"Clean" Perfume - the new non-existent thing

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About "clean beauty".

This needs to be debunked before it takes a stranglehold and murders all rational thought.
I'll be writing more about this in the Scenthusiasm community, but I saw this and wanted to put something in writing that everyone can read.

The "clean beauty" brigade claim to be bringing transparency to the secretive world of perfume. They are not being transparent; they're as cloudy as a wet Bank Holiday. Let's look at some of the sheer daftness which is circulating at the moment.

There are companies aiming to terrify customers into buying their products either by deliberately lying, or by being ignorant of the truth. Neither is justifiable. It's fashionable but it's not right.

Toxins are natural. 

A toxin is by definition derived from nature. Botox is a toxin; the clue is in the name. I'd be willing to bet that some of the faces of "clean beauty" are fans of that particular toxin, but let's not dwell there.

Collins Dictionary:
"A toxin is any poisonous substance produced by bacteria, animals, or plants."

They can be synthesised, so you can get what the beauty industry calls "nature identical" toxins, but they're mostly made by the military and aren't really supposed to be allowed out.

They are not used in perfume.
No cosmetics companies want to harm people; they are our customers. Why would we do that?

Of course toxins are chemicals; everything is made of chemicals; they're made by nature. Human bodies are made of chemicals; the oxygen we breathe is a chemical.

Natural essential oils are made of chemicals. Of course they are; everything is.

Plants make chemicals; they make what we extract and call essential oils in order to help them to survive, to fight off bacteria, mould and nibbling animals or to attract bees with their aromas. But essential oils of seeds, tree bark and citrus peels could be considered as insect repellents at concentrated levels.

Let's take lovely natural lemon, orange, grapefruit, bergamot and lime as an example.

All natural citrus essential oils are restricted materials in the cosmetics industry. They contain allergens, and many of them contain phototoxins. In the sun, phototoxins change the nature of the skin. That's why there are regulations to keep them at safe levels.
The citral, limonene and citronellol you'll see listed in citrus fragrances can be synthetic or natural. In ours, they are from the citrus fruits we use. Include bergamot and you get linalool too. There's linalool in lovely calming lavender; it's natural and it's also an allergen. Linalool smells lovely, but as it's an allergen, it's listed on the label by responsible perfume makers when it's in a perfume.

Nature is powerful, and it's not always nice.

If the "clean beauty" people want to avoid toxins and allergens then they have to avoid natural essential oils. But they don't.

About "parfum" on the ingredients list:

Perfumes are not protected under intellectual property law, they can't be trademarked or copyright. That is why formulas are kept secret; it's to make it more difficult for rivals to copy us.
We are not deliberately hiding things from customers; we're hiding it from other perfume companies. (It's not that easy to get a complete true formula from a GCMS.)

"Parfum" is the secret recipe. It could be made from naturals and it could be made from synthetics. All of these are chemicals; some are completely harmless at 100% strength. Some, like jasmine flower absolute, are restricted to amounts of 0.7% in a perfume because flowers can contain irritants and allergens.

As we keep our formulas secret, we are open to criticism and accusations of "hiding something". Yes, we're hiding our valuable formulas that we've spend a lot of time developing, and in the case of the huge companies, their financial investment too.

I am not excusing the bunch of pillocks out there whose fragrances are probably 95% synthetic but still insist that all their products are "completely natural", "all made of flowers" and keep on spouting total lies that they think customers want to hear. Those who earn a living by training fragrance sales people to say "There are absolutely no chemicals in our perfumes" are just as bad as the "clean" marketing people.

But unfortunately chemophobia exists. People imagine that chemicals are harmful, and assume that when someone says chemical they mean cleaning products, or pollution, or something that kills wildlife. Lack of understanding encourages obfuscation.

"Clean" is the new "Natural". They are both now meaningless when applied to cosmetics, and seek to wheedle cash from the well meaning but easily persuaded.

If these "clean beauty" companies don't make their perfumes with any sensitising materials or allergens they they cannot use:
orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, mandarin, tangerine, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, geranium, carnation, orris, clove, cinnamon, rosewood, lavender, rosemary, basil or hundreds more natural essential oils and absolutes.

I can't respond to all their claims right now but finally let's take on the pointless concept of gluten-free perfume.

Gluten is the name for a group of proteins which occur naturally in wheat, barley and rye.
People with coeliac disease must have a gluten free diet because theirs is a serious medical condition, and there are other gluten intolerances which affect - possibly - up to 10% of the population. But this is from eating wheat, barley and rye products.
No one puts gluten in perfume, and even if they did, it wouldn't have an effect unless you drank it.

Asking a perfumer if their fragrances have gluten in them is - for us - as daft as asking if they've put paperclips in there.

We just think, "Why? Why would anyone ever do that? Why would you even ask?" But while more companies are making meaning-free statements about their gluten-free products, more customers start to think that it must be important. It's not.

Hands up. When I launched Our Modern Lives in 2017, I hashtagged some my my Instragram posts as #cleanbeauty to get their attention. Guilty. I made two fragrances which were 100% synthetic but with no restricted materials or allergens to declare, and I made seven which were 100% natural because I got bored with explaining that just because I'm an artisan perfumer, it doesn't mean I'm only using essential oils. I did it to make a point; that if you want a fragrance with no allergens, you're better off with synthetics. I love my naturals, but I'm not going to romanticise them, nor will I lie about what's in them.

Maybe I'm fighting a losing battle but I do like to think that out there somewhere there are enough of us nerds to push back.

P.S. I set up my Scenthusiasm community for everyone interesting in knowing how perfume is really made, and what we use to make it, is on Patreon at


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