
rockegg

I thought this was a terrific article.

I'm not in the industry in any way, so speaking purely as a consumer I don't have a lot of sympathy for perfume manufacturers who are simply trying to cut cost, except the indies. What I observe is that most of what the consumer is paying for is the advertising budget. There are a lot of older fragrances that are rarely if ever promoted anymore that cost much less than the latest, heavily advertised perfume. Certainly many of them had their formulas fiddled with, and I would ask why, if the company isn't going to spend money on promotion, can't they leave the formula alone and raise the price accordingly, bringing it closer to the price of the new releases?

Regarding asthma or nausea types of allergic reactions, it's been my experience that sensitive people react to pretty much all fragrances, and if the problem is that the perfume may cause a rash or something on the wearer then -a novel concept - don't wear it. People where I live have gotten very light in application because of the possibility of causing problems for other people.

Jun
07
2016
joyjoy
joyjoy

I hate IFRA. They're ruining one of my favorite things & I'm fairly certain it's about money more than anything else. It's maddening and to make it worse prices just keep going up while quality just keeps going down. I think these companies/conglomerates are laughing all the way to the bank. Also, if IFRA was really concerned about health & safety they would ban phthalates, BHA, BHT, etc. Europe has banned BHT in their food but it's in loads of fragrances (Guerlain I'm looking at you). If I ever win the lottery I'm starting a perfume business, hiring Dominique Ropion & making perfumes using whatever the hell I want!

Jun
06
2016
wesleyhclark
wesleyhclark

"But it would be true to say that the IFRA is not the only reason of such a “zombification”

But they are the most bureaucratic. Big thumb's down on IFRA. It's yet another hapless organization that attempts to flex their muscles via regulation - a self-promoting entity. I didn't ask for their interference.

Jun
06
2016
HUEbris
HUEbris

Yes I hate that regulations of IFRA but the rage for pricetag is irrelevant to this. The marketers or companies never reduce their price for perfumes even no restriction and they will not use much of naturals because of profit.
I think We pay for the creativity(design, formula), not perfumes itselves.
Of course most of the synthetics are cheap but some are very expensive and irreplaceable. And Some natural derived don't have same smell like we can smell in the nature(most of flowers, especially rose) also hard to control that quality and characteristics of its scent in both.
In the configuration of perfumes, there's a big effort of perfumers to express exact details. excessive amounts of naturals do not mean nor guarantee the quality(good scent) of perfume.

Jun
06
2016
mikemuscles21
mikemuscles21

I like the idea that IFRA protects the public from potentially harmful substances. AND I am sure that they do.

HOWEVER, Just as many other things in life. Not everything is completely black or white. Not everything is either good or bad. Just because they do so much good work protecting the public from potentially harmful substances, that does not take away from the fact that it is ANNOYING that they ban or limit substances that could cause mild allergic reactions. Who knows? They might even limit substances that cause the mildest of reactions or none at all. Why bother? It's shadey. I do not know enough about them to accuse them of increasing profits etc. But I wouldn't be surprised.


What I can tell you is that I do not trust IFRA completely. I do think it is a business and I do think they are trying to control the industry. It really is another reason why I have been exploring niche and less regulated, or completely unknown fragrances. As much as I love "the industry", you can tell they are becoming bland and banal. You can often tell certain notes in new fragrances smell similar to each other. I will admit that this year I have spent far less money in department stores then I usually do and more in other boutiques.

Jun
06
2016
Le_Coeur_Gothique
Le_Coeur_Gothique

Nice article indeed. However...

1) I understand that jasmine essential oil, along with some other natural ingredients, are preposterously expensive. What I can't understand is why the use of their much cheaper synthetic substitutes has not made a single cent being cut from the pricetags.

2) I've been around perfume freaks for some decades now. I don't recall any of them asking to be protected or saved. Especially by spinmeisters who thought that their bank accounts were not full enough.

