July 25, 2023
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.
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.Sometimes we wonder what hides behind these complex notes! On a list of cosmetic ingredients, the term "parfum" or "fragrance" generally represents a blend of ingredients.
The David Suzuki Foundation’s “Dirty Dozens” list states that more than 3,000 substances can be used in fragrances found in cosmetics and body care products 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 controversial 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 also have the potentiel to become persistent endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors, allergens and synthetic raw materials contaminated by carcinogens are also found in the composition of the perfumes1.
In the United States, cosmetics labelling 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 even if the concentration of an ingredient is less than 0.01%, and it is an intentional addition, it must be registered.
In Canada, cosmetics labelling is Health Canada 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”.
Along with the “fragrance” label, manufacturers have been required since 2003 to clearly list allergens in their products if their concentration exceeds 0.001% in non-rinsed (creams, lotions, etc.) and 0.01% in rinsed (shampoo, makeup removers, masks, etc.). Some U.S. states, such as California, are also required by law to do so, as is Canada, which is in the process of updating its regulations2.
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. Allergenic does not mean dangerous, it means that these products may not be suitable for all skin types.
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 chamomile extract will smell like chamomile. 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”.
It is still legal and permissible to not include all ingredients of fragrances or “fragrance-free” products to preserve trade secrecy. 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, check the ingredients list, or search the Skin Deep database to know which products contain “perfume”. 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 mostly 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 an asterix linking them to the final mention. (*fragrance (perfume)).
Check out a few examples:
We invite you to visit the EWG Skin Deep database and check the ratings for all our ingredients. 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.
*According to EWG