Is your perfume vegan?
5 things to look out for before purchasing your next perfume or fragranced beauty product
Perfume is the next frontier in vegan and ethical beauty. Currently, the safety of fragrance chemicals is not determined by any governmental agency globally in any comprehensive fashion. Instead the fragrance industry has been trusted to self-regulate, and to establish its own safety guidelines. Their research arm is a biased inside organisation that works to benefit their bottom line, and we, the environment and animals are suffering. The fragrance industry has been getting away with selling toxic petrochemicals to us since the 1800s.
Ancient civilisations harnessed natural botanicals for their fragrance for millennia. It remained this way until the Industrial Revolution. As the middle classes emerged the shopping dynamic shifted, and mass consumption was introduced. The artisanship of perfumery was taken over by the chemical industry. Scientists found a way to replicate natural scent for a fraction of the cost by substituting naturals with synthetics.
Why does this matter?
A 2001 study by the Environmental Protection Agency and The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption notes that 95 per cent of chemicals used in synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum and linked to cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, and hormone disruption. Phthalates (used to improve sillage), can cause early puberty in girls and reduced sperm count in men. They are listed as a Priority and Toxic Pollutant under the U.S. Clean Water Act, based on evidence that they can be toxic to wildlife and the environment.
Since the 1800s, all perfumes from Chanel and Tom Ford to Britney Spears and Beyonce, are chemically closer to your toilet bowl cleaner than to botanicals. Not only are they harming our health and the health of our pets, but they are also destroying the environment and killing wildlife.
Things To Look Out For
- Fragrance/Parfum. Look at the ingredients of your favourite perfume, cologne, shampoo, or anything containing 'fragrance'. You are very likely to see this nebulous ingredient. This singular word is a fragrance loophole hiding hundreds of toxic synthetics. Even if the hidden ingredients are vegan from source to shelf, this loophole means that once the product is used, we are still causing harm. Synthetics bio-accumulate and do not break down in the environment. Once we casually rinse off these products, they are causing long-term damage to aquatic wildlife downstream by interfering with the animals’ natural ability to eliminate toxins from their system.
- Latin ingredients. Legally, if a brand is using natural ingredients, they need to list it using what’s called the INCI name (its botanical name) e.g., Pelargonium graveolens (geranium). The natural ingredient will be written in Latin followed by its English name in brackets. If you see this, you’re getting natural ingredients. But if it sounds and reads like a chemistry class, it is synthetic.
- Perfumer’s Alcohol. Most perfumes today use alcohol as the carrier (aka ‘Alcohol Denat’). It’s thin enough to go through an atomiser and easily breaks down the fragrance oils for blending. However, perfumer’s alcohol has to be ‘denatured’ by having toxic chemicals added to it so it cannot be purchased in bulk for human consumption. What is in these toxins is unknown, so we do not know if it’s been tested on animals. Another thing to consider is that our skin is our largest organ, and it drinks and eats too. If the added chemicals are not fit for human consumption, they’re too toxic for us and they are even more harmful for our pets who are more sensitive to synthetic chemicals than we are!
- Animal by-products. It is important to note that natural musk, civet, castoreum and ambergris are all animal by-products, which often entail great suffering to the animal involved. In the case of civet, the animals are captured and held in cramped cages for years, and the musk is “scraped” out every 10 days. Civets often stop eating in distress. If you are buying synthetic fragrances this won’t matter – however, an Environmental Working Group study found Galaxolide and Tonalide, two synthetic musks, in the cord blood of newborn babies and contaminates in people and the environment worldwide.
- Demand transparency. In the same way Fashion Revolution is asking ‘Who made my clothes?’, don’t be afraid to ask, ‘What is in my fragrance?’ You have a right to know! If a brand has nothing to hide, they will come back to you quickly and with full transparency of their supply chain.
Supply And Demand
Vegans know the power of supply and demand. Companies such as Greggs, M&S and KFC have seen significant increases in revenue since introducing vegan options.
Author Anna Lappe said, ‘Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’ We have seen a +13 per cent year on year growth of natural beauty consumption and 75 per cent of Brits have adopted ethical shopping habits. Conscious fragrance brands hear you, are you, and are supplying you with ethical alternatives.