A common claim I see about cosmetics and fragrances in particular is that there is a “fragrance loophole” that allows cosmetic companies to fill their formulas with toxic chemicals without listing them. The idea is that if something is part of a fragrance it is secret and can be listed on the label simply as “Fragrance” (or Parfum if you happen to be in a French speaking country).
While this claim is technically true, it’s misleading in a couple of different ways.
Some fragrance ingredients are listed
In the EU, there is a list of 26 ingredients in fragrances that are known allergens. It is a requirement that companies list out any of these ingredients on their labels if they are included in their products. So, the ingredients that represent the biggest risk to consumers are specifically listed out on ingredient labels. This is not a strict requirement in the US however, all the biggest cosmetic companies do this as a matter of course. Smaller US companies often ignore this step which is why I think people who are sensitive to fragrance ingredients should stick to purchasing products from large companies.
There are safety limits on ingredients in fragrances
The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) sets safety limits on ingredients used in fragrances. All the legitimate fragrance houses in the world adhere to the safety limits as published by IFRA. This is a legal requirement in the EU and it is something that companies follow in the US. Any product you use that has fragrance (especially if it is from a large company) uses ingredients that have been safety tested.
All ingredients in fragrances
While the fragrance loophole technically exists, some companies have still found it helpful from a marketing standpoint to let consumers see all the ingredients in their fragrances. You can see every ingredient in the fragrances used in products by Unilever and by P&G.
Real reason for the loophole
The reason the loophole was created in the 1970’s was because fragrance houses didn’t want their trade secrets to be shared with competitors. But a more important reason is because fragrances are made up of dozens or even hundreds of ingredients. If all the ingredients were listed on the container the ingredient lists would become too long and unhelpful to consumers.
There is no nefarious conspiracy by cosmetic companies to expose consumers to dangerous chemicals through the fragrance. The main reason the fragrance loophole exists is because it’s not practical to list all the ingredients for fragrance on the container and having that information won’t help consumers anyway.