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Assessing & Regulating Natural Fragrances

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured
Posted: February 27, 2009, from the March 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

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In light of this, the NPA set out to 1) define natural as it relates to personal care; and 2) draw up guidelines for natural personal care formulation, taking into account technical necessities that may not be able to be addressed with naturals at this time. The guidelines, announced on May 1, 2008, have led to the successful assessment of a number of products—including those launched by Burt’s Bees, some of which have begun hitting shelves bearing the NPA natural seal.

“The people who are building natural products, from manufacturing all the way through the supply chain, are dedicated to doing the right thing,” says Fabricant. “This gives them a forum to interact in, including smaller firms that are trying to get up to speed and come up with ways to use natural formulations that they may not have considered or been aware of in the past. That really helps strengthen the supply chain as well.”

Fragrances Under the Natural Personal Care Standard

The list of allowed natural ingredients is an evolving one, as is the entirety of the NPA’s certification program. In time, new extraction techniques for natural fragrance materials may be allowed, but synthetic materials will continue to be pushed out. Among the synthetic ingredients temporarily allowed, pending an expected phase-out around 2010, are “non-[diethyl]phthalate, non-irritating synthetic fragrances.” Because total use of allowable synthetic ingredients is capped at 5% of the total formula, synthetic fragrances can be applied to natural personal care products. However, the NPA underscores that “synthetic ingredients are targeted to be eliminated in phase two of the standard, currently set for 2010.” The only exemptions expected are certain nature-identical non-fragrance preservatives. As alluded to previously, diethylphthalate is considered, under this standard, to be a “synthetic fragrance component that is a potential toxin.” As Corley says, “The standard [is expected to require] that the companies that want to be certified with the NPA have to have 100% natural fragrance by Jan. 1, 2010.”

The formulation implications are many. For example, Corley says, “When you’re creating a fragrance in the traditional world, you’re accustomed to using petrochemicals as building blocks. Perfumers who would create a natural fragrance [under NPA] could not work with petrochemicals. There are a number of other limiting factors with the products that you use, including methoxylated products or sodium sulfate.”

Yet, he says, the standards are built to evolve, including many voices in the process. “We refer to this as a living document,” Corley says. “We’re still in the process of soliciting input from people in the personal care and fragrance community and the ingredients side. There are obviously a lot of those companies that want to be involved in the standard development going forward.” For example, he says, CO2-processed fragrance materials are not on the current list, but that is likely to change.