Ethical Perfume & Aftershave

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 70 brands of perfume and aftershave.

We also look at vegan brands, toxic ingredients, animal testing, shine a spotlight on the ethics of L’Oréal and give our Best Buy recommendations. 

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying perfume or aftershave

  • Is it vegan? Many perfumes use animal products, a fact that is often hidden if they are contained in the secret ‘fragrance’ part of the ingredient list. Look for a vegan brand.

  • Is it cruelty-free? 80% of the world still permits animal testing for cosmetics, although it is banned in the UK. The Cruelty-Free logo guarantees that the company is not animal testing anywhere in the world.

  • Is it organic? This is a fail-safe way to avoid most of the nasty, artificial chemicals that are in so many products. And thereby also help to protect the environment.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying perfume or aftershave

  • Brands that use hidden ingredients Companies often just use the term ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ in ingredients. These can contain a whole host of toxic chemicals that are harmful to your health or the environment.

  • Does it contain parabens or phthalates? These are both suspected of being disruptive to hormones. Choose a brand that doesn't use them or at least has a target of phasing out their use.

  • Is it necessary? Avoid toxic chemicals and animal ingredients by making your own from essential oils and extracts or use less often.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

In this guide we cover the secretive world of fragrance ingredients and learn why choosing companies with clear toxic policies and vegan certification is important; look at why animal testing is still a key issue in the industry.

We also explore how to ensure the plant-based ingredients are ethical, and look at the messaging created by big fragrance brands.

Image: Perfume

Vegan Perfume and Aftershaves

Many of the animal ingredients that were traditionally used in perfume are now recreated synthetically, but due to the fact that fragrance companies can keep their ingredients secret, it is difficult to know what is being used. 

Vegan Perfume Brands

Here are the vegan options. Those marked with (VS) have their vegan claims approved by the Vegan Society or Vegetarian Society, so you know for sure no animal products have been used.

Entire company is vegan

All fragrances are vegan

Some vegan fragrances

Vegan Aftershave brands

Obviously, anyone can choose to smell whichever way they want regardless of your gender, and many of the brands on the score table are not specifically marketing products to men or women, but if you are looking specifically for aftershave/men’s cologne these are the vegan options:

Entire company is vegan

All fragrances are vegan

Why is perfume and aftershave not all vegan?

Musk deer (imagine a deer but with fangs) were killed for their scent glands which were used by perfumeries to create warm, earthy fragrances. As the deer were hunted to near extinction, the use of real deer musk is now banned in the EU.

Other animals may still be being exploited in order to create this musky aroma, other scents or to use as fixatives to make fragrances last longer.

Civet musk or civet oil is produced by civets, a cat-like creature found in Africa and Asia. The civet does not need to be killed to collect the musk, but the animals are farmed, generally in poor conditions. It can take up to four years to collect just 500 grams of the substance from one civet.

Castoreum is produced by beavers which have to be killed in order to harvest the substance. It is an anal secretion but apparently it smells like vanilla. They may also contain more commonly known animal ingredients such as honey or milk.

Ambergris is a substance produced exclusively in the digestive system of sperm whales. It can be harvested from the ocean or beaches. It is often referred to as ‘whale vomit’ but is now thought to be more likely excreted through the whale’s rectum.

Apparently it initially smells exactly how you might expect that to smell but after floating around the ocean for a while it turns hard and takes on a sweet scent.

Its very rare and therefore only likely to be found in the most expensive fragrances. While ambergris can be harvested without harming the whales there is some concern that people might attempt to harvest raw ambergris from whales that have been beached as this can be sold on the black market (despite not having the same properties that make it usable in perfume).


Celebrity and licensed perfume brands

Many perfumes are made ‘under licence’, which means that they are made by a cosmetics company, but sold under the name of a celebrity or fashion house. ‘David Beckham’ fragrance, for example, is made by Coty.

David Beckham will be receiving a fee for the use of his name, but we decided, as we did last time, that it would make it impossibly complex to rate him and all of the other similar celebrities and fashion houses who lend the use of their names. Therefore, we have just rated the company which makes these perfumes, for example, Coty.

Animal testing of perfumes

The use of animal ingredients isn’t the only way that the perfume industry is exploiting and harming animals. Unfortunately, animal testing is still a key issue.

While animal testing for cosmetics is banned in the European Union, many companies may still be using animal testing as part of their global business. Recent studies have shown that animal tests predict human reactions to cosmetics only 40-60% of the time, while alternatives can be 80% accurate. And yet, the Humane Society International (HSI), which campaigns to end animal testing, believes that half a million animals are used for testing in the cosmetics industry every year.

The vast majority of these animals are likely to be tested on in China, the only country in the world that has legal requirements for animal tests to be conducted on finished cosmetic products that are entering the market. In the EU on the other hand, the import and sale of any cosmetics that had been tested on animals abroad has been banned since 2013.

Unfortunately, these steps forward have been undermined by the EU’s chemical safety regulations, known as REACH, which requires all chemicals used in the EU to be tested for safety. Although the guidelines for these tests state that companies should avoid animal testing where possible, a significant amount of extra animal testing has been commissioned because of REACH.

