So, what to do? Well, you can be sure that your perfume doesn’t contain real musk, as it is now banned in the EU. The other animal ingredients have largely been replaced by synthetics too but, to ensure you’re safe, you’ll need to buy a vegan brand like Dolma, Fairypants, Neal’s Yard, Weleda, Lush or Pacifica.
Dealing with toxics is harder, but we’ve at least rated companies on their policies on the ones that have caused the most concern: parabens and phthalates.
Pollution and toxics
These companies said that they don’t use parabens or phthalates at all: Fairypants, Neal’s Yard, Weleda, L’Occitane, Neom, and Pacifica.
These companies have vague targets for phasing them out, or they have good policies on some of them, but poor or unclear policies on others: Dolma, The Body Shop, Aesop, Procter and Gamble, Avon, and Lush.
All other companies had no policies to avoid these chemicals.
We rated companies down if they either have products listed on the International Campaign Against Microplastic website as containing microbeads, or if they have been criticised by Greenpeace East Asia for lacking commitment to tackling the issue.
Those marked down were: The Body Shop (Natura), L’Oréal, Coty, Chanel, Estee Lauder, Procter & Gamble, Puig, Shiseido, Avon, L’Occitane, and LMVH.
The EU banned the animal testing of finished cosmetic products (including perfume) in 2004, their ingredients in 2009, and the import of either cosmetics or ingredients that have been animal tested abroad in 2013.
However, there is another piece of EU legislation that is nonetheless currently causing many cosmetics ingredients to be tested on animals. The chemical safety regulation ‘Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals’ (REACH) requires all chemicals used in Europe to satisfy a series of safety tests – often including animal tests – by June 2018.
Because of the ban on testing cosmetic ingredients on animals, if an ingredient is used exclusively in cosmetics it is exempt from any REACH requirements to test it on animals. However, there are few ingredients that are used exclusively in cosmetics, so many cosmetic ingredients actually are being tested, even if they’re officially being tested for non-cosmetic uses.
What REACH means for consumers
What REACH means is that there is no way to guarantee that the ingredients in the perfume you buy (or indeed, any cosmetic product) won’t have been tested on animals in the past few years. Even if the company says that it will not use any ingredient that has been tested on animals after a fixed cut-off-date, this may not include some of the testing done under REACH legislation.
However, there are several reasons why it is still a good idea to buy cosmetics from companies who do guarantee a fixed cut-off date – Dolma, Neal’s Yard, The Body Shop, Lush, Weleda, Aesop, and Pacifica. One is that it discourages unnecessary innovation in the sector on products being sold outside of the European Union.
There has been some discussion of whether the UK will remain part of REACH after Brexit. It almost certainly will, as having different regulations from the rest of Europe would be problematic for the industries concerned. It will, however, no longer be able to input into the process.
Palm oil-free companies are Neal’s Yard, Dolma, Fairypants, and Neom.
Lush isn’t palm oil free, but it has a sufficiently positive policy that it gets our best rating. It supplied us with its full list of suppliers.
Hundreds of chemicals are used in perfume, and many have poorly understood and potentially damaging effects on the environment and human health. Some may be endocrine (hormone) disrupters, or triggers for asthma and allergies, and several of them are bioaccumulative, which means that they build up in the body and in the environment.
In particular, three ingredients have come under fire: parabens, phthalates and synthetic musks.
Synthetic musks, also called ‘white musks’, are chemicals that imitate the smell of animal musks, such as those that male musk deer secrete from a gland near their genitals to attract females. Many synthetic musks have been implicated in hormone disruption, and some may be potentially cancerous. Those against which there is the most evidence have now been banned in the EU (although not in the US) but, in other cases, there are just restrictions on where they may be used and in what quantities.
Parabens and phthalates are both suspected of being disruptive to hormones. Both are widely used in cosmetics and perfumes: parabens as preservatives, and phthalates as fixatives. As more concerns have been raised about these two chemicals than any others, we have rated companies specifically on their policies regarding them. We expect companies to either state that they don’t use them, or to have clear dated targets for phasing them out. If neither applies, we have marked them down in the pollution and toxics category.