3) Since the author is both a perfumer and a musician, I'm thinking of a rather silly analogy between perfumes and music. Notes. Maybe I'm talking nonsense here, but aren't some certain sound frequencies also harmful? Not to mention the alleged manipulating potential of reverse messages hidden in songs. Would it be OK if some committee the likes of PMRC banned it from music?

4) Not exposing yourself in direct sunlight with freshly put perfume on is a very old piece of hearth wisdom in my part of the world and it doesn't take any phototoxicity study to make this piece of advice being followed. Especially if we're talking about fragrances who don't require a chemical analysis to let us know that they have all kinds of citruses abundant in their composition.

5) Shouldn't IFRA also care for the overexploitation and overharvesting of natural resources used in perfumery which threatens more than a few species with extinction? Or this is of negligible importance as long as the oud fad is alive and kicking?

6) The most unsettling and inexplicable thing about all these IFRA regulations is the fact that the perfume houses, who one would expect to raise hell about them, didn't even raise an eyebrow.

7) Has any of you ever lucked into a reformulation that was better or even equally good as the original fragrance? Health is by no means a debatable topic, but does the iota of hypothetical hazards offset the bellitlement of fragrance lore?

8) Are we still supposed to believe that the most important part of a perfume house is the lab, or the marketing department is winning by a landslide as we speak?

9) I've read hundreds of times about headache or migraine inducing fragrances. Now, no headache or migraine can be as serious as an allergic reaction, but with headaches and migraines still being considered health issues, any substance inducing them could be labeled as harmful, couldn't it? Now try to imagine perfumery after some dictum that would identify lemon and rose as the major culprits.

10) While being a member of a perfume site, I was once threatened to have my account deleted by the administrator, for not liking the IFRA tactics and calling them scums in a humorous post. I doubt this kind of behaviour would have come even from the IFRA legal team itself. Zoka, it seems that "S.T.*.#.%.*.+...." doesn't work both ways.

Jun
06
2016
HUEbris
HUEbris

Hello...
Is that same condition(concentrate) with Robert Piguet 1945 Serge Lutens A la Nuit as No.5? I mean, 1945 contains 7% of Jasmine Sambac in their concentrate, and A la nui contans 0.35%?

Jun
06
2016
zoka
zoka

Mary-Jayne I vote up your comment

Well that's purpouse of those bodies once we learn something is harmful they regulate it and we wear our fragrances with confidence and tell everybody S.T.*.#.%.*.+.... Its our right and there is nothing known to science thay harm you so chill out.

Jun
05
2016
Mary-Jayne
Mary-Jayne

wow, my comment was mad long, sorry! Please don't downvote and vanish it, if only for the fact it has taken me hours and a lot of physical pain and exhaustion to write it!

Jun
05
2016
Mary-Jayne
Mary-Jayne

@Zoka, you said:
"What's the point of putting label that say "this product contains xx substance that at certain people may cause severe allergic reaction or asthma attack" well you read it then you are legally bind to it... you put it on yourself go to the elevator somebody gets asthma attack who is responsible? How is called intentional harm to other people in legal practice? What are consequences?"

And I find it a very interesting thought, so thank you. But as far as I understand it, there is no evidence to suggest that anything used in perfumery, or the perfumes themselves can cause a severe allergic reaction like that of which you speak. My understanding at this moment is that the restricted ingredients /could/, in a worst case scenario, cause minor skin irritation in susceptible individuals. There is a massive difference, in terms of potential health "risk" to individuals of a skin irritation compared to a full blown allergic reaction which can quickly and scarily easily become fatal.
One thought your questions raised in me, regards the use of labeling and the question of liability.
For example, as many have pointed out, nuts including peanuts, are a well known allergen of which most people are aware. Sadly, fatal allergic reactions caused by nuts and other allergens do occur with around 20 fatalities each year in the UK (sources - NHS Choices & anaphylaxis.eu websites), although that figure does not just include nut allergies, it also includes other foods, stings, and medications.
But sticking to the peanuts for a moment, nut allergies are something the general population is aware of, it is one of the more common triggers for a reaction, and it can and does occasionally prove fatal. However despite all of this, nuts are not banned or illegal or restricted or anything else! They are found in all manner of edible produce, they are given out as snacks on aeroplanes - an enclosed space far away from hospitals and emergency medical intervention. You can walk around the shopping mall, or sit in the cinema, or in the pub eating nuts and despite the potential risks, and pertinently here despite the awareness of these potential risks, this is absolutely fine legally, morally, culturally etc.
For that reason, and considering the obvious parallels that can be drawn between different potential allergens, I have to ask why is perfume treated differently? Especially considering that there is no link as far as I am aware, between wearing perfume and encountering a severe allergic reaction.Also the question of liability must surely have been already addressed in relation to the incidences of fatal or severe allergic reactions which have occurred in resteaurants, or following ingesting intentionally or accidentally a food product which has been labelled as containing allergens.

