The Evolution of Fragrance Transparency—at Beautycounter and Beyond

The Evolution of Fragrance Transparency—at Beautycounter and Beyond

At Beautycounter, we know that scent can play a big role in beauty products, but we also know the fragrance industry itself has a safety, sustainability, and secrets problem. 

Clean beauty advocates—including those within the Beautycounter community—have shed light on the beauty industry’s secrecy surrounding fragrance ingredients, which they’re able to avoid disclosing by using generic references like “perfume,” “parfum,” or “fragrance” on product labels.  

What scientists, regulators, and others discovered beneath these generic terms isn’t always pretty. Dozens and even hundreds of chemicals could be present, and in some cases include endocrine disruptors and carcinogens.  

At Beautycounter, it was a simple decision for us to choose the “better safe than sorry” approach early on—and not use synthetic fragrances at all when we launched in 2013. At the time, we simply didn’t have the transparency required to evaluate the safety of synthetic fragrance ingredients. Fast forward 10 years and what’s changed? A few critical things.   

How science and transparency in the fragrance industry have evolved:  

Better policy at the state and federal level. 

Passing laws that require increased fragrance ingredient transparency means we know more now about the potential health effects of fragrance ingredients than we used to.  

There have been a handful of significant victories on the legislative front, notably the passage of California’s Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act (SB 312)—a law that we helped to pass. The law requires companies that sell personal care, cosmetic, and professional salon products in the state of California to disclose the presence of certain toxic fragrances to California’s Safe Cosmetics Program database. California’s large consumer market means that this state law provides strong coverage of products also sold nationally.  

At the same time, both New York and California have passed menstrual product labeling laws. While these laws do not directly address beauty products, they do effectively promote greater disclosure of ingredients in consumer products, including fragrances. At the federal level, the passage of the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act (MoCRA) late last year (of which we were at the forefront) set in motion a requirement for cosmetic brands to disclose specific fragrance allergens designated by the FDA.  

However, our work is not done. Clean beauty congressional champions have introduced legislation to require greater fragrance disclosure as part of the Safer Beauty Bill Package—a group of four bills Beautycounter continues to advocate for. Specifically, the Cosmetics Fragrance and Flavor Right to Know Act (HR 3621) would require disclosure of ALL ingredients in cosmetic fragrance and flavors, not just allergens. 

Consumers who demand transparency. 

At the same time, consumers and advocacy groups drove large companies to take steps to improve their fragrance disclosure practices over the past several years. Action by these consumers and advocacy groups puts pressure on partners all along the supply chain to do better—not only driving greater fragrance ingredient disclosure to consumers, but also critically, greater disclosure to brands. We can’t assess what we don’t know. 

Of course, Beautycounter’s policy has always been founded on 100% ingredient disclosure, and this isn’t changing—our synthetic fragrance ingredients will be disclosed just like every other ingredient.  

Stronger Science

We realized that entertaining the possibility of using synthetic fragrances would require extensive scientific investment on our part. We subjected every potential synthetic fragrance ingredient to our long-standing, rigorous assessment across 23 safety endpoints. We also solicited expert perspectives of top scientists in the field of environmental health as part of our process.  

The outcome? We learned that some synthetic fragrances can be safe, and we feel confident about their use in our formulas.  

“Natural vs. synthetic” is not the right lens through which to view safety  

Long before it was “popular,” Beautycounter has unapologetically stated that just because an ingredient is natural, doesn’t mean it is safe. And just because something is synthetic, doesn’t mean it is unsafe. We have confidently used synthetic preservatives and colorants when the market was focused on “all natural,” and we have continued to do so because the science is clear: determining an ingredient’s safety has to do with examining health endpoints, and can’t be decided just by indicating whether the source is natural vs. synthetic. We see this change in our approach to fragrances as bringing natural harmony to our overall formulation and safety approach.  

Now, let’s look at how our practices have evolved over the years.  

2013: Beautycounter launches The Never ListTM that only allowed essential oil fragrances in our products. 

Back in 2013 when Beautycounter was founded, there were concerns about synthetic fragrance safety—mostly because there wasn’t transparency from fragrance houses around the ingredients used. We took the “better safe than sorry” approach and didn’t allow undisclosed synthetic options, given what the science was telling us about what can be lurking behind the curtain. Instead, we chose to scent products exclusively with essential oils. In 2018, we expanded our exclusive use of natural essential oils as fragrance ingredients to additionally include natural isolates. 

2021: Beautycounter explores synthetic fragrances and reassesses the science.  

Our original ingredient selection process includes the step to “learn constantly,” where we discuss our commitment to reviewing emerging science and adapting as we learn. We saw a path forward to use both safe synthetic and natural fragrances, without compromising on our commitment to safety and transparency.   

2023: Beautycounter updates The Never ListTM. 

The Never ListTM is always evolving and should, as the science and regulatory landscapes do, too. We recently increased the number of banned ingredients from over 1,800 to over 2,800 ingredients to continue to push our high standard of ingredient safety.  

We also evolved our Never ListTM to be consistent with our approach to fine fragrances, reflecting that some synthetic fragrance ingredients do pass our rigorous safety screening. Other important updates to The Never ListTM on our website include ingredients that have been banned from our formulations for a while, like talc and other ingredients like PFAS, and sunscreen ingredients including avobenzone and octinoxate.  

Thank you for always joining us in this journey and for allowing us to transparently share how we continue to evolve.