New Regulations for the Fragrance Industry

A frightful rumour had been circulating among the perfumers for the last year or so. Apparently, many perfume houses had decided to modify all their classic fragrances to bring them into conformity with International Fragrance Association (IFRA) guidelines.

IFRA was founded in 1973 to represent the collective interests of the fragrance industry worldwide. Membership is open to all countries and currently comprises the national associations of fragrance manufacturers from Australia, Europe, the Far East and North and South America. IFRA is an industry body that keeps track of any health problems arising from fragrance use, i.e. allergies, etc.
Its decisions are not law, merely recommendations. Though self-regulation does not mean that the fragrance industry works in a world without law!
Legislation on intellectual property, chemicals, occupational health and safety, and cosmetics, among others, is also relevant to the fragrance industry. Therefore, the monitoring of legislative trends worldwide is one of the main missions of IFRA.

The use of perfumes, colognes, and products which contain fragrance have increased greatly over the past few decades. Historically, fragrance has been for luxury and special occasion use. Since the 1970s fragrance has become a part of our daily life. The use of fragrance has increased ten-fold since the 1950s. The fragrance industry doubled it size during the 1980s.

Scented products are generally received as pleasant, harmless means of self-expression and certainly not a significant health concern. Very little thought is given to the numerous products used on a daily basis that contain fragrance unless you happen to be one of the growing numbers of health conditions sufferers.

Betty Bridges of Fragrance Products information Network says :
"The fragrance industry has traditionally been a very secretive industry. For decades secrecy was required to protect fragrance formulas from being copied by others. Fragrance formulas are considered "trade secrets" and do not have to be revealed to anyone, including regulatory agencies. On the label, only the word fragrance must appear in the list of ingredients. The secrecy of the industry has led to tremendous problems in terms of regulation, monitoring, and impact on those that have problems from fragrance."

With modern analytical technologies, most fragrance formulations can be revealed. However, this procedure is too costly for the average individual. Even if a person can pinpoint the specific ingredients that are problematic, it does not change much. Since the exact ingredients in fragrance do not have to be listed on the label, it is impossible to figure out which product contains the problematic ones.
Information that is available on fragrance is often widely scattered and difficult to access.

Perfumes and fragrances are composed of materials that evaporate quickly. Once in the air, these materials poses serious health concerns for many with asthma, allergies, migraines, chronic lung disease, and other health conditions. Up to 72% of asthmatics report their asthma is provoked by fragrance!
Asthmatics and others that are negatively impacted by fragrance often have difficulties working, and going about their daily life routines because of other people's fragrances.

But the chemical ingredients are not the only concern for IFRA. Also some raw materials are found to cause allergies and health issues in small number of people.
The fragrance companies can either remove them or finally put a small label that says what they do. The accepted practice in the industry is that only new fragrances need to be totally IFRA compliant.
The old ones can stay as they are, much in the way that you can still drive your old car on public roads though it has no airbags. Only with the slight difference that your old car one day will wear off by itself and solve the problem, while the old ( and potentially harmful !) fragrances are still in production and well received by the public.

Hence the tendency for the big perfume houses to modify their old "state of art" classic perfume formulas. According to Luca Turin ( and representing the vast group of perfumers around the globe):
"Three raw materials in particular are going to be removed altogether: coumarin, oak moss and birch tar. That alone means the end of Mitsouko and Shalimar, which will henceforth smell of Eau du Soir and Vanilla Fields respectively. Finding replacements for these materials is non-trivial. There is no good coumarin substitute. Putting together a decent synthetic oakmoss has been the perfumery equivalent of proving the Riemann Conjecture in mathematics. The greatest minds have tried and failed."

And the fair questions come to mind : Are these materials potentially so harmful?
And if the answer is "yes" : Can't we be satisfied with a little label on the bottle instead of destroying the old classic perfume formulas?

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