Look on the back of most perfume boxes and you’ll find the word fragrance listed on the ingredient list. This may sound obvious because, duh, it’s perfume. But what exactly is “fragrance” comprised of? According to U.S. law, beauty brands don’t have to disclose the combination of chemicals used to create these unique scents. It’s considered proprietary.
“The US federal law that governs the nearly $100 billion-dollar industry is 82 years old,” explains Mia Davis, Director of Environmental and Social Responsibility at Credo. “There are over 4,000 ingredients that can be used in fragrance blends,” Davis notes, “but the composition is rarely disclosed to consumers.” In fact, in many cases, the blends are not even disclosed to the brands buying them from fragrance houses, she explains.
The priority was always to protect the secret sauce behind perfumes, but for consumers concerned with the ingredients they are putting on their bodies, this vague language is problematic. According to the Environmental Working Group, the average fragrance product contains 14 secret chemicals. “These can include phthalates (which are hormone-disrupting plasticizing chemicals), synthetic musks, sensitizers, allergens, and chemicals that have never been assessed for safety,” says Davis.
We’re not here to tell you to abandon your favorite conventional fragrance, but we do believe that everyone should have access to the knowledge about what they’re actually using. It’s a sentiment Credo and other boundary-breaking clean fragrance brands, like Skylar Body and Henry Rose, stand behind.
“We are pushing for transparency because brands and customers have a right to know what they’re using on their skin and breathing in every day,” Davis says, explaining that “Credo has prohibited the most problematic ingredients used in ‘fragrance,’ including phthalates, polycyclic and nitro musks, methyl cellosolve and anything that has been prohibited by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).”
Like with many “clean swaps,” you might have to adjust your expectations a bit. “If one is used to synthetic smells, it’s hard to make the switch because most people expect the longevity of a synthetic fragrance,” says Janna Sheehan, founder of the clean fragrance brand Ojai Wild. Fortunately, a growing number of new brands are innovating to make beautiful fragrances with trustworthy ingredients. Discover some of our favorites below.
1 Sigil Amor Fati ($120; sigilscent.com)
A woody scent with notes of oud, galbanum, opoponax (a resin), and the sacred scent of palo santo.
Lest you think going clean means sacrificing sweet notes like vanilla, think again. This perfume blends warm vanilla, rose, and a musk. Even better, the fair trade, organic vanilla is sourced from a sustainable cooperative in Madagascar that provides families with fair wages.
3 Heretic Dirty Neroli ($65; credobeauty.com)
This upscale brand put its own ‘dirty’ spin on a number of beloved fragrance notes. Dirty Neroli is a favorite, the beloved orange blossom note blends with other delicious scents, including jasmine, narcissus flower, bergamot, and black pepper.
4 By Rosie Jane James ($65; credobeauty.com)
This minimal, fully recyclable fragrance features earthy notes of fig, amber, and gardenia.
This unique scent with its gorgeous wood top is anchored by the scent of chamomile flowers, which mix with grapefruit, cognac, and balsamic.
This unisex scent inspired by West coast road trips smells like grapefruit, jasmine, and vetiver.
7 Perfumera Curandera Picaflor ($90; perfumeracurandera.com)
These handmade perfumes feel more like magical potions. Picaflor, the common favorite, blends green tea, jasmine, and rose.
Each of these handmade solid fragrances comes in a beautiful shell. This one, which is described as both grounded and sensual, features frankincense, patchouli, and rose otto.
9 Henry Rose Queens & Monsters ($120; henryrose.com)
Michelle Pfeiffer’s fragrance line is both EWG verified and Cradle to Cradle Certified Gold, which means that every ingredient has been approved by the highest standards for safety. Queens & Monsters is a woody scent with notes of petitgrain and sandalwood.
10 Phlur Hanami ($96; credobeauty.com)
This light scent won’t overpower but will smell delicious thanks to notes of fig, white florals, hazelnut, and sandalwood.
The newest addition to the Dedcool collection can be mixed and matched with other fragrances or worn on its own. It features notes of bergamot, white musk, and amber.
A contemporary take on a classic floral this fragrance has some spice from Sichuan pepper, which blends with notes of fresh basil, iris, rose, jasmine, and natural musk.
This brand is so new, it’s full-sized scents are still on pre-order, but in the meantime, discover your perfect match with this discovery kit. Make sure to recite the accompanying mantra to get the full experience.
14 Skylar Meadow ($78; skylar.com)
This elegant, feminine scent combines tuberose, jasmine, and orange blossom.
15 Ellis Rives ($100; credobeauty.com)
This unisex scent is a clean one with notes of neroli, petitgrain, lavender, cashmere woods, and white suede.