Friday, November 12, 2010

Outlaw Perfume: Revolutionizing the Industry One Step at Time

If you are one among the many perfume enthusiasts who in the last few years has been informed of the restrictions which have been self-imposed by the International Fragrance Association and the lobbying at Brussels in the European Union of several groups concerned with the allergens, hormone disruptors and other assorted impending signs of the coming Apocalypse in your humble Eau de Toilette, and have been severely icked, irrated and all around cussing beneath your breath, wielding your fist at the powers that be who nanny this existence for you, then read on. And rejoice, because not all is black and doom. A handful of perfumers (natural perfumers of the Guild on this occasion, but how far can more mainstream perfumers be?) are rebelling against perfumery restrictions which do not make much sense.

We're not talking about materials which have been proven to cause brain damage (a miniscule amount already banned since many many years), but of such innocuous and traditional ones such as citrus essence or lavender. Outlaw perfumery is not about being irresponsible, but about being level-headed. In a world where nuclear power risks and air pollutants pose a far greater risk, it seems adhering to a noli me tangere frame of mind is becoming unreasonable and ultimately laughable. If by any chance you had been a castaway these past 3-5 years in the middle of the Pacific or haven't really understood what this furore is all about, you can read all about it on these pages under Restrictions and under IFRA.

The guidelines of the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and the laws of the European Union (EU) have created an era of vapid, soulless, synthetic perfumes due to the banning or severe usage level limits they have placed on historic perfume ingredients that are used in leave-on or wash-off fragrance products. Rose, jasmine, oakmoss and many other aromatics are now allowed only in tiny amounts, and their scentual presence is dimmed. Independent perfumers are not members of IFRA, but if they are in the EU, they have to abide by the rules. Independent perfumers are also aware of safety issue due to photosensitization, allergenic sensitization and irritation, et al. The Natural Perfumers Guild takes the stand that a warning label should be enough to allow us to use citrus, oakmoss, jasmine, rose and other cherished perfume materials in our creations. If a warning label is good enough for the potentially-deadly peanut, it should be good enough for a perfume that may give you a rash.
One among the perfumers, Anya McCoy, the president of the Natural Perfumers' Guild, says "Just by being a natural perfumer, I’m an outlaw in the eyes of the perfume establishment. I don’t use their synthetic materials and I am self-taught. It’s not a surprise I would not follow the dictates of the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) or the European Union (EU)"
A warning label suggested would perhaps read: “Warning label: Enjoy your Outlaw Perfume! It may contain aromatics or alcohol that could cause a slight skin reaction, so it be used with caution. Don’t apply perfume and go out in sunlight. As you would with any scented product, we recommend a patch test or you may spray the perfume in your hair, on an item of clothing, or on a small piece of cloth to tuck into a pocket or sleeve.” In fact isn't the Victorian idea of wearing perfume on a handkerchief, a locket or on hair a very romantic notion? Eschewing skin contact, our beloved perfumes can be reclaimed as our own! If they only let us...

So from this coming Monday November 15th expect to see news & reviews of Outlaw perfumes submitted by a pleiad of natural perfumers under a collective umbrella, crafting compositions that disregard the excessive fear and litigiousness of IFRA on these participating venues:

Gaia at The Non Blonde

Donna at the
Felicia at
Fragrance Belles Lettres
Carol at
Waft by Carol
Ida, Mark and Monica at
Ca Fleure Bon
Lucy at
Indie Perfumes
Beth at
Perfume Smellin Things
Pat at

In fact I would be personally interested to hear your suggestions for the industry's perfumed products Warning Labels: keep them coming!!

pic originally uploaded on MUA


  1. Margaret21:04

    Sounds just like what we need! I admit I haven't really participated in the discourse, but looking forward to seeing what happens with this idea.

    Thanks for all your work.

  2. michelyn07:50

    Hi Helg:

    Please note the reviewers for the Outlaw Project are Ida Meister, Mark Behnke and Monica Miller.