I am not suggesting for one moment that allergies are not very real and very scary, especially for those who have experienced a severe allergic reaction to a known or unknown trigger, and their loved ones. But I do feel that there is an element of scaremongering present in the pronouncements that certain perfumery ingredients could cause a serious reaction. Thus far, I do not know of any valid rigorous scientific research, carried out independently by scientists without vested or conflicting interests , that suggests a causal link between perfume and allergic reactions.
In fact a few minutes researching allergy statistics has shown that contrary to this idea of perfumes and perfume ingredients used over the last century or two causing allergic reactions; the incidence of allergic reactions and the percentage of the population who suffer from known and proven allergies has actually increased massively and continues to increase at the same time as potential alleged perfumery allergens has been identified and restricted. Obviously correlation does not equal causation but it is interesting (and slightly mischievous) to note these concurrences.

I am a strong believer in personal liberty and freedoms, and that the individual should be able to do pretty much as they please to their own body or personal space provided that their actions do not pose any threat or risk to any other individual. In other words, freedom to do as you wish so long as others not at risk, and freedom to live without fear of the actions of others, who would be bound by the same rules. It all comes down to informed consent and appropriate risk management.
Therefore I feel that it is reasonable to make people aware of any potential risks, provided they are genuine and scientifically proven or strongly suspected risks, but as it would only pose that potential threat to themselves then if they wish to proceed, they can. It is how we culturally view smoking, drinking, sports, driving, taking medication and so on. So again, why should perfume be treated any differently?

Unfortunately, while informed consent, appropriate risk management, critical thinking and analysis of data are all very good ideas, and sound principles, there are two sad factors that ultimately mean we are not able to currently live in this way. Firstly, people are not being equipped with the requisite skills to be able to critically analyse data, and to be able to make an appropriate risk assessment, and thus cannot give informed consent. Secondly, much of the essential data that would be required to make the risk assessment are withheld which once again is a barrier to people being able to make an informed choice. Sadly the combination of these factors has created a situation that when people in general do become aware of a potential risk, they are not able to assess it suitably and instead it becomes a panic response. When really, we should be ensuring that critical thinking and analytical skills are on the school curriculum so that people were able to make informed decisions, and if companies & organisations were more transparent, and presented the data in an accessible format, and that this was the norm, people would be better informed and could make better choices - regarding perfumes and everything else out there!

Sadly though that isn't what happens at all. IFRA as with other organisations, is not explicit and open about what potential risks exist when it comes to the average consumer. I don't mean those of us hanging out on specialist perfume websites and forums, I mean the normal person in the street, who gets a bottle of perfume every now and then, who is a consumer of perfumes goods but not massive obsessed aficionados like ourselves.
No, IFRA do not make sure this information is available to the normal person, what the risks are, how to mitigate against them, what to do if they do occur, and so on.

Neither do the perfume houses admit that reformulations and changes have occurred or why. When you return to the perfume counter with that bottle you bought that no longer smells the same and has clearly been reformulated, they never say "Yes this has changed, but it because of this reason"; they just deny change has occurred.
Surely if these risks were as great as has been implied by the actions taken by IFRA, the perfume houses, the perfume retailers and so on would actually benefit from the honesty. I am too cynical to think they would do so to assist the customers, but it would make economic sense if you could put word out that some new research has found a possible link between X ingredient and Y risk, and so they have reformulated the perfume so it smells just as great but without that nasty thing in it, so come and buy more, chuck out your old bottle that is only 1/3 used, come buy a new SAFE bottle instead, and pay a little bit more too.
You see what I mean?

