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Although the perfume industry is portrayed as glamorous and fun, it’s also notorious for its negative impact on the environment. Concerns range from ingredient sourcing to carbon footprint reduction and the environmental impact of packaging.
The fragrance world especially faces scrutiny for its opaque and confusing labeling — especially around natural and organic fragrances. Most perfume formulations are hidden behind one word on perfume labels, usually “Parfum” or “Fragrance,” making it difficult for consumers to know if the ingredients were ethically sourced or safe.
The Food and Drug Association (FDA) states that U.S. regulations allow companies to list fragrance, and flavor ingredients simply as “Fragrance” or “Flavor,” as companies can say the ingredients are “trade secrets.”
If you are looking for sustainable perfume alternatives, we recommend you ask brands these questions:
1. What are your ingredients and are they safe? You want the ingredients and their sourcing to be transparent. But as The Guardian has stated, “Trying to avoid fragrance chemicals is perhaps one of the trickiest modern consumer challenges.”
An individual “fragrance” in a product typically has a complex of mixtures of several dozen to several hundred chemicals, primarily synthetic compounds. A 2016 study found strong evidence that fragranced products can trigger adverse health effects in the general population. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found concerning ingredients under the fragrance label (or a similar term such as perfume) including phthalates (hormone disruptors linked to menstruation and ovulation dysfunction), as well as octoxynols and nonoxynols (also hormone disruptors).
Natural doesn’t always mean better, either. Some natural materials can be overharvested to extinction, or cause skin irritation. In this case, synthetics can act as alternatives to ingredients that cannot be extracted from nature due to over harvesting, animal cruelty or natural disasters. They can be “natural identical,” that is extracted naturally or replicated in the laboratory in an environmentally friendly way.
A 2018 study released by the Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health journal analyzed and found potentially hazardous chemicals in 24 commercial essential oils, including 12 with claims of being “natural” or related terms, such as organic, 100% pure, or plant-based. The results identified 188 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with a total 595 (VOCs) in the widely used essential oils, which it says are exempt from disclosure of their ingredients on their label.
2. Where is your product manufactured? This includes its packaging manufacturer. It shows if the company is choosing local suppliers as a way to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
3. Is your product tested on animals? The FDA states that some companies promote their products with claims of being “cruelty-free” or “not tested on animals,” but the use of these phrases is unrestricted. There are no legal definitions for these terms. It’s possible for some companies to apply such claims solely to their finished product, buttheir raw material suppliers could perform any animal testing. Look for third-party certifications.
4. Is your packaging eco-friendly? You are looking for biodegradable, reusable and/or recyclable packaging. Glass perfume bottles and cardboard box packaging are often recyclable but plastic cellophane and pumps aren’t.
5. What’s your alcohol base? Ethanol, typically fermented from corn, is a common base for most commercial fragrances. Brands creating sustainable perfumes often use sugar cane alcohol as their environmentally friendly alternative, as it is energy efficient and cost effective.
Knowing all that, here’s our roundup of sustainable and non-toxic perfume brands.
Made in California, By Rosie Jane is a clean, cruelty-free fragrance brand made out of natural and essential oils. Its products are free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and phosphates and packaged with recycled materials.
Founded in Amsterdam in 2012, Abel creates 100% natural, vegan fragrances that are derived from plants and made with an organic, food-grade alcohol base. Each fragrance is composed of natural oils and absolutes that are mostly certified organic raw ingredients. Its products are free of paraben, soy, and sulfates and stored in responsible, recyclable packaging.
Founded in 2014, Maison Louis Marie crafts vegan, cruelty-free fragrances without toxic ingredients. Its perfumes contain both natural ingredients and synthetic ingredients, to avoid animal products and to protect against known natural allergens. The brand’s packaging is made from recycled fiberboard and paper and without any toxic coating.
Hermetica formulates alcohol-free fragrances using natural ingredients and synthetic molecules derived from natural sources. Its water-based scents are vegan, paraben-free, and packaged in recyclable materials. Hermetica pledges to plant one tree with every fragrance sold online.