    Armed and dangerous ;)

  3. Thanks Margaret, you're too kind. (and btw, mailed your prize today)

    I hope that the more people get vocal about these unnecessary restrictions, the more the industry will listen.

  4. Michelyn,

    thanks, I have added the other two authors and deleted your name. I wasn't completely clear from the material I had got who would write up on these. Thanks for clarifying!
    Good luck!

  5. This is great news and I will of course read all your reviews.

  6. Michelyn, this is my omission - I forgot to forward the letter, logo and contact info to Elena! This week has been hectic, but that's no excuse. She has it all now and will be forwarding the attachments to you and all the other bloggers.

  7. Anonymous17:04

    Oh, my God ...
    A warning label like that would certainly keep the prospective buyer at bay ...
    I am glad that there are lobbyists who can express their concerns better than I, I am thinking of Lucy who has already published a well-researched article a few months ago.
    A healthy person with a healthy body can certainly tolerate a few natural ingredients in a perfume.

    All this fuss is exaggerated.

  8. We buy liver-kicking alcohol, cigars and tobacco products which have a warning. A label on a perfume box warning of possible allergy ,rashes etc would be sufficient . This is insanity in fact it must infringe my rights somehow. I
    bought a huge bottle of surgical spirit
    yesterday which had a few warnings on but I could have set myself alight , drunk it and died .I bought rat-poison a few weeks ago in a tub the size of a beer barrel( yes horrible as it is a lot of terraces are having rat problems) .My daughter is allergic to brazil nuts , I am to onions but I can buy the darned things ....sigh.

  9. Anonymous11:33

    This is so frustrating! What with food additives, 'frankenfoods', exhaust fumes from cars/buses/trains/planes/industrial plants....And of course tobacco products and alcohol....why pick on perfumery?! I don't think there are significant levels of carcinogenics or allergens in most fragrances.

    For goodness sake, people are told not to go out in daylight without a broadspectrum sunscreen of at least 30 (which I ignore prefering to wear a straw hat or baseball cap). So the sun can kill us with skin cancer and the sun is natural.

    The obsession with wanting to ban or further restrict perfume just seems so meanspirited and overkill.

    ~ Susan

  10. Great post.
    I think it's very stupid to think that great piece of art will be made without natural raw materials.
    I'm for natural perfume with black label if it's necessary

  11. Anonymous09:58

    These IFRA regulations are so infuriating. I love jasmine. It's good for you, but it's basically been banned. Synth jasmine abounds, but it's not nearly as nice. So I've bought a few jasmine perfumes, when I really like the composition--I decant them, and add REAL jasmine absolute to them. Then they are as they are meant to be. Ditto rose-dominated perfumes- I mean, Givaudan's Rose is lovely, but nothing like the real thing. We have to add our own rose absolute to our $200 perfumes?? How sad is this for the thousands-years-old perfume industry?? I say, buy from the outlaws!

  12. VL,

    hopefully, it gives a message. If some do it and have a following, then more could in the long run, couldn't they?

  13. Anon,

    would it, you believe? Hmm, you may have a point there. Still..
    I think a provocative label ("perfume is hazardous, proceed at your own peril") would personally intrigue me and get me more interested! For instance look at what has happened with cigarettes: warning labels all over the place, quite scary, and does that deter people buying them? Not much.

    Thanks for directing me to Lucy, must have missed it. It's true that so much depends on independent/specific health concerns, so one mould wouldn't fit all.

    Does it seem to you that the issue is being played by the companies to the lowest common denominator(i.e."let's wipe out everything so there is no one who has any tiny problem")??

  14. Angela,

    salient points!!

    It's the infringement on personal rights that gets to me, too. I mean, geez, they don't change the cigarettes to circulate "sans nocitine etc" across the board. The buyer buys at their own risk a product which has been proven to cause significant damage. Still, as long as the substance is legal, they should continue to be able to purchase, no? Ditto for the rest of the great examples you bring.

