Have you ever noticed? Our sense of smell is constantly stimulated by our beauty routine: the scent of a perfume, a body lotion or shampoo… their evocative aromas can awaken our senses. More and more, we see labels and packaging with the words “unscented”, “no perfumes”, “fragrance-free”, “odour-free”. Why? Should we worry about scented cosmetics? Is it risky to use scented beauty products? Do you know what “perfume” and “fragrance-free” mean? Here are some definitions to help you be better informed when you purchase cosmetics and beauty products.
Perfume: a cause for concern?
Fragrance or perfume – two words with the same meaning. Perfume/Fragrance is found in almost all types of personal care products, such as body creams, lotions, shampoos, shower gels, etc. Companies that manufacture personal care products are required by law to list ingredients they use. However, perfumes, as secret mixtures, are exempt. Manufacturers can put “perfume” or “fragrance” on the label, since the composition of the perfume is a trade secret. This is where you want to ask, “What does all that mean?” On a list of cosmetic ingredients, “perfume” or “fragrance” usually refers to a complex mixture of dozens of chemicals.
The David Suzuki Foundation’s “Dirty Dozens” list states that more than 3,000 chemicals can be used in fragrances found in cosmetics and body care products. According to the Foundation, the toxicity of most of these has not been tested (either alone or in combination). There are not enough studies in this area, and many of these ingredients have been known to cause adverse effects such as headaches, breathing problems, asthma and/or allergies, rashes, etc. According to British researchers, the second leading cause for allergies in dermatology patients is “perfume”.
According to the EWG, the most toxic of the chemicals listed are phthalates, octoxynols and nonoxynols. Why? Phthalates are potent endocrine disruptors associated with birth defects in the reproductive system in baby boys. Octoxynols and nonoxynols are also persistent endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors, allergens and synthetic raw materials contaminated by carcinogens are also found in the composition of the perfumes*.
What are the laws regarding scented cosmetics?
In the United States, the cosmetics industry is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA). Under this law, each ingredient must be listed individually for any cosmetic product. But according to this same law, the ingredients that make up a perfume can be identified simply as “perfume” because these formulas are complex mixtures of many chemicals, natural and synthetic ingredients most likely to be trade secrets. It’s also worth noting that once the concentration of an ingredient is less than 0.01%, there is no requirement to print it on the label. This standard applies internationally.
In Canada, cosmetics labelling is government regulated. According to Health Canada, the word “perfume” may indicate that ingredients were added to the cosmetic to produce or mask a particular odour. The term “perfume” may be at the end of the ingredient list or at the appropriate point in descending order of importance. In Europe, cosmetics are regulated by the European Regulation on Cosmetic Products (Regulation (EC) No. 1223/2009). The ingredients must also be listed in descending order of their weight (quantity), and perfumes and fragrant and aromatic compositions as well as their raw materials are mentioned as “perfume” or “aroma”.
Unlike the United States and Canada, along with the “fragrance” label, manufacturers have been required since 2003 to clearly list allergens in their products (list of 26 recognized allergens) if their concentration exceeds 0.001% in non-rinsed (creams, lotions, etc.) and 0.01% in rinsed (shampoo, makeup removers, masks, etc.).
What do “no perfume”, “unscented” and “fragrance-free” mean?
Do we need to eliminate all scented cosmetics to avoid contact with ingredients that may affect our health? Not necessarily, but you need to learn to read the labels. Unscented products appeal to people who are sensitive to odours, such as pregnant women, those with sensitive or atopic skin, or with eczema. They want products that don’t contain secret mixtures called “perfume”, or “fragrances” that usually contain allergens, among others.
What should we expect from fragrance-free products?
Consumers looking for “perfume-free” body or cosmetic treatments are reassured by products without “secret” ingredients or blends. Their choices are guided by their sense of smell and the “fragrance-free” label. They expect that fragrance-free means exactly that: products that are unscented. This is a popular belief. Why? Fragrance-free products may actually have a distinctive scent. The product ingredients may have a fresh, clean smell. For example, cosmetics made with vanillin will smell like vanilla. But sometimes, raw materials used can have scents that consumers find unpleasant.
When producing fragrance-free cosmetics, manufacturers may add masking and neutralizing agents to cover unpleasant odours. A totally unscented cosmetic actually contains substances found in the secret mix that you can see on the label, under the umbrella term “Fragrance/Perfume”.
Toward greater transparency: INCI
As we understand, it is still legal and permissible to disguise all ingredients of fragrances or “fragrance-free” products under the term “perfume”. If you prefer scented body or cosmetic treatments, there are companies with respectful development criteria that list all ingredients in their fragrances, even though it’s not required by law. To find these, make sure that Perfume/Fragrance are not on the list of ingredients. The same applies when looking for unscented cosmetic products. Be sure to carefully check the ingredients list, or search the Skin Deep database to make sure that “perfume” isn’t listed for those products. You’ll be able to see components with odorous notes or if they contain masking agents.
For consumers, the best option is to have access to the complete list of ingredients used in cosmetics and perfumes according to the INCI standard. The INCI list, “International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients”, was introduced in 1973 by an American association of cosmetics manufacturers. It lists all beauty product ingredients in a scientific, standardized and international manner and is mandatory for all products identified as cosmetic. INCI is a multilingual and multinational naming system for cosmetic ingredients, based on the Latin language.
The INCI lists the ingredients most used at the top of the list (often “aqua” for water) with the smallest amounts at the bottom of the list. For creams, shampoos ou facial cleansers, the list of ingredients must be clearly visible on the label when the consumer buys the product. At ATTITUDE, our scents are derived from fragrant molecules found in nature. You can get more details about the composition of our fragrances on the label, with their INCI name and description in parentheses.
Check out a few examples: Super leaves Moisture Rich Shampoo: methyl dihydrojasmonate (jasmine – active ingredient), hexyl salicylate (floral – active ingredient), pentadecalactone (fruit – active ingredient). Super leaves Volume and Shine Shampoo: decanal (fruit), pentadecalactone (fruit – active ingredient), raspberry ketone. Super leaves Colour Protection Shampoo: gamma-undecalactone (fruit), allyl caproate (fruit), ionone (floral). Super leaves Clarifying Conditioner: methyl dihydrojasmonate (jasmine – active ingredient), dimethyl heptenal (fruit – active ingredient). Super leaves Glowing Shower gel: gamma-undecalactone (fruit), allyl caproate (fruit), ionone (floral). Super leaves Olive Leaves Hand soap: hexyl salicylate (floral), geranyl acetate (floral), methyldihydrojasmonate (jasmine). Argan Blooming Belly natural Shower gel: 3-hexenol (natural extract), ethyl acetate natural (natural extract). 100% mineral sunscreen Vanilla Blossom: vanillin (natural extract), methyldihydrojasmonate (jasmine – active ingredient).
Our unscented product lines, such as the Sensitive skin collection, do not contain any odour molecules. However, even though we don’t add masking agents, colloidal oat-sensitive skin products have a faint, subtle scent of raspberry ketone, an active ingredient (emollient) that nourishes the skin and gives it elasticity.
We invite you to visit the EWG Skin Deep database and check the ratings for all our ingredients: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep. Everyone is different. We all make choices based on what’s best for us. But whether it’s scented or fragrance-free products, what matters most is transparency. We believe that any respectful company will include a detailed list of ingredients used in the fragrance or must specify the presence of masking agents. It’s a matter of health!
*According to EWG