Founded in 2017, Sana Jardin is a clean, sustainable fragrance house with an eco-friendly collection of luxury fragrances made out of 15-20% of essential oils. It sources its ingredients from Morocco such as rose and jasmine and the production of these perfumes helps Morocco women who are harvesting the flowers to develop their own businesses. All of its fragrances include 15-20% natural plant essential oils, are 100% free of phthalates, artificial colorants, parabens, and formaldehyde.
Heretic is a gender-neutral, vegan perfume brand made from 100% naturally derived botanical ingredients that are blended in organic, non-GMO grape, and sugarcane alcohol. Its composition is clean and non-toxic and doesn’t include any synthetics or chemicals.
Born in Australia and based in New York, St. Rose is a vegan and artisanal fine fragrance brand handcrafted with responsibly-sourced ingredients. The brand uses organic sugar cane alcohol for its perfume base, as it’s an energy-efficient crop. Its compositions are cruelty-free and free of harmful additives, sulfates, phthalates, and parabens.
Henry Rose is a cruelty-free, hypoallergenic, and unisex fragrance brand that is verified and certified by two clean and sustainable organizations, Environmental Working Group and Cradle to Cradle. Its products don’t include parabens, phthalates, or any carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. The brand’s bottles are made from 90% recycled glass, are 100% recyclable and its caps are made from sustainably-sourced and commercially compostable soy.
PHLUR is a B Corp-certified, non-toxic, and cruelty-free fragrance line based in Austin, Texas. It sustainably sources its ingredients using both lab-created synthetics and botanicals, minimizing skin irritants and unnecessary additives. The brand is known for publishing its ingredients and processes for each of its scents online. Its packaging is made out of recycled material and its opaque bottle contains 20% recycled glass, which protects its scents. In addition to perfumes, Phlur also makes candles, body washes, and lotions in the same scents.
Wendi Berger founded her natural and cruelty-free brand after being advised by her doctor to eliminate her perfumes due to the unknown effects the chemicals in them may have had on her unborn child. Founded in 2013, B Corp-certified Pour le Monde creates 100% natural perfumes that are free of harmful chemicals such as phthalates, petrochemicals, synthetic fragrances, and dyes. The brand uses corn-based alcohol and essential oils that are extracted using a steam distillation technique.
Founded in 2012, IME creates vegan, botanical perfumes without artificial and animal fragrances, phthalates, parabens, or synthetic ingredients. IME’s pure botanical essential oils, absolutes, and balsams are sourced from around the world, but it locally sources its pure grain and sugar cane alcohol in Australia.
Lavanila is a cruelty-free, non-toxic, and non-irritating fragrance brand made from organic ingredients and free of harsh chemicals. Its perfumes are infused with organic sugar cane alcohol, high-powered antioxidants, vitamins, and natural oils that are harvested ethically and sustainably.
Providence Perfume creates 100% natural, artisan, and botanical perfumes that are blended in pure alcohol and crafted in small batches using real plants, flowers, fruits, and woods. Its perfumes don’t contain synthetics, petrochemicals, fragrance oils, dyes, parabens, phthalates, or chemical fragrances.
TSI-LA creates 100% flower and plant-based perfumes that are blended with organic sugar cane alcohol without any synthetic chemicals, preservatives, or colorants. Its pure essential oils are steam-distilled or cold-pressed to help preserve the natural aroma of them. During bottling, the brand batches each perfume in about 50 bottles or fewer, so each natural fragrance retains its purity.
Sigil composes cruelty-free perfumes from organic, wildcrafted, and sustainably-sourced botanical ingredients that are blended in an organic corn alcohol base. All fragrances are designed as unisex scents and are not tested on animals. Sigil is a member of 1% For the Planet and donates 1% of all sales to Earth-conscious, grassroots nonprofit organizations.
Established in Australia in 2009, One Seed is an all-natural, botanical, and cruelty-free perfume brand that incorporates at least 80% organic content, recyclable and sustainable packaging, and printing.