• IFRA Promotes Creativity – An Interview With Lisa Hipgrave, Director Of IFRA UK – PART 2

      Part 1 of the interview ended with my asking Ms Hipgrave about the public’s perception of IFRA’s powers and responsibilities.

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      Persolaise: I accept that there’s definitely one major misunderstanding out there, which is that IFRA is the law. But then EU regulation does mirror IFRA quite closely.

      Lisa Hipgrave: With the Cosmetics Directive, there are some materials that have been put into Annex 2 and 3 of the Directive, because they are restricted or prohibited within the Code. With the allergens that came via the dermatologists and the SCCS wanting these materials being labelled*… I guess IFRA were unable to act quickly enough to prevent those materials being known as allergens. Actually, I think we’ve done enough testing now to know that only 50% of them are weak sensitisers and the rest aren’t sensitisers. But too late. They’re in the Cosmetics Directive and they have to be labelled. That’s not an IFRA guideline. What IFRA have done is they’ve taken those allergens and have done the testing and restricted the materials at a level where they don’t elicit an allergy in the future. Personally, I think that’s a great thing for the fragrance industry, because the fewer people there are having an issue with it, the less of a safety spotlight will be on the industry. I think there’s had to be some pro-active work done to try and support the industry more and ensure that in the future there won’t be so many issues.

      Would you say that IFRA has an interest in seeing some Standards being implemented as EU law?

      LH: I think so, yes. The Code itself deals with all sorts of things other than restriction and materials. It deals with good manufacturing practice and intellectual property. But I think that if IFRA can get their Code and their Standards recognised and accepted by some of the regulatory bodies, I think that would be a much more common sense place. If we can have a much more pragmatic and common sense insert within the regulations, rather than the EU referring to a group of focused people that have got their own focus… It has to be balanced.

      What about the issue of labelling? A lot of people would like to know why the perfume consumer isn’t being given greater choice. Why can’t a perfume package simply say: ‘Warning – This perfume contains X amount of such-and-such a substance’?

      LH: I can understand why the labelling issue is pushed.

      For instance, if I had a severe nut allergy, I could walk into any supermarket, pick up a packet of peanuts bearing the words, ‘This product may contain nuts’ and I could eat the whole packet, knowing that this would almost certainly kill me. I could do that, if I so chose.

      LH: (pause) I think that… a nut allergy could kill you and nuts are so prevalent in every food. But what’s actually happened is that everything you pick up says, ‘This may contain nuts,’ even though it doesn’t.

      As a woman who has children, you could have chosen to smoke several packets of cigarettes whilst you were pregnant. It may not have been the right thing to do, but you could have chosen to do it.

      LH: Yes.

      So what makes the case of perfume different?

      LH: I think that you have to protect people. You have to protect the lowest common denominator.

      But why is there a distinction between perfume and other industries?

      LH: I think that there are all sorts of political things afoot and I think probably, if cigarettes were being brought out now, they would be banned. But I don’t want to get into other industries.

      But can you see why this seems illogical? Why can’t a perfume package simply state that it contains over a certain level of, for instance, vetivert? If I had some sort of an allergy to vetivert, and if I didn’t care about getting a rash, I could still exercise the right to spray the perfume all over myself.

      LH: But that is what we’re doing from an allergy point of view. We are labelling for allergies. But the materials that have other health issues – reprotoxic (may damage the reproductive process) or mutagenic (may cause genetic mutation) or carcinogenic – I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting something in and saying, ‘Oh, by the way, if you can’t read, tough.’ You know, it’s like dry cleaning fluid was banned because it was discovered that it was carcinogenic. And it would be wrong to use something like that and say, ‘Well, you can use it. Be it on your head,’ and not protect everybody.

      But it’s all right for the cigarette and food industries to sell unsafe products?

      LH: I can’t explain.

      And it’s all right for me to eat massive quantities of basil leaves?

      LH: No, that’s completely different. Anything that is absorbed through the skin is metabolised very differently from something that’s ingested. And so just because it’s safe to ingest it, doesn’t mean it’s safe to put it on the skin.

      How is IFRA funded?

