The Sweet Smell of Ethical Scents: The Glamorous Allure of a Heady Perfume Has Proved Irresistible to Consumers around the World for Decades. but Behind the Chic Brand Names and Celebrity Endorsements, What Are the Current Ethical Credentials of an Industry That, Not So Long Ago, Routinely Tested Its Products on Animals?

By Lambert, Victoria | Geographical, May 2009 | Go to article overview

The Sweet Smell of Ethical Scents: The Glamorous Allure of a Heady Perfume Has Proved Irresistible to Consumers around the World for Decades. but Behind the Chic Brand Names and Celebrity Endorsements, What Are the Current Ethical Credentials of an Industry That, Not So Long Ago, Routinely Tested Its Products on Animals?


Lambert, Victoria, Geographical


Growing up during the rise of the Body Shop, I always knew that it was possible to get perfumes that were made from natural ingredients and not tested on animals. I just didn't know anyone who bought them. My friends and I might buy face cream there or the odd lipstick from the distinctly unglamorous Beauty Without Cruelty brand, but buying scent still meant buying French--and, in the back of our minds, we knew that meant animal testing. We closed our eyes and purchased regardless, driven only by the smell to which we responded best.

Move on a few decades and, while the battle to make all perfumes cruelty free isn't over, more of us can buy our favourite scents--French or otherwise--with confidence and eyes wide open.

The testing of cosmetics on animals has been banned in Europe since 1997, but pressure group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) warns that 'that doesn't mean everything on the shelves is safe to buy. The ingredients that go into those products might be tested on animals by the company on the label or another company that supplies the ingredients. Whoever does it, it's still animal testing, and your money could be supporting it.'

PETA adds: 'The ban only applies to testing done in the EU itself. Cosmetics and toiletries made outside the EU but sold in Europe can still be tested on animals. The sad fact is that you can buy animal-tested makeup and toiletries on any high street.'

But the big brands are making an effort to change. Chanel--the sixth-best-selling perfume company in the world, with an annual turnover of an estimated US$700million--no longer uses real musk in its perfumes, or tests its own products on animals.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Nor does Estee Lauder, the world's largest-selling perfume group, with a turnover of US$1.2billion. The company has a long-running policy to replace all animal testing on ingredients used in cosmetics worldwide with non-animal alternatives. In the late 1980s, it became one of the first cosmetics companies to completely abandon animal testing on finished products and is a member of the European Partnership for Alternatives to Animal Testing, a cross-industry group that includes the European Commission. Estee Lauder also funds research towards achieving the elimination of animal testing.

ENDANGERED INGREDIENTS

But animal testing isn't the only issue if you're looking to choose an ethical perfume--the often jealously guarded ingredients are crucial. One of the most traditional constituents of perfume is musk; it was used in perfumery until 1979, when the musk deer was deemed to be an endangered species under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). But illegal poaching allows the trade to continue (although it is now principally used in Chinese medicine rather than perfume).

WWF says that musk is one of the world's most expensive natural products--at up to US$45,000 per kilogram, it's three to five times more valuable than gold. Musk pods are harvested by killing the male deer, and it's estimated that three to five deer have to be killed before a single male with sufficient raw musk (about 25 grams) is caught. On average, 160 deer must be killed for a kilogram of musk.

Musk deer numbers are plummeting across Asia: in Russia, populations have fallen by half in the past decade due to over-exploitation and poaching, while the populations of Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan are also at particular risk. In addition, other species are caught in the snares set for musk deer, including the giant panda.

Exploitation of sandalwood, another traditional ingredient, is also an issue. Indian sandalwood is endangered and hence very expensive; Hawaiian sandalwood was nearly harvested to extinction in the early 1800s; and it's Australian sandalwood--now grown in plantations, principally in Western Australia--that's probably most commonly used, although its scent differs from that of other varieties of the plant. …

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The Sweet Smell of Ethical Scents: The Glamorous Allure of a Heady Perfume Has Proved Irresistible to Consumers around the World for Decades. but Behind the Chic Brand Names and Celebrity Endorsements, What Are the Current Ethical Credentials of an Industry That, Not So Long Ago, Routinely Tested Its Products on Animals?
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