Legislation In Perfumery Part 1

04 May 2017

This week, Master John Stephen considers the impact of legislation in the perfume industry. When it comes to legislation in perfumery, is it an oppressive restriction that stifles all creativity, or a necessary move to protect human health and the environment?

It is difficult to pick up a paper without reading something about the never ending stream of rules and regulations that flow out of Brussels, and perfumery is no exception. Not for long you say! Brexit will change all that. So, will we be able to create fragrances as we did 50 years ago free from the shackles of EU Legislation?

Arguments on the subject are polarised. There is a substantial section of the population that is fed up with the Nanny State, and wants to be free to make decisions about how they live their lives, which products they choose to wear, and what risks they are prepared to take.

We have been told often enough that “Smoking Kills!”, and the message is clear on every cigarette packet, yet they are still available for sale. As far as we know, no-one has ever died from perfume, so if there are safety concerns, why can’t the same principle be applied to perfume? Surely we can warn people about the hazards, but still continue to sell products that may be harmful? You have to admit it is quite a compelling argument.

We know that about 3% of the population will suffer allergic reactions from certain ingredients in perfume, but what about the other 97%? Why should they be forced to use the “safe” version when they prefer the old one? We can warn the public through labelling and then if a perfume contains a material to which they are allergic, they can choose whether or not to use it.

The subject is certainly an emotive one. Here is a letter received by IFRA (the International Fragrance Association) from an unhappy customer:

“What a shame to mutilate the fine perfumery! I daily spray on me extracts of Mitsuko and No 5 since the eighties and never have I got any reaction. Since these legendary products have been reformulated/mutilated, which I now hate, I am forced to purchase flacons with vintage formulas from eBay.com at prohibitive prices. Thanks to you, the future of perfumery will be really sad with just hundred percent synthetic and commercial toilet waters exactly clean-as-you-want.

All of you will be hanged by the court of history! Shame on you!”


IFRA is the body responsible for setting the standards by which fragrances must be made - so it’s not actually Brussels at all. Furthermore, the IFRA standards are guidelines, and guidelines are not law. Only Cosmetics Regulations are law and therefore must be complied with.

Next week, we take a look at the other side of the argument including the technicality that IFRA guidelines are not enforceable by law.

If you love perfume then why not arrange to visit us in Bourton-on-the-Water to attend one of our courses, or simply have a browse in our gorgeous gift shop. Just give us a call on 01451 820 698 to find out more.

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