Change of policy in China

Interestingly, Neal’s Yard, a Leaping Bunny-certified company are now selling into China through Cruelty-Free International’s China pilot programme.

Under very specific conditions, China is allowing some cosmetics to be sold into China without being tested on animals. It is a complicated issue as on the one hand it can be seen to pave the way for a change in animal testing legislation in China and demonstrate that there is a market for Cruelty-Free cosmetics in the country. On the other hand, it could be challenging to maintain control over what happens to products once they enter China.

For the moment we are still giving our best rating for animal testing to Cruelty Free International companies selling into China through this route but we will be keeping a close eye on the issue.


Cruelty-free perfume and aftershave brands

The following brands all received our best rating for animal testing meaning they have a policy that meets or exceeds Leaping Bunny certification standards.

Those marked below with (LB) carry the Leaping Bunny label and received a positive mark under Company Ethos for this:

Cruelty-Free Perfume

Cruelty-Free Aftershave

*The Body Shop and Aesop are also both certified to Leaping Bunny standards by Cruelty-Free International but are losing marks under Animal Testing on our table because they are owned by Natura which bought Avon in January 2020. Avon is yet to meet these same standards and so marks are lost across the whole company group.

The following companies had a policy against testing on animals but without a ‘fixed cut-off date’ (a date after which no new ingredients the company uses would have been tested on animals).

They received our middle rating for animal testing:

The rest of the companies in this guide either had no information on animal testing or were found to be testing on animals and received our worst rating.

Unknown ingredients

Fragrance companies are legally allowed to keep some of their ingredients secret, and most of them do. This obviously makes it a challenge to avoid ingredients that might be harmful to your health, animals and the environment or are just at odds with your ethical values.

Watch out for the use of ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on ingredients lists, while these may be a small percentage of total ingredients, they can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals.

Companies might appear to be transparent about their ingredients when they are anything but!

“No state, federal or global authority is regulating the safety of fragrance chemicals” Janet Nudelman, policy director for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP) and co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, told the Guardian: “no one even knows which fragrance chemicals appear in which products.”

There are some laws against the use of certain chemicals, for example some synthetic musks have been banned, but such regulation always lags behind the  creation of new chemicals and their inclusion in products.

Not knowing what might be lurking in your fragrance can be a real problem as you, or those around you, may be allergic to some of the ingredients. It can be  especially problematic for people with asthma. There have even been moves in some workplaces to ban the use of perfume and aftershave, although mainly in the United States.

Even out of our best and recommended buys only Flaya and Neal’s Yard published a full and complete list of ingredients on each product. Dolma used ‘parfum’ in their ingredients list but did also link to page which contained a “comprehensive” ingredients list.

Eco friendly perfume and the ethics of the plant-based ingredients

The ethical issues with toxic chemicals and animal ingredients are clear, but just because an ingredient is natural and plant-based does not necessarily mean it is going to be ethical.

Plant-based ingredients can be grown or harvested in a way that is damaging to the eco-system or the plant itself. For example, Indian Sandalwood, a much sought-after ingredient for perfume as well as other uses, was nearly harvested to extinction and is still highly endangered.

Boswellia trees, the resin of which is what is used to make frankincense are also now under similar threat.

Organic fragrances

Organic certification is a good way to ensure that the most harmful agriculture methods have not been used. Organic certification is a bit more complicated in cosmetics because not all ingredients can be certified organic as they may be synthetic or mineral-based. This means many products may use high quantities of certified organic ingredients and still not be certified organic.

The rules about marketing a non-food product as organic are also less strict so you may also find that a product that some don’t have as many organic ingredients as you might think!

Neal’s Yard Eau de Parfum Frankincense is the only product in this guide made with 100% certified organic ingredients. It is certified by the Soil Association. It received a Product Sustainability mark for this. Neal’s Yard’s other fragrances also contain significant amounts of certified organic ingredients.

The company stated: “We believe our strong commitment to organic farming is an important factor in a sustainable future. Organic quality is a priority in our supply chain, and we have been certified by the Soil Association since 1991. Currently 92% of our natural raw materials by volume are certified organic.”

Flaya states that “our entire range of fragrances contain between 80% and 92% certified organic ingredients”.

They also told us that all of their denatured alcohol and essential oils are certified by the Soil Association and that, “Where organic ingredients are unavailable, [we] only purchase ingredients which are permitted by the Non Food Certification Company (a subsidiary of the Organic Food Federation)”. Their products also received a positive Product Sustainability mark for this.

Neom Organics fragrances contained between 79%-85% certified organic ingredients.

Its website did state:

“We made the decision to use essential oils which do not have organic certification, but which are still 100% natural due to the cost of organic-certified essential oils. This would make our products unaffordable”.

While this is still far better than the many brands that contain no organic ingredients, the fact that it uses organic in its name without its products actually being certified could be misleading to some consumers. All the other products and companies in this guide are not prioritising the use of organic ingredients.

Palm oil in perfume

One of the most well-known problematic ingredients is palm oil, a crop which has caused large scale deforestation, contributed to the endangerment of many species and is associated with various workers’ rights abuses. Palm oil and derivatives of palm oil are found in large range of cosmetics, so we rate all cosmetic companies for their policies.

