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Fragrances are one of those tricky products that often have untoward ingredients snuck into them. The labels tend to be vague and unhelpful, using FDA-approved terms such as “fragrance,” without being transparent about what goes into it (let alone where the ingredients came from).
When you’re putting something on your skin or giving a gift, you want to know it’s non-toxic and allergen-free. The unfortunate truth is there are limited regulations around fragrances in the U.S. Only in January of 2022 was legislation passed in California that requires brands to be transparent about the toxicity of the ingredients used in fragrances.
Elsewhere, it’s extremely risky to spray “fragrance” without knowing what exactly it’s made up of. It can lead to health complications ranging from skin irritation to perfume poisoning.
Until more legislation is passed to protect consumers from harmful ingredients, it’s important to know what to avoid. Here’s a quick guide on what to look for in a safe and sustainable perfume:
Sustainable Ingredients: While a brand can appear reputable by using only “natural” ingredients, that doesn’t mean its products are safe or sustainable. Not only is over-harvesting raw materials a major issue in the perfume industry, but many natural ingredients have allergens that can cause skin problems. That’s why synthetics are an essential alternative to endangered materials.
Non-Toxic Ingredients: However, it’s always important to avoid unhealthy chemicals that can lead to long-term issues, so be sure to buy from brands that are transparent about their ingredients. The very base of the perfume can be harmful to you and the environment. Look for perfumes that use sugar cane alcohol as their base, as opposed to commonly used ethanol. While many brands use it because of its antimicrobial qualities as well as its solvent abilities, it’s notoriously bad for the climate.
Packaging and Production: Sustainability doesn’t end at ingredients. Packaging and production play a large role in a brand’s overall carbon footprint. Many tackle this challenge by offering refillable bottles, and often offer a discount to consumers who bring them back in. Avoid plastic pumps and cellophane wraps, and buy glass wrapped in paper instead. Look for brands that use recycled materials that are biodegradable or can be recycled again after use.
Cruelty-Free: While perfume production is often shrouded in mystery, there are ways to make informed decisions. Look for third-party certifications such as Leaping Bunny to be sure a brand doesn’t test on animals or use animal-tested ingredients.
Perfuming is a complicated process, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be ethically and transparently performed. These brands take the time to ensure all ingredients are clearly listed, sustainably sourced, and safe to apply to the skin.
Located in Los Angeles, this vegan brand uses completely recyclable packaging and an organic sugar cane alcohol base. Its natural ingredients are responsibly sourced and chosen with sustainability in mind. The entire process of perfume crafting takes place in LA to reduce the carbon footprint of production.
This Los Angeles brand balances natural and synthetic ingredients to avoid known allergies and protect endangered plants. Opened in France in the late 1700s, the descendant of the original owner continues the legacy of non-toxic ingredients and sustainable packaging by using glass bottles and recyclable materials.
Heretic has an extensive array of sustainable gender-neutral scents. Its natural and cruelty-free perfumes are organized by the mood-boosting or healing properties the ingredients offer. It’s crafted in small batches in Los Angeles.
In addition to the natural and hypoallergenic properties of its products, Henry Rose donates a portion of its proceeds to research toxic chemicals in beauty products. Each ingredient it uses is vetted by the Environmental Working Group, and it uses soy caps and recycled glass for all of its bottles.
This Austin, Texas based-brand lists all of its ingredients on its site, as well as the function and origin of each one. It also offers a list of perfume terms to be completely transparent about its process. It no longer uses single-use plastic pumps and has reduced its plastic usage.
BLK+GRN is an artisan marketplace brand that hosts non-toxic products from black women entrepreneurs. All products are tested for quality assurance and effectiveness. It offers a small but high-quality collection of roll-on and sprays perfumes based on natural oils and organic alcohol.
This Swiss brand offers a small but unique selection of DIY perfumes, so you can get the exact scent right for you for any occasion. Its products are made with no chemicals or additives and packaged with recyclable materials. Urbankissed also offsets the carbon emissions from deliveries by collaborating with Tree Nation.
The Detox Market offers cruelty-free formulas, sprays, and roll-on oils at a wide range of prices. Its list of banned ingredients is available on its website, so you can be sure everything in the formulas is safe to wear.
This San Francisco based-brand offers about 15 perfume sprays and some roll-on oils. It encourages its customers to bring empty perfume bottles to any of its storefronts to ensure they’re recycled properly. Its sustainable packaging includes brown paper wrapping and biodegradable boxes, and dissolvable packing peanuts.
This online marketplace carries four brands of sustainable perfumes. It requires all of the brands it hosts to be transparent and cruelty-free. You can find its list of restricted ingredients here, which includes known and suspected harmful substances. Petit Vour also requires its brands to provide evidence of fair work standards.