We know that while lots of people like to find safer scents, there are just as many people who are sensitive to fragrance or would like to avoid it altogether.
Fragrance is a tricky thing. Companies are legally allowed to keep fragrance ingredients secret (and many do) and some conventional fragrances can contain up to 100 ingredients, including harmful ones like phthalates, musks, styrene, and more. Some people are allergic to certain essential oils. Sometimes even products that claim to be unscented can contain fragrance ingredients.
In short, sometimes you just want the assurance that a product doesn’t contain ANY fragrance, which is why a third-party certification like MADE SAFE is helpful.
We also know that there are lots of questions floating around about fragrance, like what the problems can be, what’s up with essential oils, and synthetic vs natural fragrances. After certifying hundreds of products, screening countless ingredients, and taking into account the latest science, we’re providing you with the most up-to-date information on all things fragrance:
Q: What is “fragrance” and why is it an issue?
The word “fragrance” (aka “parfum”) is used as an umbrella term for a cocktail of natural essences and synthetic chemicals that make up product scents. Companies are legally allowed to keep individual fragrance ingredients secret because they’re deemed “confidential business information,” or “trade secrets.”
Unfortunately, many common fragrance ingredients can be toxic to human health. Phthalates have been linked to reproductive and developmental harm. Synthetic musks like galaxolide and tonalide, are potential endocrine disruptors that don’t break down in our bodies or the environment and are commonly found in blood and breast milk.
The International Fragrance Association (IFRA), representing the world’s fragrance houses, has a published list of roughly 4,000 fragrance ingredients that lists chemicals and natural ingredients known to be used in fragrance. This is a helpful look into what goes into fragrance, but since fragrance ingredients aren’t required to be disclosed, consumers can be left guessing.
While IFRA is the public-facing organization, The Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) is the scientific organization that does the research IFRA uses to make their decisions on what ingredients are permitted. IFRA has a list of roughly 180+ ingredients that aren’t permitted in fragrance or have maximum levels of allowance based. IFRA’s list includes ingredients such as styrene (a carcinogen) and resorcinol (a known irritant and likely linked to endocrine disruption).
Other fragrance ingredients are parabens; although these are largely being phased out, common ones like methyl paraben and ethyl paraben are still found in products and are listed on Washington State’s Chemicals of High Concern to Children List.
In addition to chemicals linked to human health harm, some common fragrance ingredients are allergens. While not everyone reacts to allergens, people who are sensitive to them have a right to know if they’re used in products so they can avoid them.
It should also be noted that while some companies choose to follow IFRA’s rules, they aren’t mandatory in the United States and so some companies do not even adhere to IFRA’s guidelines as a starting point.
This is why, in addition to passing our screening process for ALL ingredients, sub-ingredients and so-called secret ingredients, MADE SAFE requires transparency. Some fragrance chemicals are merely considered “allergens”; however, if you have a particular allergy we believe it’s important for you to know if a product may contain that ingredient.
In short, without fragrance and full ingredient transparency, there’s no way for shoppers to know what’s actually inside of these fragrance or perfume catch-alls found on labels and in products.
Q: What is Made Safe’s stance on fragrance transparency?
We believe that transparency for fragrance, as well as other ingredients, is important and we proudly enforce it for certified products. In addition to chemicals linked to human health harm, some common fragrance ingredients are allergens. While not everyone reacts to allergens, people who are sensitive to them have a right to know if they’re used in products so they can avoid them.
Made Safe supports fragrance-free products as a consumer products option. We require brands to provide 100% transparency on ingredients so that individuals, knowing their own sensitivities, can make informed decisions on what to buy. Without transparency, there’s no way for consumers to know what’s actually inside of these fragrance or perfume/parfum/scent catch-alls found on labels and in products.
Made Safe insists on full ingredient disclosure for products. We believe shoppers have a right to know everything that’s in a product. We believe all ingredients – including fragrance, scent, flavor, and other sub-ingredients or allergens – should be listed on the label so that shoppers can make healthy choices. We believe that total and complete disclosure should be the new norm for safe and healthy products, which is why we require full disclosure of ALL fragrance ingredients for products undergoing certification. Our goal is to change the industry norm around ingredient secrecy.