    Now, why is perfume so different? What makes it different? Is it because ultimately it's widely considered so frivolous? Such a frippery? Or is it something else?

  15. Susan,

    I think you are bringing this to the core of the issue. Perfume is comparatively small potatoes. There's greater affliction on the planet than allergens in perfumes!!

    So, in view of my question above to Angela, what makes perfume so different than the rest of the "controlled susbtances" specimens (cigarettes, alcohol, certain drugs etc.)? Why is it being singled out at this time and with such fervour?
    I understand IFRA is a self-regulatory body, seemingly caught at the wheel, but it's a far greater "trend" among society for some reason. Why, is what I'm trying to understand.

  16. Giovanni,

    it's a stupid overkill knee-jerk reactiong, all right, I agree.

    "Black label": and it should denote a higher quality grade, just like with Scotch!! ;-)

  17. Marla,

    great comment, thank you for posting!

    There's a wise concern there and a smart solution. I have tried that myself, you know, although one has to be extra careful not to be heavy-handed. In what concerns floral essences the fields required for their production are diminishing every year and the bypassing cost by opting for a lab reconstitution cannot be forgotten. In other essences, certainly some of which happen to be cheaper or synthetic materials, it's probably ligitiousness that drives the forces.

    Tell me, which fragrances have you dabbled with, with this method you mentioned with good results? I'm always on the lookout for a good tip! :-)

  18. Outlaw perfumes? Bring it! I am pro-(ingredient)choice and I buy perfumes.

  19. QC,

    I sure hope the industry is listening! (in fact I know they check, so...speak it woman!)

  20. Anonymous19:38

    Personally I think it has more to do with trying to once again edge the "Little Man" out of the business field to leave more room for the multi national corps to get ALL of the $$$

    Who would benefit the most if these regulations are put into place?

    Always FOLLOW the MONEY$$$

    This is similar to the "Organic" label required to say that you grow organic. Who can afford to pay the $5K for that labeling?

    Follow the MONEY$$$

    Another instance of this is the new rfid tagging proposed for livestock, ALL livestock. Who can afford to pay for each animal to be microchipped?



  21. Anonymous20:45

    I have to say that I like the idea. (Although I consciously avoid the use of restricted ingredients in my personal care product business.) I dare say, it was a killer move on the part of NPG, nicely executed, It's something that other natural perfumers did some time ago. Break away from control and restrictions I mean. Artists never like being told "you can or you can't".

  22. Astrid20:57

    How wonderful artists are fighting back. I literally have taken to layering my lousy, way-too-sweet bottle of recent-vintage Coco edp over ground cloves and a spritz of something leatherish, usually the recent version of Cabochard. Chanel is terrible terrible terrible for ruining Coco and No. 19.

    Somebody please create a dupe of the old ones! And bring the original Fendi back while you're at it!

  23. Amanda,

    very perceptive, how can one argue.
    I admit I wasn't aware consciously of the implications in monetary terms of bearing a special label, but I do see it clearly now. It's a grim reality, to be sure.......

  24. Zita,

    true. I hope more and more join in this "movement". Then we might get our share back.

    Thanks for commenting!

  25. Astrid,

    so much talking about the allergens and mum's the word on butchered reformulations. Ain't love grand!

    It's terrible how fragrances which were full of character are somehow beginning to resemble Stepford Wives. Scary, nightmarish stuff...

    It was quite odd how Fendi upon bought ditched the whole line like a hot potato. (Shame too) Let's see what they bring out next, apart from Fan di Fendi....

  26. It's very frustrating. All about money. Labs that produce synthetics get all the business... Just like
    Monsanto patenting seeds and forcing farmers to continue to buy from them rather than saving seeds (and it is illegal to save patented seeds, unlike heirloom seeds). I could just scream, all these consumer rights falling by the wayside.


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