Also, if such bans and restrictions occur in perfumery, why do they not apply to other fragranced products, such as soaps, shower gels, shampoos, lotions and deodorants as well as household goods such as laundry detergent, washing up liquid, floor cleaner, disinfectant etc? Or do they apply, and if so, who oversees these areas? IFRA, or someone else? Because surely, if there was genuinely a potential risk of some form of allergic reaction from inhaling a perfume, the same would apply for any of those other products I list above?

As for the argument regarding the really risky stuff - the known carcinogens, neurotoxins and so on, and things like asbestos, lead etc, there are already other laws, regulations and restrictions in place that prevent such materials being used in consumer products anyway, so although historically it may have been necessary for there to be an organised way of preventing such items being utilised, nowadays existing legislation should already provide that protection. In other words, I don't think it is a real argument in this situation.

One other thought I had regarding all of this is the potential for unintended consequences. As I stated earlier, over the previous 2-3 decades the incidences of allergies in the general population has soared, and continues to rise. As do other serious public health issues, such as increases in the incidence of other chronic health problems and illnesses including asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), diabetes, cancers and so on. Of course some of these increases can be explained by other factors, such as part of the rise in cancer diagnoses is due to better cancer screening that is more accurate and available to growing numbers of people alongside successful public health campaigns that have raised awareness and helped reduce stigma. There are also factors such as increased obesity on the population, high numbers of smokers, a rise in the amount of alcohol consumed etc. Many of these or similar factors lie behind the rise in other illnesses like type 2 diabetes which is known to be caused by obesity.
But when it comes to conditions such as allergies, asthma, eczema, and so on, it is not so clear cut. There is however a growing school of thought and increasingly scientific research linking these rises to the overly sanitised and synthetic lives we now live. It seems that bizarrely, the more we live our lives separated from nature and dirt and the less exposure we have to bacteria, and potential allergens and so on, the higher the incidences of such conditions. A recent study on people with proven allergies and conditions such as eczema and asthma found that they tended to have far less diverse gut flora than a comparable healthy control subject.
This brings me back to the subject of unintended consequences. Sometimes, in trying to mitigate against some tiny and fairly insignificant (relatively) risk, we inadvertently create some new, far worse problem.
A good example of this in the UK in recent years regards the use of recreational drugs. Around ten or 15 years ago, the then-government decided, on the basis of sound scientific research and sociological studies, to downgrade the drug cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug. This generally seems to have been a fairly successful move - it was still illegal but the possible prison terms etc associated with possession were lower which also reduced some burden on the prison system etc. However not long after, the government at the time reversed this decision and upgraded it back to a Class B drug. There were various government and media scare stories and propaganda about various drugs at this time, despite the fact that all the evidence showed drug use in general was actually falling. However the seed was sown and the government, police and society in general started to take a harder stance on drugs. Around this time something new started to emerge, known as "Legal Highs". These were new, synthetic and manufactured psychoactive substances that were particularly marketed to, and taken up by, young people (16-25 years roughly). These were new, unknown substances, where there had been no research, there was no legislation, and no one really knew what they were, what they might do to you etc. But they quickly became hugely popular especially amongst the younger generations. And then people started dying. The government tried to move quickly, and rushed through legislation to make the most known and commonly used of these new drugs illegal. Before this was even finalised, the people making these drugs were releasing new ones, with minute changes to the molecular structure, to subvert the laws and the market was flooded. It was legal to sell these substances in high street shops, provided a sticker stating "not for human consumption" was placed on the packaging. And the market boomed, more and more young people were taking these drugs, and more were dying, or being injured, more hospital admissions, everything.
In essence, the government clamped down on old, low risk drugs like cannabis, where the effects, risks, benefits etc had been rigorously researched and tested, and even though use was declining, and the unintended consequence was this massive growth of "legal highs" and all the associated risks. The comparison with perfume is surely clear - are we limiting and restricting known, natural or synthetic perfumery ingredients, where we perhaps know or suspect a very small potential risk, and inadvertently substituting them for modern, lesser known synthetics, whose long term implications are unknown?