We understand that some companies rely on confidential business information and trade secrets for protection. However, we also know that many companies, both large and small, have been fully disclosing ingredients for years without damage to their profits. We believe that full transparency can be accomplished without harm to a company’s bottom line—in fact, full transparency will increase consumer trust and confidence to increase profits.
Q: Are essential oils safe?
Made Safe permits the use of essential oil ingredients for scent after we have vetted them through our process. While essential oils may seem simple – they are oils made from plants – they are actually highly complex ingredients made up of many naturally-occurring subcomponents. While for some people that may make essential oils a poor choice, for most individuals the whole plant boosts overall health, as they contain beneficial ingredients like antioxidants. Essential oils, in their whole, unadulterated form, have been known to have incredible potency and beneficial properties when used properly.
Made Safe generally permits essential oils, although some of those essential oils may contain sub-ingredients which are allergens, because not everyone reacts to allergens. We require transparency so that people with particular allergies or sensitivities are able to shop with a full understanding of what is in their products.
We also have a fragrance-free list for people to shop for MADE SAFE certified products that contain no scent or essential oil ingredients. We ask our companies to consider making fragrance-free versions of their MADE SAFE products so that more people can have access to MADE SAFE products if they can’t tolerate any kind of scent.
Q: Why does Made Safe permit some essential oils that can contain allergens?
Essential oils are extracted from plants. When intact as a whole extract, the essential oil can be very potent and should always be used according to manufacturers’ guidelines. The extracts themselves can contain sub-ingredients that, for some people, may be allergenic which may make essential oils a poor choice for those people. However, for most individuals, the whole plant boosts overall health, as they contain beneficial ingredients like antioxidants. Essential oils as a whole have been known to have incredible potency and beneficial properties when used properly.
Made Safe also requires transparency so that people with particular allergies or sensitivities are able to shop with a full understanding of what is in their products. Each essential oil must go through our rigorous evaluation process in order to determine whether that ingredient passes.
Q: Are there harmful ingredients in some essential oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated compounds derived from plant oils. Many plants themselves, and therefore essential oils, can contain some harmful ingredients if evaluated on their own. However, when approached and reviewed as a whole, they are considered safe for use when used properly. In fact, some researchers believe these harmful compounds may actually be part of what keeps a plant healthy in the wild. For the majority of people, naturally-derived essential oils (not oils derived from plants grown in a lab, but those that have evolved over time) contain many more powerful ingredients that promote health than they do ingredients that take away from it. To learn more about this, read this article.
Made Safe always urges users to follow usage guidelines provided with your essential oils and essential oil products and to consult an expert before making your own blends.
Q: What’s the difference between an essential oil, concrete, absolute, and extract?
Essential oils have been pressed or steam-distilled from aromatic plants directly. This method for extraction, usually used in making skincare or therapeutic products, is non-chemical in nature. However, there are other ways to extract scent and aroma from plants. The strongest form is an absolute, which uses a chemical (often hexane) as a method for extraction and yields a higher-potency, longer-lasting scent, which makes this method more commonly used for perfumery. To make an absolute, one extracts with a chemical and yields a waxy substance often called a concrete. This can be used on its own or it can then be further extracted to yield the absolute. CO2 extraction methods are popular as they can be used for essential oils and absolutes without using a petrochemical process and occur at low temperatures, making them good for skincare and therapeutic use alike. Extracts can be pressed from plants after soaking in a base such as oil. It is important to know if things are added to extracts such as preservatives or other additives.
Q: Is natural fragrance better than synthetic fragrance?
Made Safe is not against synthetic fragrance as a matter of policy. We are aware that many known synthetic fragrance ingredients have been found to be allergens and some are endocrine-disrupting chemicals. However, we defer to our Screening Process to determine each and every ingredient. Thus, if a synthetic ingredient can pass our screen and meet our standards as not being known to harm human health or ecosystems, we will permit it.
Q: I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) / I’m sensitive to all kinds of fragrance. What do you suggest?
We understand that some people can be very sensitive to fragrance ingredients of all kinds, which is why we encourage brands to make fragrance-free options for people sensitive to scent ingredients.
We also know it can be tricky to avoid those ingredients entirely, with unlisted ingredients and even unscented products containing sneaky fragrance ingredients. That’s why a third-party certification like MADE SAFE is helpful, so you can rest assured that product doesn’t contain ANY fragrance ingredients.