      LH: By its members. In the UK, we’re trying to reach out now to bespoke perfumers and individual perfumers and we’ve introduced a new level of membership so that we can try and get more of the individuals inside the camp, if you like, because there’s an awful lot of people that do say, ‘This shouldn’t be restricted.’ And actually, if we’ve got a chance to speak to those people and take their test data, then that’s better for us. But on top of those people, we have members who are charged a minimum amount per year – which is £500 – and then after that, it goes up in bands, so that depending on their turnover, the more costly it is for them to join. And then our executive is made up of those people that want to be part of it. I think at the moment we’ve got about a 50:50 ratio of big companies to small companies.

      And what are the voting rights?

      LH: If you’re a full member, you have one vote. There’s no weighted voting.

      Would you say that, in the future, there’s any scope for any of the current Standards to be loosened?

      LH: Absolutely.

      Okay, I’d like to conclude by looking ahead. You must be aware that many people are worried about the future of perfumery. Guerlain’s perfumer, Thierry Wasser, used some choice language in a public setting last year when he described his feelings towards the issue of restrictions and regulations. Patricia De Nicolaï’s website currently features some text which appears to lament the loss of certain materials which are crucial in the creation of a lily of the valley note. Various people have written that they feel creative perfumery has to move out of Europe if it is to survive. So what’s your final word on the future of perfumery?

      LH: The future is fragrant.

      But not necessarily citrus fruit fragrant? You must know that there are many unhappy people in the industry saying, ‘Get off my back.’

      LH: (pause) Regulations and legislation… but not IFRA, because we’re not regulators…

      But you’ve got a lot of power.

      LH: Yes, with our membership.

      The EU listens when you talk.

      LH: (pause) The safe use of fragrances has to be continued. And none of us like regulations. But we have to protect the consumer. And if a material is safe to be used, then IFRA will absolutely stand by it and defend it. IFRA promotes creativity. And luckily, we have power with the regulations.

      Finally, is there anything you feel you’d like to say? Is there any area you wanted to talk about which I didn’t raise in any of my questions?

      I don’t think so, no.

      Thanks very much for your time.

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      I suspect that many of you will wish to react to some of what you’ve read above (and in Part 1), and I’m very pleased to be able to tell you that Ms Hipgrave ended our meeting by offering to answer a few follow-up questions. Please leave any queries or observations as a comment below. They’ll all be forwarded to Ms Hipgrave and when/if she responds, we’ll publish her answers here on Basenotes. So think of something good!

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      * Ms Hipgrave is referring to the 26 substances that were included in a piece of anti-allergen legislation passed by the EU in 2003.




      About the author

      Persolaise is a Jasmine Award shortlisted writer and amateur perfumer who has had a strong interest in the world of fine fragrance for over 25 years. You can find out more about his work at www.persolaise.com or by emailing him at persolaise at gmail dot com.
      About the author Persolaise
      Author AvatarPersolaise is a twice Jasmine Award winning writer and amateur perfumer with a lifelong interest in the world of fine fragrance. His perfume guide, Le Snob: Perfume, is published in English by Hardie Grant and in German by Süddeutsche Zeitung. You can find out more about his work at his website (listed below) or by writing to him at persolaise at gmail dot com

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      1. Interview
      2. IFRA

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      Comments 29 Comments
      1. the_good_life's Avatar
        the_good_life -
        Thanks for asking so insistently, even if it evidently created some discomfort. To me the "we have to protect the consumer" mantra sounds like no more than a convenient front, as is evident from Ms. Hipgrave's inability to provide reasonable answers to your reasonable questions about IFRAs unreasonable policies.
      1. illyria's Avatar
        illyria -
        Yes, thanks for pushing that question. It's the aspect of the whole subject which I find most annoying. I think she couldn't answer it properly because there is no convincing reason behind it, except 'Nanny knows best'! ;-)
      1. Mimi Gardenia's Avatar
        Mimi Gardenia -
        I echo the comments above.
        I still don't buy it re. labelling food is different from perfumery . Ms Hipgrave was unable to elaborate further . Consumers are able to think for themselves and do not need protection in the way Ms Hipgrave talks about it- I found it a rather patronising response.
      1. sarıpatates's Avatar
        sarıpatates -
        I am not convinced either.
        Arguing that IFRA rules promotes creativity is ridiculous. An artist can create their own challenges, they can limit their own palette if they choose to do so. I don't think soviet russian artists would agree that the suffering censure and limitation was good because they made them such good artists.
      1. Pollux's Avatar
        Pollux -
        I now do understand IFRA's position on regulatory issues. However, Mrs. Hipgrave's answers to labelling aspects shows IFRA's weak position when it comes to support allerts on the usage of some (controversial) materials, besides the fact that she clearly admits that labelling went out of their control.