I also think that the desecration of the famous perfumes of the last century is akin to the destruction of masterpieces of other artworks, such as paintings and frescoes, folios, manuscripts and ancient books, sculptures and architecture and so on. If every painting by the historical masters was taken and cut to shreds, or painted over, or burned in a fire and in their place were instead prints, or photos of the original, or a block of text describing how it once looked and the colours and techniques used, there would be absolute uproar and rightly so. Yet we are witnessing a similar process within the art of perfumery, and the desecration of ancient masterpieces and outside of the perfume community here nobody really seems to know or care. How on earth can this be happening? It comes right back round to my earlier argument about transparency, and the ability to truly understand what we are losing.

I too am interested in the potential consequences to a perfumer/house using and releasing perfumes using banned or restricted ingredients. Have the rulings and proclamations of IFRA been turned into law? Are there any consequences at all for not adhering to their restrictions? If not, then why are we not seeing rebellion among some of these perfumers or houses? Because yet again this seems to come back to one thing fundamentally - the stink of money and greed.

Jun
05
2016
zoka
zoka

What's the point of putting label that say "this product contains xx substance that at certain people may cause severe allergic reaction or asthma attack" well you read it then you are legally bind to it... you put it on yourself go to the elevator somebody gets asthma attack who is responsible? How is called intentional harm to other people in legal practice? What are consequences?

Mat explained very well that for example 'Jasmine absolute' is restricted but restriction is so high that no perfume in history went so high on jasmine concentration and all reformulations of 'jasmine' fragrances are just to make 15,000 EUR per kilo ingredient cheaper.

Very few substances are forbidden and there is no evidence what-so-ever that IFRA used legislation to benefit sales of some company.

I personally think that thanks to IFRA today we do not face 'Fragrance Free Zone' signs on every corner and without them I could turn VERY bad.

Jun
05
2016
johngreenink
johngreenink

@davitea Good question about "What are the consequences of using banned substances?" I do not know the answer to this, and I also think it depends on where a perfumery is and how stringent the organization is on enforcing the laws. On your second point, though, about obtaining ingredients, all of these ingredients are readily available from suppliers all over the world, and can be bought in bulk or in small quantities. Some companies state that they are "restricted" in the amount of them that can be used for fragrance or flavoring, but they're out there in the market for anyone to buy. So there is an element of self-policing there, but as Mat says in the article, so many ingredients, after they've been added to something, are actually within the guidelines for most perfumes.

Jun
05
2016
kl99
kl99

"If you do not totally understand about a fact, watch at the money, follow the money" so is said in journalism to find the truth.

Nice article, and what fine example of the uranium or lead in drugs or foods. but I'd do the opposite example. We know the long-term effects of natural essential oils because we have observed them for hundreds of years, but we do not know the effects of these new synthetic essences. As for radio and lead maybe in 20 years someone might say "oops, you know, synthetic essential oils are toxic to the kidneys, we have placed on the market too quickly without the necessary checks in time. Sorry us." Also because all that is deposited on the skin enters the bloodstream after a few minutes. In fact in aromatherapy highlights just that, or rather the fact that the molecules of essential oils benefits were found into the blood already a few minutes after their laying on the wrist.
And what about then the synthetic oils are extracted from petroleum or certain minerals? What we have in the blood with those on?
No one has ever ended up in hospital for overdose Arpège. And maybe not even for one synthetic Angel.
So the all thing sound ridiculous.

Then it would be better to put a label on the bottles, as you do with cigarettes or some food, "this product contains essential oil of evernia prunastri, jasmine, etc., that can cause etc. etc." Wouldn't be better?

