A deep dive into "safe" synthetics

Posted by Liz Cook on

Have you heard of "safe synthetics"? It's the direction more and more niche fragrance brands are taking these days with their formulations.

But what is a safe synthetic, and are these chemicals actually safe?

​In short, some companies are using the term safe synthetic to describe made-made ingredients which are have not been found to be harmful to human health. It sounds OK, but the problem with this definition is that 75% of chemicals used in fragrance and cosmetics have never been, nor will ever be, tested for human or environmental safety. So we are relying on lack of data to call an ingredient safe - basically, innocent until proven guilty.

It is, in fact, quite rare for a chemical to be extensively tested for its potential health effects, and even more rare for one to be banned for commercial use. Even after proving harmful effects, it can take up to twenty-five years for a chemical to be removed from use. 

More often, if there are concerns around safety, there may be industry or government recommendations for limited use, but no actual legislation or regulation to prevent its use.

In the fragrance industry, testing tends to be only in relation to potential allergic reactions, looking at a small cohort of people over a very short time period (usually a few hours or days), with no concern as to how these chemicals might be interfering with hormones, organs, or body systems.

The cost of extensively testing a single chemical is around $1million, which is a strong deterrent that prevents many manufacturers from investigating these molecules. Unfortunately, testing is not a a prerequisite for use, so a chemical can be released for commercial use with very little, if any, governance.

The onus is on product manufacturers to select ingredients that have a history of long-term safe use with no red flags around potential links to health or environmental issues, and ideally those that have undergone extensive testing.

The reality is that rarely happens.

Questions around the extensive use of untested and toxic synthetic ingredients are as relevant as ever. For us, there are too many concerns with most fragrance chemicals to ever support their use.

We will never entertain the use of synthetics. It's our commitment to you and to the planet.

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