        I am confident things will change for the better due to generalized criticisms: if the plan to recruit new members proves succesful, small and mid-sized members could be responsible for positive changes, plus the fact that IFRA's allerts having a negative impact on quality means more opportunities for manufacturers located overseas. As soon as traditional companies get affected, they will raise their complains.
      1. Nukapai's Avatar
        Nukapai -
        1. What do you think about the proposition that certain fragrances, formulated prior to a certain cut-off date and meeting certain (yet-to-be-determined) criteria would be granted 'legacy status' and allowed to be manufactured and sold using their original formulas? (I can immediately see that this isn't cut-and-dry because of issues such as nitro musks but I do think the idea has serious merit and could be considered).
        2. Do you think that some manufacturers blame IFRA recommendations for why they've had to reformulate - when, in fact, they have been doing it all along to cut costs?
        3. What would you say to claims that the IFRA recommendations encourage the trend towards declining natural material production and, thus, increased prices of whatever crops remain (which, in turn, feeds into the scenario above). Isn't this bad for the growers and bad for the industry? Should there not be some attempt at conservation and protection of these traditional practices?
        4. Do you think IFRA helps to calm down the phenomenon of chemophobia and perfume-phobia (where perfume has become akin to secondary smoke or worse in some areas of the world and people are banned from wearing it at work or in public places). If so, how does IFRA help? Or do you think it actually legitimises perfume-phobia?
        5. Do you think using the precautionary principle is the most effective way in which to determine fragrance material risk? If so, why?
      1. Puente's Avatar
        Puente -
        "I think that you have to protect people. You have to protect the lowest common denominator."

        From what exactly? A rash? Come on! Cigarettes can kill you, yet the tobacco industry is only required to place a label on every box. Peanuts and shellfish can kill you if you're allergic to them, yet people eat peanuts and shellfish every day. Educating the consumer by proper labeling and having information available to the public versus restricting and banning is a more logical answer. I'm not a smoker but occasionally I do enjoy a good cigar, and though I know the risks involved with smoking any kind of tobacco, I still choose to do so once in a while. If I know bergamot is phototoxic, then I'll spray it on my clothes if I'm going to be out and about on a sunny day. If I ever become sensitized to oakmoss, then I'll stop using anything with a label that says "contains oakmoss". It's common sense. I'm not oppose to the IFRA testing different materials (natural or synthetic) because I do want to know what each ingredient can or can't do to you, but all of these restrictions and banning is preposterous.
      1. ysatis's Avatar
        ysatis -
        Dear Persolaise! You was great in your insistent efforts to reveal the truth about parfum future. Stay in power to be so straightforward person! And, good luck in creativity!!
      1. EugeniaLOL's Avatar
        EugeniaLOL -
        With respect to everyone else, and acknowledging that I don't endorse banning things for being allergens (as opposed to toxins), the argument that we shouldn't ban, e.g., oakmoss because cigarettes are so much worse but are still allowed is not a very good one. I think we all understand that cigarettes, if invented today, would likely not be legal.
      1. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
        hirch_duckfinder -
        I find the "we're not legislators" satement to be spurious. If somebody sued a company for prodcing a perfume which gave them a rash and it turned out it didn't adhere to the "industry guidelines" i.e. IFRA recommendations then the case would be settled immediately. This effectively means IFRA guidelines are law because nobody would risk that lawsuit.
      1. fraddicted's Avatar
        fraddicted -
        Something seems lacking here from the IFRA perspective. The answers seem evasive and unsatisfying. As the_good_life stated, Ms. Hipgrave seemed uncomfortable and not centered on the facts, as if she was promoting some corporate idealogy that she herself doesn't completely understand or, perhaps, believe.
      1. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
        hirch_duckfinder -
        Question: why has the ingredient quality dropped so dramatically in recent years to the extent that most new perfumes just do not smell good to anyone with experience?
      1. rogalal's Avatar
        rogalal -
        Wow, am I literally the only person in all of Basenotes who thinks that the IFRA has a valid point? To use Persolaise's example of allergen warnings for vetivert, who in the world knows they're allergic to vetivert??? If Gucci loaded their next perfume with vetivert and slapped a warning label on it, someone would get sick, people would get rashes, ridiculous scare stories would be all over the news, and the anti-perfume nuts would win.

