Legislation In Perfumery Part 2

04 May 2017

This week, Master Perfumer John Stephen continues considering the impact of legislation in the perfume industry and asks - is it an oppressive restriction that stifles all creativity, or a necessary move to protect human health and the environment?

Last week we considered the fact that IFRA guidelines are just that… guidelines, not law.

The Cosmetics Regulations are law, and within these, one of the compulsory documents that all manufacturers of cosmetics must produce is a Safety Assessment that must be completed by a qualified Toxicologist.

He or she is legally bound to ensure that the products placed on the market are safe, and in order to assess whether or not a perfume is safe, the IFRA Standards must be considered, because IFRA has gained more data and experience in perfume materials over the past five decades than anyone else.

If the assessor judges that in a particular case, a particular material can exceed the IFRA guidelines, then they may choose to sign off the product, but if that proves to be a mistake, and the product causes problems, it will come back to bite them. In practice it means that an assessor might sign off a fragrance if there was a good reason for it. For example if it was only one material; and it only exceeded the guidelines by a small amount; and the product had been on the market for years without any reported problems etc.

There is however, another reason why perfumes will conform to IFRA. All members of IFRA have had to sign a document which says that although they understand the IFRA Standards are guidelines, they agree to follow those guidelines, and that is a condition of membership. Since most perfume manufacturers in the world are IFRA members, they are therefore committed to abide by IFRA standards. So technically, perfume manufacturers have to treat the IFRA Guidelines as if they were legally binding.

Still, the above doesn’t really address our “freedom” argument - that IFRA stifles our creativity as perfumers and limits our choice as consumers. As perfume manufacturers, we need to be seen as a responsible industry. We have a duty of care, and must ensure that all perfumed products are safe for use and that they do not pose a risk to our customers or the environment.

Safety is a relative term as there is nothing we can do in life that is 100% safe. Someone has to make a judgement about what is an acceptable level of risk, and that risk as far as cosmetics are concerned will depend upon our exposure to the hazards in the products that we use. We also need safeguards against damage to the environment, whether that be washing face scrubs down the drain that work their way into the sea, or expelling aerosols into the atmosphere that affect the ozone layer.

So what are the hazards involved in using perfume in cosmetics? They fall into three groups, the first being skin sensitizers - materials that irritate the skin. Around 3% of the population will have an allergic reaction to certain materials. However, once those people have had an allergic reaction, they can become “sensitized” meaning that in the future they will have an allergic reaction at much lower levels than they did before exposure. If only 3% of people are affected, why should we all have to be subject to the same restrictions? One argument is that even those who previously did not react to a material, can also become sensitized, and then our 3% average figure starts to look worryingly large.

So why are we all suffering from allergies? Surely years ago, far fewer people suffered from allergies didn't they? One theory is that our lives today are simply too clean and our immune system has nothing to do. An idle immune system is a dangerous beast that can turn and start to attack things that in reality are no threat to us. Most experts now agree the following:

- There have always been those who suffer from allergies, but it is quite likely that in the past went largely unreported.

- For every reported allergic reaction, there are probably many more that we never hear about. It is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

- Even if allergic reactions are on the increase, that does not justify exposure.

- Dermatologists constantly report allergic reactions from a relatively small group of materials. If the same materials keep cropping up time and time again, isn’t it time we just cut them out?

The second group of hazardous materials are the systemic ones – the carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic materials. This actually covers a very small number of compounds, but the problem is that they occur in a large number of natural oils. Surely, there is no possible argument for not having these materials controlled to very strict limits? Even the Safety Assessor has no discretion here. He is bound by law to insist that they conform to IFRA Standards, and quite rightly so. The only people who would defend this corner are the ones who would use the cigarette argument.

Finally, the third group is the phototoxic group. These are materials that can react on your skin when exposed to sunlight - like Bergamot Oil. The UV in sunlight can cause skin cancer, and again, there is no possible justification for flouting these rules.

So where are we in this debate? I believe the crux of the argument comes down to the statement in the Cosmetics Regulations that says “Cosmetic products should be safe under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use. In particular, a risk-benefit reasoning should not justify a risk to human health.”

By specifically excluding the risk/benefit reasoning, the regulations are dismissing the cigarette argument. Whether or not you agree with this principle will be a matter of opinion, and of course laws can be changed. For what it’s worth, we agree with the principle.

Like many other debates, a lot of noise comes from those who are not fully aware of the facts, and in perfumery that is understandable because it’s a complicated and often secretive industry. I believe that as a responsible industry we should be leading the pack in that respect, rather than being reactive.

For the purpose of clarity, all Cotswold Perfumery perfumes conform to IFRA.

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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