But is not the point I think. I think that this replacement of essential oils is a mere matter of money. Of saving money.

Who want to go in the middle of India to find a good jasmine which can even change smell cause of monsoons? Who would do it when a laboratory in the middle of Swiss or New York can give you a nice jasmine copy with no variations in time for a few cents?

I think IFRA is more like a sort of scapegoat a "bad guy" crafted to blame the changes that perfume or fashion houses need to do with perfumes to economic causes.
The economy crisis and the market saturated with new choices, new brands...
Yes the Perfume Houses wanted and need to use more and more economic and cheaper synthetic substances to meet the costs. But how to justify a change of the fragrance and a scent of impoverishment to customers? Can you imagine a brand like Chanel or Hermes, the symbol of lux and class and expensive things say "sorry if the perfume you have ever purchased from us is changed, but we prefer to use less expensive products for our perfumes". Scandal. Revolte! So no: "guilty of 'IFRA! Their fault and their laws. We deteste this accident but it is not our fault! We are a serious house. Watch at IFRA. They made all this!" .

Here's to me what happened. IFRA is a pungiball where customers can strike without damaging the perfume houses reputation, that are innocent, or they result like this at the end of the story. While they probably are the first to have to direct the choice towards economic synthetic essences to replace the natural and very expensive ones.

Than IFRA is a pungiball created by perfumery business.

These are the facts. I believe.

Jun
05
2016
La DameDeNoir
La DameDeNoir

@nurStress:

Of course there are many other issues. For one, there are many natural ingredients that are becoming harder and harder to find and, therefore, very expensive. Or those ones that come from countries in which they have wars or revolutions. Think about what happened with Chanel Nº 19 and Iranian Galbanum. Or think about the animal based components. I am pretty sure that no perfume in our days (but some from independient-niche perfumist houses) has real musk or amber among their ingredients. And they want to make a big profit, so they try not to increase too much the final price of the product (if they would make today a perfume like those ones that there were in the 20's or 30's -same ingredients, concentrations, packaging...-, that would be extraordinarily expensive, and very few people could afford it). But even so I think it is a bit dishonest. They are selling for -let's say- Opium something that is not Opium anylonger.

Jun
05
2016
krmarich
krmarich

Not to ride the old dead horse again, but the point of no return is now long past. The "industry" has made its choice and the market has changed. In the meantime, the millennial generation is passing over fragrances altogether. Yes, they still consume a small portion of the market, yet if the perfume stinks, why bother?

The "old lady-grandpa" stigma has taken effect. The advertisers can put youth oriented promotions on a bottle of reformulated classic, but the bottom line is fragrance is mostly obsolete.

The "greedy grab" has ended an art form.

Jun
05
2016
mikemuscles21
mikemuscles21

Allergies:

I have NEVER heard of someone dropping dead by smelling someone else's vintage perfume. (Or going into anaphylactic shock.) Can someone find out, throughout history, has this ever happened?

Perhaps a rash at most or a hard time breathing. I have a friend that gets a rash, runny nose, and has a hard time breathing around cats. She is very allergic to Cats.

Of course I agree it would be nice to find alternatives for those ingredients that have the potential to cause major reactions. But you will see, my original point was about ingredients that cause MILD reactions. Those should not be banned. It would be nice. I don't think it should be required. Yes I know, what causes a mild reaction in one person could cause a major reaction in another. It's easy to walk away, get some fresh air. It is so easy to mitigate. Wash it off! Whether it is a mild or major reaction, it can so easily be avoided. After all, nobody is forcing you to drink that whole bottle of Mitsouko.

Yes I do have allergies. Thankfully not to fragrance, and thankfully not to cats. If my friend had her way, we would round up everyone's cat and put them all down.

