Credo & Fragrance
Fragrance Basics: What is it?
When fragrance, and/or parfum, is listed as one of the ingredients on skin care labels, it refers to scents (aromas) that chemists create in laboratories by manipulating petroleum derivatives’ to manufacture synthetic molecules. One particular fragrance can often contain a combination of over 200 unique aromatic molecules. But these molecules will never be individually listed on the label. Instead, they are grouped together and identified only as fragrance. The FDA cosmetic labeling laws permits this because they recognize fragrance as a trade secret, and its protected by the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.
Synthetic scent molecules have been found to contain components that may be allergens and harmful to our health and the health of the environment. Phthalates are a good example of a type of molecule widely used in fragrance that has been singled out as potentially carcinogenic. There may be well over 3,000 molecules used in creating synthetic fragrances, but the majority of these chemicals have never been tested for safety. That means for those who are allergic and sensitive to fragrance, the exact molecule responsible for their adverse reaction may never be known.
In the new age of “clean” beauty, green cosmetic science has been able to find safer ways to create synthetic aromas, without using phthalates and other petroleum derived substances. They have also found new technologies to naturally isolate particular molecules from genuine essential oils, and use these new components to scent products rather than incorporating whole essential oil. If formulators use these safer kinds of aromatic molecules in their products, they may still be listed as fragrance, or parfum on the label – but consumers may never know the difference. In addition to these advances in green cosmetic science, the labeling laws that affect the international market of cosmetics have also contributed to further confusing the consumer.
For example, US brands have had to use words like fragrance /parfum /aroma on their labels in order to comply with the directives of the global marketplace. In such instances, however, the word aroma should only refer to scents that are created with essential oils, and parfum (or fragrance) should refer to an aromatic blend (preferably plant based, though not required) that is proprietary. To make the consumer more comfortable navigating this language on the labels, it is advisable that brands should make known that their aroma or proprietary fragrance / parfum is 100% plant based.
To steer clear of synthetic fragrances as best as possible, and avoid products that list fragrance and parfum on their labels without indicating whether or not their proprietary blends are phthalate-free synthetics or aromatic blends that are entirely made up of genuine essential oils. To celebrate brands that work hard to avoid using the word fragrance or parfum altogether, and commit to scenting their products with genuine essential oils, plant extracts and natural derivatives.
When monitoring labels:
1) Recognize if a product is scented with essential oils and naturals, rather than synthetic fragrance molecules, by showing how the essential oils must (according to FDA Labeling requirements) be listed individually and follow the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) format, so it would look something like this: Lavendula angustifolia (lavender) oil.
2) And if the brand is following the EU labeling laws, and they are required to include the word fragrance/parfum or aroma, they must indicate that their proprietary blend is made with natural and/or phthalate-free components.
3) The scent /aroma portion of a skin care or cosmetic formula is always listed near the bottom of the ingredient deck, and ranges between .5% - 2.5% of the entire formula. This not only makes it easy to locate the aromatic components when reading the label, and but it also reassures us that the amounts of these molecules actually making contact with our skin is quite small.