Context - More than 2,500 fragrance ingredients are used in perfumes and perfumed consumer goods such as cosmetics, detergents, fabric softeners and other household products. to give them a specific, usually pleasant smell. They can sometimes cause skin irritations or allergic reactions.
A list of 26 substances that have to be identified on products to inform consumers was established in 1999.
Is this list sufficient, or is it necessary for additional fragrance ingredients be added to the list?
Latest update: 15 June 2013
Fragrance ingredients are found in cosmetics and other consumer
products. Source: Lilieks
Fragrance substances can be derived from natural sources or chemical
synthesis. They are organic compounds with a characteristic, usually
pleasant smell, which are used in perfumes and perfumed consumer goods
such as cosmetics, detergents, fabric softeners and other household
products. Fragrances provide the consumer with a desired fresh smell or
mask unpleasant odours. Fragrance substances are also used in
aromatherapy and are sometimes present in herbal products.
2. What kind of skin problems are known to be caused by fragrance ingredients?
Skin rashes can be caused by fragrance ingredients, but are usually
not allergic reactions.
Source: James Heilman
The most common problems observed with fragrance ingredients, either
through use of a perfume or a fragranced consumer product, are skin
allergies and skin
irritations. Many people complain about intolerance or rashes to
perfumes or perfumed products. However, the majority of complaints
commonly described as ‘skin rash’ are believed to be irritant reactions
and not skin allergies. A key difference is that
allergic reactions typically
occur with a delay of about one day after using the perfume or cosmetic
product, while irritant reactions develop immediately after use.
Skin allergy to fragrance
ingredients occurs when an individuals skin has been exposed to a
certain minimum dose of a fragrance
allergen. For example through
regular use of a fragranced cosmetic product. Once an allergy has
developed, it is a life-long condition. The symptoms are redness,
swelling and vesicles that are commonly described as ‘skin rash’ and may
occur upon re-exposure to the fragrance allergen in question. Skin
allergies to fragrance
ingredients are most commonly caused by fragranced cosmetic products and
frequently involve the skin of the face, hands or armpits.
Fragrances in perfumes and cosmetic products may also cause irritant
reactions. However, skin irritant reactions cannot necessarily be
attributed alone to the fragrance ingredients contained in the product.
This effect also depends on the irritation potential of the other
ingredients and their levels in the cosmetic product.
3. How can fragrance substance become skin allergens?
To cause a skin allergy, a
certain minimum amount of the fragrance substance must penetrate the
skin and attach to a skin protein.
Only once the fragrance substance is attached to a skin protein can it
provoke a cascade of events in our immune
system which ultimately ends in allergy symptoms.
Whilst there are fragrance substances that directly bind to skin
proteins, we also know that
there are other types of fragrance substances which have to be
chemically transformed before they can bind to skin proteins. This
transformation occurs on the skin, for example in the presence of air or
sunlight, or under the skin after reacting with skin
Such transformation processes may turn a non- or weakly-
allergenic substances into
potent skin allergens.
4. What fragrance substances can be classified as skin allergens?
Depending on the quality of the available information and the strength
of the evidence, dermatologists and other scientists distinguish between
established (in humans or animals), likely, or possible contact
allergens. In their
evaluations, they consider information available on the fragrance
substance from human studies (for example clinical or
data from experimental animal studies or chemical structure information
that, based on historical experience with similar type of chemicals,
suggest the potential of a fragrance substance to cause skin
Following their review and data evaluation, the Scientific Committee
on Consumer Safety identified a total of 54 individual fragrance
substances and 28 natural extracts (essential oils) as ‘established
contact allergens in humans’. The
scientific committee also considered 18 individual chemicals and 1
natural extract as ‘established contact allergens in animals’, 26
individual chemicals categorised as ‘likely contact allergens’ and 35
individual chemicals plus 13 natural extracts categorised as ‘possible
||Number of individual fragrences
||Number of natural extracts
||Lists of substances
||Conclusion concerning labelling of consumer
|Established in humans
||82 substances (13.1)
|Established in animals
||19 substances (13.2)
||26 Substances (13.3)
||48 substances (13.4)
(For the 127 established and likely contact
allergens labelling of consumer
products that contain them is recommended)
5. How is the general public exposed to fragrance allergens?
The general public is exposed to fragrance substances via their use in
perfumes and perfumed consumer products such as cosmetics detergents,
fabric softeners and other household products. In the latter product
types, fragrances may be used to provide the consumer with a fresh smell
or to mask unpleasant odours from raw materials. Fragrance substances
are also used in aromatherapy and may be present in herbal products.
Fragrances or ‘perfumes’ are complex mixtures which may contain up to
several hundreds of different fragrance ingredients. Special databases
list more than 2,500 fragrance ingredients that are used for perfuming
6. What are the gaps in the current knowledge about perfume allergies?
Although science has progressed in recent years, gaps in knowledge
- which specific fragrance substances cause
allergies in humans,
- to what extent
susceptible population groups
run a greater risk of developing allergies compared to the rest of
- what exposure levels can be considered to be safe for the
general population and susceptible groups and
- how consumers are using perfumed cosmetic products as well as
how much and how often.
A better understanding of these aspects will improve the risk
assessment of fragranced products containing fragrance
allergens and allow better
risk management of the products.
7. Conclusion : are the current European regulations on fragrance allergens adequate?
In 1999, a set of 26 fragrance
allergens with a well-recognised
potential to cause allergy had been
ifentified, for which information should be provided to consumers about
their presence in cosmetic products.
On this basis, the Cosmetics directive required that the presence any
of these 26 substances be indicated in the list of ingredients when its
concentration exceeds 0,001 % in leave-on products and 0,01 % in
rinse-off products. These limits had been set in a pragmatic
administrative decision in the absence of known thresholds for these
Such labelling allows patients who are
allergic to one or more of
these 26 fragrance chemicals to avoid products containing them.
The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety now identified more than
100 additional individual substances and natural extracts as established
contact allergens or likely contact
allergens by combination of evidence. In its conclusions, the scientific
committee recommends that the consumer be made aware of the presence of
all known and likely fragrance allergens in cosmetic products and not
only the 26 currently listed.
While a general safe exposure level that would apply to all individual
fragrance allergens can still not
be established, it is considered that a level of 0.01% of a fragrance
allergen in a cosmetic
product (refered to in the Cosmetics directive) could be tolerated by
most consumers with contact allergy
to the respective fragrance allergen. This maximum allowable level does
not, however, preclude that the most sensitive segment of the population
may develop a skin allergy upon exposure. Hence, having a maximum
allowable product level does not remove the necessity for providing
information to the consumer concerning the presence of the fragrance
substance in cosmetics.