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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Exploring Ethical Fragrances

By Shelby Tuttle and Michelle Talsma Everson

When it comes to personal care products, soaps, detergents, and cleaning products, the term “fragrance-free” has become an increasingly popular catch-phrase-turned-marketing-tool over the last few years.
But what exactly is a fragrance? The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) defines fragrance as “a chemical mixture that has a smell or odor…The mixtures that make a fragrance may include natural aromatic raw materials, obtained from plants using distillation, expression, and extraction; or synthetic materials.”
Fragrance is everywhere, in nearly everything
Fragrances are everywhere – and they make a difference in how we shop. A 2018 report by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) and Johnson and Johnson Consumer Inc. found that among 149 consumers surveyed, all of them indicated that “fragrance-free” played a significant role in their purchase.
In the study, participants were asked to upload photos of products that they believed to be fragrance-free. Of the 558 products uploaded for evaluation, consumers believed that 44% of the products were fragrance-free. As it turned out, 84% of all the products contained at least one fragrance ingredient. For reference, a “fragrance-free” label indicates that products contain no added fragrance chemicals — however, fragrances can occur naturally, and both natural and artificial fragrances can produce myriad adverse reactions in humans.
A 2016 study published by Anne Steinemann in the journal of Air Quality, Atmosphere, and Health found that “emissions of carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants from so-called green or organic-fragranced products were not significantly different from regular fragranced products.”
According to the Steinemann study, “Fragranced products have been associated with a range of adverse health effects, such as migraine headaches, asthma attacks, respiratory difficulties, neurological problems, mucosal symptoms, and contact dermatitis.”
Furthermore, “Despite numerous laws designed to protect human health and the environment, no law in the U.S. requires the disclosure of all ingredients in fragranced consumer products.” Only one word must be listed: fragrance.
Per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), fragrances are often used in everyday products, such as shampoos, shower gels, shaving creams, and body lotions.“Even some products labeled ‘unscented’ may contain fragrance ingredients,” cites the FDA. “This is because the manufacturer may add just enough fragrance to mask the unpleasant smell of other ingredients, without giving the product a noticeable scent.”
According to the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) and Johnson and Johnson Consumer Inc. study,“Key takeaways from the initial research suggest that consumers who believe fragrance-free is very important are more likely to be concerned about unknown/hard to understand ingredients in products and willing to pay a premium for products perceived as healthier and potentially more environmentally friendly.”

So what about products that aren’t just scented with various fragrances, but are actually the product we’re paying for? Perfumes, colognes, candles, air mists — the personal fragrance and home scenting industries reap billions of dollars worldwide each year. Yet, that intoxicating fragrance you’re wearing may just be…toxic.

Many companies are making money at the cost of our health, banking on the power of fragrance to invoke emotional connections, make us feel good, energize us, calm us, and even make us appear more attractive.

Phthalates are hazardous to human health 
More and more, the dangers of phthalates are becoming increasingly known. Phthalates are considered an “everywhere chemical” — meaning they are in products that surround us and are in use in our everyday lives, especially fragrances. They are nearly inescapable chemicals that help scents or fragrances last longer and the side effects of chronic exposure to phthalates can be catastrophic.
Phthalates have been linked not only to endocrine disruption, but also to human reproductive and developmental toxicity, birth defects, cancer, and respiratory problems, according to experts. Yet with all of the dangers becoming known, manufacturers are still not required to list phthalates on ingredient labels. With the dangers and presence of phthalates in consumer goods gaining media attention over the last few years, you may have noticed an increasing amount of labels on perfumes, personal care products, and household goods labeled as “phthalate-free.”

Not surprisingly, studies by the CDC find that women have a much higher exposure rate to phthalates, likely due to using a greater amount of cosmetics and personal care products than men. The study found that women of color have an even greater exposure to these phthalates.So how do we escape phthalates when we want to smell good and have our homes and offices smell good, too? Moreover, is it possible to find a fragrance that is made ethically, taking into consideration not only the health of humans, but that of animals and the planet?

Ethical fragrances: No official definition

When we think of ethical fragrances, two questions often come to mind: is the fragrance ethical in the sense that it’s safe for humans and was it ethically created? Meaning, is it harmful to the environment or was it tested on animals?Finding a truly ethical fragrance for yourself or home can take some research. Try visiting the brand’s website for more information for transparency on ingredients and what the company’s overall sustainability practices might be. Check out websites like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) or apps like Think Dirty to help you understand how clean the ingredients in that new perfume you’re eyeing really are.

When it comes to animal testing, sadly, many companies that produce fragrances still test on animals. When doing research for an ethical fragrance, consider making sure the product is labeled “cruelty-free” and bears an official logo (many companies create knockoffs) from PETA or Leaping Bunny. Online guides from PETA can help consumers avoid animal-derived ingredients, while Leaping Bunny provides consumers with an easy-to-access list of cruelty- free brands.
When considering how your new candle may affect the health of the planet, look for those that contain ethically sourced, sustainable ingredients and packaging made from eco-friendly and recyclable ingredients.
If you want to know more about whether or not it’s safe for humans, you’ll want to find out if it’s free of phthalates, parabens, formaldehyde, other known endocrine disruptors, and carcinogens. For those with sensitive skin, using a personal fragrance that is dermatologist tested is also a good practice.
Ethical fragrance brands to consider
Michelle Pfieffer’s personal fragrance brand, Henry Rose, launched in 2019 to quiet acclaim as the first collection of genderless fragrances with 100% ingredient transparency. Because the line is EWG Verified, it means that none of the scents include known ingredients of concern banned in Canadian and European cosmetics, European hair dyes, or in the State of California known to cause cancer or be a developmental toxin. The line is also Cradle to Cradle Certified, highlighting the brand’s commitment to sustainability and social responsibility. Fragrance bottles are composed of NEO-Infinite glass, which is 90% recycled and 100% recyclable. The caps are made from soy, and the packaging is composed of a biodegradable, compostable paper alternative. Additionally, the line is certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny.
Pfieffer recently released a line of personal care products including water-based body sprays and creams, along with a line of candles that follow the same ethical standards as her fine fragrances. Pfieffer’s line can be found at Sephora, HenryRose.com, and Nordstrom online.
Underscoring the need for transparency in ingredient lists, Credo Beauty is an online retailer that also serves as a resource for clean beauty products including skincare, haircare, makeup, and fragrances. Its commitment to radical fragrance transparency means that each of the site’s over 130 brand partners are required to categorize the source of their fragrances for all of their products. Categories include fragrance-free, natural, certified organic, essential oils, naturally-derived, and synthetic.
According to the website, 68% of the brands have fully disclosed all fragrance ingredients. Perfume oils from Maison Louis Marie and various perfumes from Abbott dominate the list of personal fragrances with nothing to hide.
It can be difficult to find brands willing to be as transparent as those listed above, but there are several making strides toward a better future for humans, animals, and the planet. If you’re looking for a company that dabbles in personal scenting and personal care products, check out DedCool. While seemingly not 100% transparent about its ingredients, the company claims to use organic extracts that are good for your health, in addition to being free of parabens, phthalates, carcinogens, EDTA, fillers, animal byproducts, and harmful preservatives. Its sustainability commitment includes being carbon neutral, and 1% of the company’s sales are donated to 1% For The Planet.
Additionally, the company states that product formulations are created with cruelty-free ingredients, and product packaging is recyclable and reusable whenever possible. All manufacturing is done in house, which also allows the company to reduce its carbon footprint.
Read more Style articles on Green Living.


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