Coco Chanel once said, “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”
What if you do wear perfume, but your favorite one is at risk of changing forever. And perhaps not in any recognizable or wearable way. What will the future hold for you?
Losing your favorite perfume forever is a scary thought but a very real possibility if fragrance giants can’t successfully wield their mighty spritzers and put an end to this threat. In case you are wondering what I am talking about, it happened mid-summer 2012. News reports pegged the European Commission’s SCCS fragrance recommendation as the end of Chanel No. 5. The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety or SCCS, is an independent body set up the European Commission (EC) to advise on the impact consumer products have on human health. In July, SCCS recommended the addition of more than 50 fragrance ingredients, both synthetic and natural, to be added to an existing list of 26 allergens that are required to be labelled on fragrances and fragranced cosmetic products. Based on clinical studies, 82 fragrance materials can be classified as established contact allergens in humans. Of these, 12 synthetic ingredients and eight natural extracts were found to pose a high risk of sensitization to the consumer. These targeted ingredients represent and affect the heart of about 90% of prestige fragrances.
Although the goal of the SCCS recommendation is to protect sensitized individuals against any exposure to these allergens and to prevent the non-allergic ones from developing allergies to them, it goes way beyond protection and actually has the potential of permanently changing our most beloved fragrances and stifling future innovation within the fragrance world.
Along with increased labeling and placing very low limits on certain ingredients, and what has gotten industry so upset, is the outright ban on tree moss and oak moss. These are natural extracts that provide the distinctive woody scent integral to the loveliness that is Chanel No. 5 and Miss Dior. For substances identified as posing a high risk to the consumer, SCCS recommends the concentration limits of 12 substances – including citral, found in lemon and tangerine oils; coumarin, found in tropical tonka beans; and eugenol, found in rose oil – to be restricted to 0.01%, a super tiny quantity of the overall finished product.
The call for regulation of fragrance allergens began in the late 1990s because of pressure from activist non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In response, a scientific advisory committee was established and recommended that the EU prohibit some fragrance ingredients and restrict others. It was decided that 26 ingredients mostly found in fragrances and essential oils that, if present at certain levels or higher, must be included on product label’s ingredient list. In 2005, a law was put on the books requiring that the 26 fragrance allergens be identified separately in the label ingredient list.
Because these 26 substances are the most likely to cause reactions in susceptible people, which is estimated to be 1% to 3% of the population but high enough to justify concern, sensitive consumers can avoid those fragrances containing these allergens if they are pointed out on the label. That being said, almost any substance, natural or man-made, has the potential to produce an allergic reaction in someone. Is it fair to ban these ingredients when more than 95% of the population is not allergic? There is a wide array of fragrances on the market that do not contain allergens that sensitive consumers may choose from. If the sensitive consumers have a choice, why should existing fragrances be stripped of, and limits placed on, certain ingredients completely changing them? This would be a punitive and unfair law imposed upon a majority of individuals who do not have allergies.
So where do we stand now? The EC is in the process of considering the appropriate regulatory measures while trade associations such as the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and Cosmetics Europe, whose members are perfume and cosmetics companies including LVMH, are lobbying against the recommendation. A joint industry proposal by these groups is expected to be submitted to the EC by the end of 2012.
Because the fragrance industry is challenged by the consumer’s lack of understanding about perfumery and fragrance, it is making an enormous effort to educate them and make fragrances safe for everyone to enjoy worry-free. Perhaps if consumers knew more about the science and art behind perfumery, they would have a greater interest in and respect for it. Each newly created fragrance is a work of art which should forever be protected. Whether you have fragrance allergies or not, the SCCS opinion is not good for anyone. It puts the hammer down on creativity and rips away individual choice.
If the EU executive body decides to turn these recommendations into law, not just Chanel No. 5 and Miss Dior will have to change, but hundreds of others would have to go through the same transformation.
In the meantime, stay tuned because this is a big issue and it has not been settled yet. Environmentalists and NGO activists are pushing hard to see the SCCS recommendation become law. It is likely that 2014 will be decision time on the status of these new allergens. Keep your fingers crossed that fragrances as we know them stay that way.
Full SCCS Opinion:
image via fitsugar