Poor kitties. :(

Jun
05
2016
davitea
davitea

Some things were clarified for me by this article but now I' m baffled by others:
I believed that IFRA is some kind of international governing body (like World Health Organization or UNESCO...) not an organization of chemical producers. So their BANS are not actually LAWS, nobody can go to court or pay fines if they don't obey them, they are only rules for IFRA's own members. Now that means that if Chanel wants to make a perfume with IFRA banned substances they can do it without consequences, they can just not find that chemical around because IFRA's members produce 90% of world's perfume materials?! Isn't that a monopoly than, and aren't there regulations and laws to limit the production and markets for the monopolies (remember Microsoft's battles at courts)?
Anyway, I am thankful for the rest of the producers, for the 10% that are not IFRA members. I suppose they are a reason why Andy Tauer and many other great niche
perfumers can do their art.

Jun
05
2016
nurStress
nurStress

ami.alger, La DameDeNoir:

«The story about allergy» and «bringing down costs» are in fact two different independent stories, that is what I’ve tried to tell in this article. Very often IFRA is just an excuse for doing something horrible. The reason why LVMH classics now is irrecognizable has nothing to do with the restrictions. But yes, both stories are explaining why good perfumes of the past became bad.

Jun
05
2016
Russ170
Russ170

It should be the individuals choice if they want to wear something containing one of the banned ingredients. Stop ruining some classic fragrances!

Jun
05
2016
La DameDeNoir
La DameDeNoir

As Douceamere and Ami.alger have pointed, I suspect that the whole story about the allergies is just an excuse to bring down costs and sell poor quallity products. Consider that the big chemical companies are who are behind IFRA. Consider what they have done with many perfumes. Chanel nº 19 and YSL Rive Gauche are just ghosts of what they used to be. Opium is now just soapy water along with some drops of myrrh tincture. But think that all those perfumes (and many others) are today much more expensive than in the past. And their duration and sillage are weaker.

Jun
05
2016
rubinstein1
rubinstein1

Thank you for this in-depth and educating article!

Jun
05
2016
ami.alger
ami.alger

My biggest issue? If LVMH said tomorrow that they were fighting the restrictions, I think the restrictions would fall. But they aren't. And they control nearly all of the vintage zombies. Knowing a little about LVMH's business practices, I suspect strongly that the reasons they don't care have a lot more to do with cost control than someone's theoretical allergy to oakmoss from across a restaurant.

The key that I get from this article is "While we're at it." When reformulation occurs, I fail to believe that cost cutting isn't the major reason and restrictions exist to (primarily) shoulder blame.

Jun
05
2016
Mary-Jayne
Mary-Jayne

thanks for this article,
as others have pointed out, and as stated in the article, the fact that the big aromachemicals companies are also the board of IFRA does make me seriously question the validity and quality of the studies they apparently use to make their decisions. Had I the energy, ability and time I would like to perform a critical analysis of these studies to see if they do stand up to scrutiny. I am not saying that they don't (or that they do), I am merely pointing out the fact that for the vast majority of us it is not really possible to scrutinise the science and the quality of the studies and reports. As such, and considering the other factors here such as the potential for abuse or at very least conflict of interest, I do retain an amount of skepticism over certain decisions and pronouncements by this organisation.

One thought that I keep coming back to is that to my knowledge none of the recent bans and strict limitations have been of products that have any potential to cause health problems beyond the minute possibility of localised and temporary skin irritation at the site of application. Certainly nothing to indicate that their use could be causing serious problems such as respiratory damage, or triggering reactions to people in the vicinity of the wearer. For that reason, to me it seems utterly unnecessary to outright ban such products. As others have said (and I myself have said before too), there are a great many people with serious true allergies to many products, especially nuts, shellfish, dairy, gluten, bees and wasps stings, penicillin, and so on. However to ban these ingredients from our existence would be absurd. In recent years we have seen much more detailed and informative labeling of food products, and a few words to say "warning may contain [insert allergen of choice]" seems a totally effective way of keeping people safe.
When it comes to perfume - that at worst may cause a minuscule "threat" in terms of slightly irritated skin - banning ingredients seems akin to banning certain masterpiece classic paintings from viewing or exhibitions in galleries because some of the paint contains materials we know to be toxic now.

