What is Fragrance?


Depending on the product, the term fragrance can refer to a perfume, cologne, or other scent. Fragrance is a combination of chemicals that gives a scent a unique signature. Fragrance is used in various products, including shower gels, body lotions, air fresheners, and laundry detergents. Various studies have linked many fragrance chemicals to adverse health effects, including cancer, birth defects, allergic reactions, and hormone disruption.

Fragrance can be obtained from plants, animal products, and synthetic sources. The International Fragrance Association lists 3,059 materials that are used in fragrance compounds. However, not all fragrance ingredients are disclosed. Most chemicals are not listed on product labels, and many are unknown to the public. Some fragrance ingredients are toxic, and can cause allergic reactions and asthma attacks.

Fragrances are categorized as head, middle, or base notes. Head notes are characterized by small, light molecules, such as citrus fruits and herbs. Middle notes are characterized by more complex molecules, such as florals and potent spices. Base notes are larger, heavy molecules, such as sandalwood and amber. A base note enhances the scent of the middle note.

Fragrance is not legally required to list its ingredients on a product label. However, many companies are required to disclose their formulas, although they can choose not to disclose the exact amounts. If a product does not list its ingredients, consumers are encouraged to check with a skin care professional or dermatologist to find out what they contain.

Some fragrance ingredients, like phthalates, have been linked to adverse health effects. They disrupt hormones, cause reproductive malformations, and can cause asthma attacks. Others, such as benzophenone/oxybenzone, have been labelled as human carcinogens. Other fragrance ingredients, like hexyl cinnamal, are skin allergens.

The US Food & Drug Administration defines fragrance as “a mixture of chemicals”. Fragrance may be used in products containing shampoos, body lotions, body soaps, deodorants, and laundry detergents. The US regulations have been designed to protect proprietary perfume blends, but are not designed to protect individual fragrance constituents. These substances are often derived from petroleum products, animal products, and plant extracts.

The Research Institute for Fragrance Materials has been researching fragrances for over 50 years. They develop voluntary safety profiles for fragrance ingredients, and test fragrances for their effects on the human body. The International Fragrance Association works with the Research Institute to determine adverse reactions and to establish safe levels of fragrance ingredients.

Although fragrances are exempt from the Fair Packaging and Labelling Act of 1967, the US Food & Drug Administration does not have the authority to require fragrance manufacturers to disclose ingredients. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates the fragrance industry and issues voluntary standards to ensure that fragrances are safe to use.

The International Fragrance Association lists the fragrance ingredients used in fragrances, but does not publish a comprehensive list of all fragrance chemicals. Most fragrance ingredients are not disclosed, and many are associated with adverse health effects. Some fragrance ingredients have been linked to cancer and birth defects, and many of these chemicals are linked to allergic reactions and asthma.