Part 1 of the interview ended with my asking Ms Hipgrave about the public’s perception of IFRA’s powers and responsibilities.
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.
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?
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?
LH: I don’t think so, no.
Thanks very much for your time.
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!
* Ms Hipgrave is referring to the 26 substances that were included in a piece of anti-allergen legislation passed by the EU in 2003.