Palm oil free perfume:

Dolma, King’s Vegan Grooming and Flaya were the only brands that were palm oil free.

Best rating:

Neal’s Yard and Lush used palm oil but had robust enough policies to receive our best rating.

Some of the companies at the lower end of the table also received our best rating, including L’Oréal and Chanel, because they were both using 100% certified palm, were in the process of mapping their supply chains back to the mill and were engaging in some positive initiatives to increase the sustainability of the industry.

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Toxic chemicals and microplastics

Our toxic rating in this guide includes two common chemicals found in perfumes and aftershave – parabens and phthalates.

Parabens are preservatives and phthalates fixatives for fragrance. These are chemicals of high concern because there is evidence that they are endocrine disruptors, which means they can interfere with your hormone system, as well as posing risks for development and cancer. We mark companies down if they don’t have clear policies against using these chemicals.

Many of the companies making perfume are also involved in manufacturing other cosmetics. Our toxics rating covers the activities of the whole company.

Companies in this guide were rated as follows:

Best rating for toxic chemicals:

Flaya, Dolma, Neal’s Yard, KINGS, Neom Organics, L’Occitane.

Middle rating for toxic chemicals:

Revlon, L’Oréal, Shiseido Group, Lush, Natura & Co.

Worst rating for toxic chemicals

Estée Lauder, Coty Inc., Chanel, LVMH Group, Pacifica, Inter Parfums, Puig.


Cosmetic companies also lost half a mark under Pollution and Toxics if they had inadequate policies on microbeads, microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers. You are unlikely to find any microbeads in your perfume, but polymers can be used as fragrance fixatives.

Strong policy on microplastics and liquid polymers:

Neal’s Yard, Flaya, Dolma, KINGS.

Inadequate or no policies on microplastics and liquid polymers:

Revlon, Estée Lauder, Coty Inc., L’Oréal, Chanel, LVMH Group, Shiseido Group, Pacifica, Inter Parfums, Puig, Lush, L’Occitane, Natura &Co, Neom Organics.

Image: Neal's Yard perfume

Other ethical issues in the perfume indurstry


Based on the adverts, a little spritz of the right scent can make you richer, happier, classier, infinitely more irresistible and, possibly, even magic. In reality, it will make you smell different and, in some cases, cause an allergic reaction.

While perfume and aftershave are perhaps on the list of products we should do without, we understand that it can be also be important to have some luxuries in life – this guide can help you choose the most ethical options.

However, perhaps in an age of unrealistic expectations and constant advertising, learning to love your own natural scent is a luxury in itself.

The way fragrances are marketed can also be seen to compound harmful stereotypes with highly sexualised advertising and very different products and marketing being aimed at men and women.

Perfume adverts have almost become a film industry in their own right with millions of pounds being spent on adverts that are just a few minutes long. The most famous example of this is the 2004 Chanel advert known as “The film”. It starred Nicole Kidman, was directed by Baz Luhrmann and cost $33 million.

The best and recommended buys in this guide did steer away from the type of over-the-top marketing favoured by the larger fragrance brands.

Anti-social finance

The companies being marked down under Anti-Social Finance have all paid directors an annual salary of over £1,000,000.

Out of the big perfume companies, the highest annual salaries we found were paid to directors of Coty Inc., some of whom received over $40 million in a single year.

This is roughly the same as the combined turnovers of all this guide’s Best Buy companies.

Tax avoidance

The same companies paying out huge salaries to those at the top are also the ones with concerning company structures in relation to tax havens.

Chanel, Inter Parfums, L’Occitane, Shiseido, Natura, Estée Lauder, Revlon, LVMH, L’Oréal and Coty all received our worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies.


Make your own perfume

You should be able to make your own perfume from essential oils and extracts, diluted with alcohol or oil. Guides can be found online. Essential oils are also much cheaper than buying ready-made perfume and it doesn’t cost loads extra to choose certified organic versions.

You may have to apply home-made perfume more frequently than shop-bought perfume. This is because many of the traditional animal ingredients like civet and ambergris, and their synthetic equivalents, are fixatives – they make the perfume last. Plant-based fixatives do exist, but they generally don’t work quite so well.

However, it is worth noting that there is no guarantee that, just because something comes from a plant, it is safe. Essential oils are very concentrated, and there is some evidence that some can interact with medicines, be allergens, or be damaging to the skin or other organs.

Essential oils are not designed to be used directly onto the skin undiluted – but you could always use them on your clothes.

Company behind the brand

L’Oréal are a major global cosmetic company and make a number of the brands in this guide, namely Cacherel, Diesel, Georgio Armani, Lancome, Ralph Lauren, Valentino, Viktor & Rolf and YSL. The company has been subject to a boycott by Naturewatch Foundation since 2000 due to its continued poor stance on animal testing.

L’Oréal still receives Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for animal testing. L’Oréal is also part owned by Nestlé, subject to its own boycott over its infamous aggressive
marketing of baby milk products.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the score table. 

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