Ingredients and allergens: how to decipher the label of your perfume?

allergens in fragrances have a bad reputation, yet they are naturally present in many natural ingredients

Whether it is a current trend or a real concern, today we all want to know what our cosmetic products really contain, especially our perfumes. But if we look closely, we are quickly facing long lists of terms that are often unknown to us, which do not evoke much… Between perfume, alcohol and list of allergens, we take stock of the components of your fragrances.

What is a perfume made of?

A not so secret recipe

If each fragrance reveals a scent of its own, the composition of perfumes is always more or less the same. In fact, the same basic “recipe” can be found in a large number of perfumes:

  • An odorant concentrate, in the form of essential oils, absolutes, concretes… It is the olfactory structure of the fragrance established by the nose, the one that reveals the notes that will tickle your nostrils.
  • A support on which the odorant concentrate will “grip”: alcohol, oil or a balm.
  • A fixative that allows to reinforce the intensity and durability of the composition. This last one is found in most cases in the base note and does not appear in all the fragrances. A fixative is a compound that reduces the volatility of certain ingredients. It can be a plant fixative such as iris root powder or certain resin gums such as benzoin or labdanum for example. This compound can also be of animal origin with ambergris, castoreum or civet. There are also synthetic fixatives, created in a laboratory, which do not reveal any odor but allow to stabilize the formula.

Different forms of perfumes

It is the support that we will choose which will finally determine the obtained perfume. With alcohol, we make a perfume called alcoholic. It is the most common type and the most popular with perfumers because it is the one that keeps best. Another advantage, and not the least, is that alcohol is a compound that evaporates quickly, leaving the fragrance concentrate on the skin. The oily fragrances allow to subtly perfume the epidermis while moisturizing it. Finally, we speak of solid perfume when the support used is a vegetable butter or a wax. This form of composition is ideal to perfume well targeted parts of the body.

A regulated label

Now that you are more familiar with the elements that go into the composition of a perfume, let’s take a look at its label. In Europe, cosmetics manufacturers are subject to very strict legislation. They are obliged to indicate the composition of their products according to the INCI nomenclature (International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients). But among the different types of cosmetics, perfume is a special case. Indeed, the regulation authorizes the creators of fragrances not to mention the totality of the perfuming substances of the product.

But why this lack of transparency? The exact composition of the fragrance concentrate mentioned above can remain “hidden” so as not to be copied by ill-intentioned competitors! Thus, the secret formulas created by the noses are summarized on the labels by the mention “perfume” or “aroma”. On the other hand, all cosmetic brands (from perfume creators to shampoo manufacturers) are obliged to mention the presence of allergens in the composition of the product, according to their concentration.

What about allergens?

What really are allergens?

Very often decried without knowing what they really are, allergens are present in all cosmetic products that contain perfume. In fact, fragrance allergens are molecules that are naturally present in certain scented raw materials used in perfumery and more broadly in cosmetics. They are thus present in certain flowers or in different fruits. It is therefore essential to understand that allergens are in no way compounds voluntarily added by the perfumer, but substances contained in the ingredients that make up the perfume. In aromatherapy, these substances are far from being criticized because they contain interesting properties and virtues.

They are called allergens because these substances can cause allergic reactions on certain people who are sensitive to them. This is why the dosage and the mention of some of these compounds are regulated.

The list of allergens

The Cosmetic Regulations currently list 26 fragrant substances recognized as allergenic. You have probably already come across them, but their scientific names don’t really help us to see them clearly. Here is the list:

INCI name Natural state
Alpha-Isomethyl ionone No, it is a synthetic compound
Anise alcohol Tomato, honey
Benzyl alcohol Apricot, almond, apple, asparagus, banana, black currant, blackberry
Amyl cinnamal No, it is a synthetic compound
Amylcinnamyl alcohol No, it is a synthetic compound
Benzyl benzoate Ylang-ylang, rosewood, cinnamon
Benzyl cinnamate Peru balsam, Tolu balsam, copahu balsam, benzoin
Benzyl salicylate Apple blossom, jasmine
Butylphenyl methylpropional No, it is a synthetic compound
Cinnamal Cinnamon, nutmeg
Cinnamyl alcohol Hyacinth
Citral Grapefruit, orange, celery, apricot, blackcurrant, grape, kiwi, mango, ginger, melon, plum, raspberry, rose
Citronellol Apple, apricot, black currant, blackberry, blueberry, orange, passion fruit, peach, rose
Coumarin Tonka bean
Eugenol Cloves, cinnamon, marjoram, nutmeg, red pepper, rose
Farnesol Rose
Geraniol Apple, apricot, cranberry, black currant, blackberry, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, thyme, geranium, rose, palmarosa, ylang-ylang
Hexyl cinnamal No, it is a synthetic compound
Hydroxycitronnellal No, it is a synthetic compound
Hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde No, it is a synthetic compound
Isoeugenol Ylang-ylang
Limonene Lemon
Linalool Rosewood, lavender and lavandin, banana, blackberry, bean, blueberry, apple, apricot, artichoke, thyme, rose, Palmarosa, ylang-ylang
Methyl 2-octynoate No, it is a synthetic compound
Evernia prunastri Oak moss, lichen
Evernia furfuracea Oak moss, lichen

Dosages to be respected

The dosage of allergens in compositions is just as regulated as their mention on labels. Depending on the type of product, the concentration limitations will not be the same. For example, a rinse-off product will not be subject to the same limitation as a perfume, which is a product that will remain on the skin. There are 11 different categories of products, from perfume to hair dye. The organization that sets the dosages to be respected is the IFRA, the International Fragrance Association. Brands must indicate the presence of allergens on their labels as soon as a finished product exceeds the following thresholds:

  • 0,001 % for the products without rinsing (perfumes, creams, oils…)
  • 0.01% for products to be rinsed off (shampoos, shower gels…)

The dosages are therefore very low. The risks involved are generally irritation or allergic reactions in sensitive people. We cannot talk about dangerous products, as are carcinogenic ingredients for example. The fact that they are mentioned allows sensitive people to pay attention to them. This information is therefore more informative than sanitary.

You now know almost everything about the composition of your fragrance and the allergens they contain. You can now perfume yourself with our fragrances that are designed with your skin in mind!


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