Jun
04
2016
Nosetalgia
Nosetalgia

I think the key point is the distinction between banning the use of an ingredient and ensuring that customers are aware of potential problematic reactions. If I slather myself in olive oil and go out in the sun, I may also get a severe burn, but that doesn't call for the banning of olive oil from supermarket shelves. Back to Luca Turin, I believe he pointed out that a simple label would be an ideal solution.

Jun
04
2016
johngreenink
johngreenink

Excellent article, and thanks for adding the important context of 'amount'. Also, many people may not know that there are ways to make natural elements much safer (such as the bergaptene-free bergamot oil) which is virtually identical smell-wise to the human nose and yet protects the skin from photosensitivity. The technologies available to perfumers are really amazing nowadays, and this will offer up more and more interesting materials to work with that are generally safer for people to wear. That doesn't mean that we have to over-restrict everything, but I think a balance can be struck, and articles such as this help to more clearly define that balance.

Jun
04
2016
moodypaws
moodypaws

Wouldn't it be good if we seriously tackled the real source of all these allergies, i.e. pollution? I grew up by forests in the Italian Alps and I only started sneezing at tree pollen after living in London for 11 years. Was it evil perfume or evil trees that did it? Don't think so. But it's easier to ptetend the air is breathable because there's not much we can do at this stage.

Jun
04
2016
zoka
zoka

All of you who have never had severe allergic reaction think that allergens should not be subject to IFRA regulations.

Jun
04
2016
nurStress
nurStress

Q80, Well, you a right, eating something or not is up to you, but sometimes it’s hard to escape the heavy fragrance you neighbor wears.

It would not be a big exaggeration to say that in the modern mass perfumery components of animal origin are not used at all.

Jun
04
2016
Q80
Q80

I don't think comparing food or drugs to fragrance like Sugar to wine would be a good excuse for them to ban fragrances! wine and drugs are edible and fragrances aren't.

The only thing i may agree on is the one that consumes animals lives, and other than that i don't think it's a good idea to ban, UNLESS, they require bribes to allow which most of fragrance certified artists are saying that about IFRA.

Jun
04
2016
tandaina
tandaina

I agree on the allergen thing. Because technically everything is an allergen to *someone.* I'd rather they labeled things clearly and those of us who react to something or other just avoid products that use it instead of forcing everyone else to lose that thing as well.

It would be like the FDA banning peanuts in all food products because some people are allergic to them. That would be silly. What they did do is require that items that might contain peanuts be clearly labeled! Why that's so hard to do in the perfume world is beyond me. Yes "secrets' would be revealed but big whoop?

Jun
04
2016
La DameDeNoir
La DameDeNoir

Tobacco and the smoke of the cars are much more harmful for health that jasmine essence, bergamot or oakmoss.

All what I know is that all these restrictions are killing, disfiguring and maiming perfumery.

Jun
04
2016
Douceamere
Douceamere

Thanks for your article.

I'm with mikemuscles21: I fully support banning toxic (carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors etc) ingredients, but NOT ALLERGENS. There's just too much olfactory beauty we lose for a mere potential rash.

I think the problem is that people just haven't been educated to appreciate olfactory beauty, so while they might see value in preserving heritage buildings, they don't see the value in preserving Mitsouko or Opium. I find this tragic.

And it's interesting, isn't it, that the founders and permanent members of IFRA are the big aromachemical companies (Givaudan, IFF etc)? So I can totally see a reason why they might be more trigger-happy on natural ingredient bans than aromachemical bans.

Jun
04
2016
mikemuscles21
mikemuscles21

Interesting Article. There was a lot I didn't know.

I appreciate that IFRA bans or limits toxic ingredients that are harmful (cause cancer etc). BUT what I CAN NOT STAND is when they ban or restrict ingredients that cause mild allergic reactions. It seems to me that they take things too far. That is why I do not trust them completely.

I have a friend that is allergic to tree's in the fall. Should we go and chop down every tree to save that person from sneezing? What about peanut butter? Some people will die from eating a peanut. Should we ban all peanuts?

Jun
04
2016

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