Although I'm not one for the sensationalist approach, the escalation of concerns for the potentially allergenic properties of perfumery compounds looks very grim indeed for every perfume lover out there. The classic Miss Dior, Shalimar, Mitsouko and many Guerlains, Angel, Opium, Bellodgia, perfumes with tonka beans and anything with lots of citral (look out for lemon and tangerine "notes") are to be irrevocably changed. If there is something that you absolutely love (and get no adverse reaction from) in its current -already reduced- state, better stock up, because within 2013 lots of fragrances are in for a major rehaul.
If you thought that oakmoss only, i.e. evernia prunastri, was the crux of the matter, you're in for a major surprise. Treemoss, i.e. evernia furfuracea (which acted as mossy note in the post-2008 reformulated chypres that demanded it) is coming into axing and the low-atranol versions of oakmoss have not really managed to convince perfumers of its ability to pose convincingly for what is lost in translation from the older formulae.
Of course one could argue that some classics are already semi-ruined: The classic 1947 Miss Dior (now sold as Miss Dior L'original) is already sent to the back-burner Peoria of limited distribution, but its upstart (the renamed Miss Dior Cherie) isn't safe either; the youthful cheekiness has been effaced and the best-selling Dior smells more like Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle than its own self. The famous YSL Opium, already in transvestite gear, is set to become a eunuch, due to the eradication of eugenol and isoeugenol, spicy molecules naturally present in cloves, mace, bay leaves, rose oil, basil and other plants. As to Chanel No. 5, which raised the flag of the press, thanks to its constant on the front of everyone's mind when thinking "perfume", the truth is it has been so attenuated through the years that any claim on Grasse jasmine and adherence to the 1921 formula sounds perfectly ridiculous to anyone who has some vintage bottles stashed in their fragrance closet. If a shiver of fear went down your spine reading that jasmine and rose are to be restricted as well, fear not: most commercial perfumery (even the very best brands) just use hedione and phenyl ethyl alcohol with citronellol for those two notes respectively, with a garland of something else to boost them this way or that; I have already stated how the industry uses the same 20 ingredients over and over resulting in fragrance sameness....It's no accident.
Although the fervor with which the European Commission is inspecting scented products instead of some of its rotten political realities, which have effectively created a chasm between North and South and have posed a risk for the very solidarity of the European Union, seems misplaced, the issue isn't totally without scientific basis.
"Based on the review available and on multiple cases of allergy reported by dermatologists, the SCCS [Scientific Community on Consumer Safety] identified 82 substances (54 chemicals and 28 natural extracts) that can be categorised as 'established contact allergens' in humans, including the 26 that were already on the list." The document goes on to highlight that, based on the combined results from animal experiments and the analysis of their chemical structure, 26 other individual chemicals where categorised as “likely contact allergens”. The SCCS also reveals that in addition, 35 individual chemicals and 13 natural extracts were also categorised as “possible contact allergens” with three further specific substances recognized as being “potent allergens” and not considered safe in consumer products." [source: SCCS publishes fragrance allergen fact sheet]
The above showcases one common misconception concerning the restrictions of certain ingredients in perfume & scented products manufacturing (including skin care, detergents, hair dyes and the like), namely that it is natural extracts that are being axed due to reasons of high costs. This is plainly NOT the case. It's much more complex than that and litigation as well as technical problems within the industry, as mentioned before, factor in. As you can see above, by the numbers given, plenty of synthesized molecules (nature-identical or synthetic) are also being axed; in fact the synthetics to be eradicated outnumber the naturals greatly (54 to 28)!
What is most alarming is that this is showing no signs of stopping there: 26 other individual chemicals are categorized as "likely contact allergens". In addition 35 individual chemicals and 13 natural extracts are also categorized as possible contact allergens with 3 further specific substances recognized as being "potent allergens" not considered safe in consumer products.
Although ever since 2003 there has been a series of 26 individual ingredients which have been identified as allergenic and are required by law in the EU and in the US to be mentioned on the label (things like coumarin, hydroxycitronellal, Lilial, citronellol, etc), the percentage of people with some form of allergic sensitivity to consumer products with a scent is calculated to be 1 in every 3 Europeans.
Even though the usual repercussion of skin contact with these questionable ingredients in perfumes usually results in topical redness and a rash, it can escalate to eczema, a more severe allergic immune system reaction which even when treated can remain dormant for a lifetime, waiting to be re-triggered via another exposure to the allergen that first made it erupt. It is important to note that even though some ingredients do not cause a reaction in vitro, they can potentially do so in vivo thanks to the interaction with sunlight, air or even the body's own biological processes which turn them into allergens. But there is an inconsistency.
‘While I do think the consumer’s health and wellbeing should always be our first priority, imagine if Brussels authorised for all nut products to be banned or restricted because a few people are allergic,’ Roja Dove, a prime industry figure and a manufacturer of luxury niche fragrances, says. ‘Just look at basil. I have to list it on the back of packaging if I use more than a certain percentage because it’s one of the original list of 26 the European Commission decided must be declared. ‘But a chef can take a huge bunch of basil, chop it up and sprinkle it over food, and their hands will be covered with basil oil. There are no guidelines there.’
Thankfully it is claimed that an exposure level in cosmetic products of less than 0,01% (or 10 mg/100g of cosmetic product) would prevent allergic reactions in the majority of cases. As such, the use of kojic acid (a skin lightener for cosmetic use on melasma and age spots) for instance is considered safe in concentrations of 1% in compound of leave-on creams for use on face and hands.
According to The Times, the European Commission are expected to propose new regulations within the fragrance industry in January 2014, when considerations of both the economic importance of perfume (earning £1.5 billion a year for France alone) and the actual number of perfume-induced allergies occurring might be put into perspective. The sheer process of re-evaluating all the formulae currently on the market and reformulating all those perfumes at no monetary compensation should definitely sting for all the fragrance companies.
It remains to be seen whether a subtle visual twist in packaging (as before) or an augmented list of allergens on the label will be the deciding factor in signaling the changed formula of any given perfume. At any rate, consider yourselves warned.