        As an extreme example, look at nitro musks. They were the secret ingredient in many old perfumes. Then, we figured out that they were an environmental problem, the perfume equivalent of styrofoam that wouldn't break down over time and that they could get caught inside peoples' immune systems and infect underground water supplies. For good reason, they were banned. But to this day, every time their use comes up, someone says "my grandmother wore Chanel No 5 all her life and she turned out just fine", but that's not really a valid argument. You could make the same case in favor of asbestos insulation. When it all comes down to it, it's just not fair to endanger people and an industry that creates products that we love just so that the very few of us who truly care about fragrance as an art form can continue to go down to the mall and smell something like it was 80 years ago.
      1. Zizanioides's Avatar
        Zizanioides -
        Oh, excellent, excellent work. This section drew blood.
        Her weak defense of prohibition instead of labeling is about the best you can do for it but she makes the odd claim that "[labeling] is what we’re doing from an allergy point of view." after noting that labeling is an EU regulation, not IFRA. And then she implies that they must do this to protect customers from "reprotoxic (may damage the reproductive process) or mutagenic (may cause genetic mutation) or carcinogenic" ingredients? That's no longer a labeling issue; everyone is (presumably) equally effected by gene warping perfumes. Yes, please do get rid of them. But the ingredients we care about are the traditional naturals which have been regulated on the basis of allergens, not toxicity, and are the chief focus of the IFRA. No points there, ma'am.

        She's not familiar with the by-laws (can't blame her): votes are still divvied up on the basis of money given to the IFRA. (page 7) $200k-2 million per year and you get 3 votes, $2 million+ gets you 4. So while the membership maybe "a 50:50 ratio of big companies to small companies." those large companies still control 21 of 30 votes.

        Did you ever ask about how the old IFRA HQ was right in the Givaudan (their main donor) HQ?
      1. Persolaise's Avatar
        Persolaise -
        Thanks very much indeed for all the comments and questions so far.

        The_good_life, I should say that the atmosphere during the entire interview was amicable, even if that doesn't necessarily come through in the transcript.

        Saripatates, you raise an interesting point about artists imposing restrictions on themselves. I wonder if self-imposed restrictions are ever as effective as externally-imposed ones. I'm just thinking aloud here; I'm certainly not defending IFRA's response!

        Pollux, yes, if more companies join, they may be able to change the situation, but then they'd also have to abide by the Code as soon as they become members... so it's probably difficult for them to decide whether to join!

        Nukapai, thanks for your questions. I'd certainly like to see them answered.

        EugeniaLOL, you raise an excellent point, but we mustn't forget that perfume was 'invented' several centuries ago too. Okay, what we call 'modern' perfume isn't even two centuries old yet, but even so, it's hardly a product that just appeared on the market a couple of decades ago.

        Hirch_duckfinder, you're absolutely right. And I'm sure that's why many companies join IFRA: because they know that, in law suits etc, its Code carries a lot of weight.

        Rogalal, I'm sure other Basenotes members share your view. And yes, it cannot be denied that in the past, perfumers used several substances which the scientific establishment now agrees are harmful to people and to the environment, even though, as you put it, thousands of individuals applied these substances to their skin and "turned out just fine." I think this is the most difficult part of this whole situation: finding the balance between restricting materials which are genuinely harmful and permitting the use of materials which may cause some sort of mild 'harm' (and I use the word loosely) to a very small minority.
      1. Persolaise's Avatar
        Persolaise -
        Zizanioides, no, sorry, I didn't ask about the location of the old IFRA HQ. Perhaps you'd like to ask that question 'officially' right here?

