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Could perfume allergies spell the end of Chanel No.5?

8 January 2013 Heddy Butler

Could perfume allergies spell the end of Chanel No.5?

A scientific review panel for the European Union made headlines worldwide recently when it called for the introduction of new measures to protect citizens from potentially harmful substances contained in perfumes produced by the world’s leading fine fragrance houses.

The panel’s recommendations in a nutshell

The panel listed 100 allergens regularly contained in fragrances on a new roster and proposed an outright ban on tree moss and oak moss, which provide the woody notes in the iconic Chanel No 5 and Dior’s Miss Dior perfume. The formulas of Guerlain’s Shalimar and Angel by Thierry Mugler could also be under threat if the recommendations are acted upon.

It also recommended that when any of the 100 allergens are used, it should be detailed on the product’s packaging. Currently companies are required to disclose the presence of only 26 allergenic substances.

The panel also recommended restricting the use of 12 substances including citral (found in lemon and tangerine oils), coumarin (found in tropical tonka beans), and eugenol (a component of rose oil) to 0.01 percent of the finished product.

The fallout

Unsurprisingly, luxury brand manufacturers have urged the European Commission against acting on this advice for fear it could be the end of top selling fragrances which could potentially devastate the industry.

Manufacturers have stated the scents of leading brands wouldn’t smell the same and that future perfume makers would be left with a limited palette of ingredients if the recommendations are passed.

The global perfume industry is worth $24 billion a year.

What’s next?

The European Commission has reassured the public that there is no plan to ban or limit the perfumes, but that it is in talks with the industry and consumer groups to assess the latest recommendations and the potential industry impact. At this stage the Commission has declined to comment on a timeframe for possible legislation proposals.

It is too early to speculate on possible repercussions of the panel’s recommendations in Australia.

The prevalence of perfume allergies

It is estimated that one to three percent of the population is allergic or potentially allergic to artificial and natural ingredients found in perfume. Hypersensitivity to perfumes is the most common contact allergy in adults. The offending ingredients can also be contained in soaps, lotions, room fresheners, fabric softeners and tissues.

Symptoms of perfume allergies include rash, runny or stuffy nose, nausea, vomiting, lip tingling, muscle and joint pain, respiratory issues and even asthma attacks.

Reactions can be brought on not only by wearing perfume but through being in the presence of others wearing perfume. These allergies can get worse with continuous exposure.


I would advise consumers to use their power of observation. Begin by recognising the things that seem to trigger symptoms, and eliminate them from your environment. Introduce new products one at a time, and use them sparingly at first. If you see an escalation in your symptoms, discontinue using that product immediately.

If you ever find it difficult to breathe or swallow after trying a new product or being exposed to a new perfume or cologne, seek medical help immediately.

If you do experience a symptom you believe is tied to a perfume or scented product, visit your GP who can refer you to an allergy specialist. This specialist can conduct a patch test or blood test to identify the allergy.

Although it is virtually impossible to protect yourself from every perfume-laden product, you can take some measures to protect yourself. Over time, with a little patience and luck, you may be able to identify the irritating fragrance ingredients and begin to breathe deeply and easily once more.

Heddy Butler

About Heddy Butler

Heddy is the Director of Aesthetics Education at the College of Natural Beauty and is motivated to create sustainable and holistic practices in the beauty industry and train the next generation of therapists with this approach.

Heddy joined the College of Natural Beauty in 2008 as a lecturer whilst operating her own salon, Treatment Space. She then took on the role of National Manager and has propelled the College into a highly regarded learning sphere.

With over 27 years in the beauty industry in senior practice and education roles, Heddy is driven by her passion and commitment to the industry.

View all articles by Heddy Butler

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