Jenny Rhodes takes a look at perfumes and smells a rat.
Most of us buy perfumes to make us feel good and smell nice. Seventy percent of men and ninety percent of women use fragrances, which are now marketed in an increasingly genderless manner.(1) More and more brands are either unisex or have both female and male versions of popular fragrances.
Secrets and secretions
You'd hope that an expensive perfume would include expensive, exotic ingredients, but perhaps quite how exotic these ingredient are might not have crossed your mind. Up-market perfumes can contain animal substances such as musk, civet, castor or ambergris. Musk comes from the gland of a male musk deer which has been hunted to near extinction.
Civet is a secretion from civet cats which are captured and tormented to increase the secretions they produce. Castor comes from beavers which are usually trapped and killed before the secretion is obtained from the beaver's genital glands and, if that's not bad enough, ambergris comes from the diseased stomachs of sperm whales.(2)
The alternatives to animal ingredients aren't any better, and a number of campaign groups including Greenpeace, WWF and WEN have found that even 'posh' perfumes now contain the same toxic chemicals commonly found in washing up liquid and air fresheners. Both phthalates and artificial musks (the replacements for natural musk) were found in virtually every brand of perfume tested in trials for Greenpeace earlier this year.(3)
The highest levels of the most prevalent phthalate, DEP, were found in Calvin Klein's Eternity for Women fragrance and the highest levels of synthetic musk were found in the Body Shop's White Musk fragrance.(3) The full analysis of results can be found at www.greenpeace.org.uk.
Phthalates are a class of widely used industrial compounds found in common household products, cosmetics and toys, and have been linked to reproductive damage.(4) Both phthalates and artificial musks are considered to be persistent organic pollutants and are so widespread in our environment that the potential for human exposure is very high.
Wearing a perfume increases your risk of exposure as you are applying chemicals directly to your skin from which they can be absorbed into your body. Greenpeace hopes that REACH, the proposed EU chemicals reform, will have the potential to set in motion the phase out and substitution of hazardous chemicals. In the meantime, avoidance of these chemicals is the only consumer option.
Primavera have explicit policies about the use of persistant organic pollutants in their products. Primavera has a policy against the use of the following in its products; chemical preservatives, sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate, parabens, phthalates, ethoxylates, propylene glycol, TEA, MEA and DEA.(5)
Meadowsweet and Paul Smith do not have explicit policies on their websites about the use of persistent organic pollutants in their products, but are not tested in Greenpeace's research.
Scents and sensitivity
If you wish to reduce the amount of persistent organic pollutants that you are exposed to you might consider developments over the Atlantic. Halifax (not the UK city, the one in Canada) has put in place of a policy of "no scents makes good sense" in the wake of concerns that artificial fragrances were linked to multiple chemical sensitivity (an allergic disorder).
It has banned cosmetic fragrances from municipal offices, libraries, hospitals, classrooms, courts and buses. Other cities that have fragrance restrictions include Santa Cruz, California which has banned fragrances from public meetings and Marin County, where restaurants now have fragrance-free zones.(7)
It makes sense to consider whether you need to wear a fragrance and consider others around you when you do. If you do wear fragrance for the feel good factor, then go artificial musk and phthalate free so everyone else can feel good too.
1 Keynote Cosmetics & Fragrances March 2005
2 Naturewatch Compassionate Shopping Guide 9th Ed 2003
3 Perfume: An Investigation of Chemicals in 36 Eaux de Toilette and Eaux de Parfum Greenpeace 2005
4 Getting Lippy: Cosmetics, Toiletries and the Environment Womens Environmental Network 2003
5 www.primavera.co.uk 07/09/2005
6 4589242 www.akamuti.co.uk 07/09/2005
7 Guardian 18 September 2004
8 BUAV Factsheet E3 November 2004
9 www.naturewatch.org.uk 07/09/2005
10 www.buav.org 10/08/2005
11 www.vegansociety.com 12/08/2005
12 www.veganvillage.com/dolma 12/08/2005
13 www.bigcampaign.org 24/08/2005
14 www.inminds.co.uk/boycott-israel.html 25/08/2005
15 www.nmass.org 24/08/2005
16 www.uncaged.co.uk 19/08/2005