MiaTrostMiaTrost's Perfume Blog

5 years ago
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Not quite ready to accept that nothing can be done about fragrance reformulation in the name of consumer safety, I have been reading on the EU's plans to sharpen its cosmetics regulation. Rather horrified, I though I had better shared my newly acquired insights with you. Please feel free to add, correct and comment.

In the EU (European Union), regulation on cosmetic products, which had been adopted in 2009, must be fully complied with since July 2013. All companies that are either located in the EU or sell to the EU must comply with this legislation. It is required that 26 fragrance allergens must be indicated in the list of ingredients when its concentration exceeds 0.001% in leave-on products, e.g. perfumes, and 4 fragrance ingredients are restricted to certain levels. Whether or not this is grounded on up to date scientific research is debatable. Quite a number of papers have been published that question the EU's "26 allergens" legislation. For a summary refer to Cropwatch Claims Victory Regarding "26 Allergens" Legislation (or, in a broader context, to Negative Bias, an article published in Personal Care). However, up until now EU legislation on cosmetic products is significantly less rigorous than the IFRA code.

If the EU's "26 allergens" legislation is disputable, will the pending bill acknowledge and adjust to this?

No, quite the contrary. In 2012, the SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety), an independent advisory body to the Commission, produced a report, the "Opinion on fragrance allergens in cosmetic products", in which over 100 additional individual substances and natural extracts have been identified as established or likely contact allergens.

  • The SCCS is of the opinion that the following should be banned from cosmetic products
    • Chloroatranol and atranol, the main allergenic constituents of Evernia prunastri (oakmoss) and Evernia furfuracea (treemoss). Some 2,100 fragrances in Parfumo's repository list oakmoss.
    • HICCA / Lyral, a waxy floral fruity accord with excellent diffusivity that gives good body. Lyral features notes such as lily of the valley, cyclamen and linden blossom.
  • To be restricted to homoeopathic dosage, i.e. to 0.001% in leave-on products, are
    • Cinnamal, the organic compound that gives cinnamon its odour
    • Cinnamyl Alcohol, found in esterified form in cinnamon leaves, Peru balsam and storax
    • Citral, present in the oils of several plants, incl. many citruses such as petitgrain, lime, lemon and orange
    • Coumarin, found naturally in many plants, notably in high concentration in the tonka bean
    • Eugenol, naturally occurring fragrance compound found in clove oil, nutmeg, cinnamon and bay leaf
    • Farnesol, present in many essential oils, e.g. citronella, neroli, cyclamen, lemon grass, tuberose, rose and tolu
    • Geraniol, the primary part of rose oil, palmarosa oil, geranium oil, lavender oil, jasmine oil and citronella oil
    • HICCA / Lyral when occurring naturally
    • Hydroxycitronellal, occurs naturally, e.g. in lavender
    • Isoeugenol, occurs in the essential oils of plants such as nutmeg and ylang-ylang
    • Limonene, the rind of the lemon, like other citrus fruits, contains considerable amounts of this compound
    • Linalool, over 200 species of plants produce it, mainly mints, scented herbs, laurels, cinnamon, rosewood and citrus fruits, but also birch trees

In short, every essential oil is affected, with the exception of amyris (West Indian sandelwood), cedar, guaiac, patchouli and vetiver. Go figure!

For an overview of the opinion, refer to the SCCS's online presentation.

What is the problem with labelling?
Clearly most consumers would favour declaration over prohibition/restriction. EU legislation push for transparency of ingredients in consumer products. This, however, puts considerable pressure on the fragrance industry for the following reasons. Most SME's (small and medium-sized enterprises) fear they will not be able to stand the costs extensive declaration entails, which threatens to put them out of business.

Furthermore, there is no sufficient legal ground to claim intellectual property of a fragrance formula. The IFRA expressed this dilemma for instance in this article: "Products such as (...) fine fragrances all contain a fragrance formula" but "legally it is considered as 'artisanal' and therefore cannot be protected. Because of this, historically the fragrance industry has closely guarded the secrets of its formulae".

What does this imply for perfumery?
Implementing the SCCS's opinion without significant alteration will gravely damage perfumery because it restricts the panoply of scent severely. Such constraints will be relevant not only for already existing perfumes but also for any future creation to come about. According to IFRA estimate, some 9,000 perfumes would have to be reformulated, given, of course, their production is not ceased entirely. "If this law goes ahead I am finished, as my perfumes are all filled with these ingredients," said Frédéric Malle. The impact on luxury perfume brands as a whole would, he said, be "like an atomic explosion and we would not have the means to rebuild ourselves."

Status of the amendment
Public consultation commence in February 2014. Taking the consultations on fragrance allergens into account, the proposed changes to the Cosmetics Regulation will be subject to a vote by the Member States in the standing Committee on Cosmetics. Once the measures are approved by the Member States, the European Parliament and the Council will have three months to exercise their right of scrutiny. If the proposal is not opposed, the formal adoption of those changes is expected at the end of 2014/beginning 2015.

What can be done?
There are two ways to fight a pending bill. Petition/collection of signatures and participation in the Commission's public consultation, with a well-conceived argument as to why consumers oppose it.

I am sure I can safely claim none would argue that consumer protection is an insignificant concern. However, when it comes to fragrance allergens in perfumes - given, of course, they aren't cancerogenous, mutagenic or known for reproductive toxicity - protection based on restrictions and prohibitions is not necessary. Information is sufficiently suited for anyone with contact allergies, as the reaction in question may be easily recognised and therefore avoided. It is as simple as that.

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Update, February 13, 2014

The European Commission propose that:

  • The three substances which were found to be unsafe should be banned from cosmetic products,
  • Additional allergens should be subject to the obligation of individual labelling on the package of a cosmetic product. In other words, they have to be mentioned in the list of ingredients, in addition to the words 'parfum' or 'aroma'.

For further details please refer to Public consultation on fragrance allergens.

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