Chemical Reaction: Two Views of Fragrance Safety

Sustainable Fragrances 2010 drew 102 attendees, reflecting growing industry interest in this topic—but what exactly is sustainability and how do we get it in fragrances? In the broadest sense it can embrace renewable resources, reduced carbon footprint, natural or organic sourcing, and social responsibility, all with a presumption of human and environmental safety and regulatory compliance.

Opposing approaches to safety are exemplified by the activities of DfE and the Environmental Working Group (EWG;, illustrated by a preconference seminar on the DfE criteria for fragrances, which at the time had just been released to stakeholders in draft form. The human health component, as noted in the introduction, is available on the DfE website. The final seminar speaker was Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research at EWG, an organization that—in cooperation with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (, Commonweal (, the Breast Cancer Fund ( and Women’s Voices for the Earth (—had just released a scathing critique of the fragrance industry, titled “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance” (

The standard bearer for fragrance safety has long been RIFM, the science of which is reviewed by an external, independent Expert Panel that selects its own rotating membership of dermatologists, pathologists, toxicologists and environmental scientists, which is in turn supplemented by adjunct experts on genetic toxicity, respiratory science, reproductive effects, environmental fate and epidemiology. This Panel, according to RIFM, “provides strategic guidance, determines scientific study design and interprets test results for relevance to human health and environmental protection.” These interpretations form the basis of Standards issued by IFRA regarding the safety of use of fragrance ingredients which, when necessary, may include restrictions.

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