        Thanks for your other observations. Perhaps you'd like to re-phrase those in the form of a question as well?
      1. EugeniaLOL's Avatar
        EugeniaLOL -
        Persolaise, it's true that perfume is ancient, but that's also beside the point. The point is that other things being allowed has no real bearing on whether perfume ingredients should be allowed. Perfume ingredients should be allowed or banned on their own merits or dangers.

        In an ideal world, we'd reconsider allowing or banning all substances logically according to perfectly up-to-date science, but since that cannot happen, "fairness" isn't a valid consideration.

        I agree with rogalal that most people have no idea whether they're allergic to particular perfume ingredients and that therefore warning labels might not be sufficient. I'd want to see some numbers, though, to help me understand the real dangers. How many people are likely to have serious allergies to these things? How severe are the reactions we're worried about?

        And there's been a distinction lost, I think, between "potential allergens" and "known sensitizers". But I really have no idea how serious that problem is either. IFRA would be well-advised to publicize clear data about these things.
      1. the_good_life's Avatar
        the_good_life -
        double post, oops
      1. the_good_life's Avatar
        the_good_life -
        Personally I am not against extensive testing or regulatory measures to protect the public. If there is clear evidence of hazards, as in the case of nitromusks. But we are talking here about cases in which natural oils have been regulated, which have been used for thousands of years without evidence of risk, we are talking about bans based on false evidence / shoddy science (oakmoss) and we're talking about a sense of proportion. Since everything is an allergen for someone (including water), shall we
        abolish life? From what I know, in most cases there is simply no hard evidence to suggest that natural oils as used in perfumery pose a proven risk either in severity or numbers, with a few exceptions such as photosensitivity and bergamot - and that could be easily addressed. What is quite clear is that the large members of IFRA have a vested interest in destroying small suppliers of naturals, so they cna step in with synthetics and high-tech engineered "safe" naturals to complete their already 99% domination of the flavors & fragrances market. That may sound like a typical conspiracy theory, but to me it seems a logical conclusion and I warmly welcome any evidence to the contrary. Ms. Hipgrave certainly did not seem able to provide it.

        Quote Originally Posted by rogalal View Post
        Wow, am I literally the only person in all of Basenotes who thinks that the IFRA has a valid point? To use Persolaise's example of allergen warnings for vetivert, who in the world knows they're allergic to vetivert??? If Gucci loaded their next perfume with vetivert and slapped a warning label on it, someone would get sick, people would get rashes, ridiculous scare stories would be all over the news, and the anti-perfume nuts would win.

        As an extreme example, look at nitro musks. They were the secret ingredient in many old perfumes. Then, we figured out that they were an environmental problem, the perfume equivalent of styrofoam that wouldn't break down over time and that they could get caught inside peoples' immune systems and infect underground water supplies. For good reason, they were banned. But to this day, every time their use comes up, someone says "my grandmother wore Chanel No 5 all her life and she turned out just fine", but that's not really a valid argument. You could make the same case in favor of asbestos insulation. When it all comes down to it, it's just not fair to endanger people and an industry that creates products that we love just so that the very few of us who truly care about fragrance as an art form can continue to go down to the mall and smell something like it was 80 years ago.
      1. redrose's Avatar
        redrose -
        Great interview, Persolaise (speaking as a former investigative reporter for an American newspaper!) - too bad the questions were never properly answered, but that was not your fault. Clearly IFRA approached the interview as a publicity exercise and never intended to answer them fully. This is a prime example of the "nanny state" mentality of today. Nothing is without risk! And dodging the issue of labeling by saying some people can't read doesn't answer it at all - cigarette and nut labels could have the same problem, but they're still useful. I do think it's valid to compare scent with other products - for example, hair dyes, which contain chemicals that are extremely dangerous for some people but harmless to most. Along with perfume, hair dye is a "luxury" we don't absolutely have to have, but many people are happy to take their chances and use it. A label would be absolutely the way to go, and because IFRA won't do it, I agree with The Good Life above and conclude it's most likely because of the big business aspect. Cheap chemicals drive down costs, so eliminate the "naturals" and huge profits are easier to make.