What Makes A Fragrance "Clean"?

It's complicated.

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Fragrance can be found on the ingredient list of just about every beauty product you use. And there's no denying that a perfume can instantly elevate one's mood or add a pleasant sensorial element to any skincare routine, but what exactly is in said fragrances?

That's a tricky question.

Brands can add "fragrance" or "perfume" to their labels without being obligated to disclose the ingredients in these scents, making fragrance the black hole of beauty ingredients. Many of these ingredients include synthetic chemicals, which have been linked to allergies and health conditions.

While the FDA requires products to list every ingredient, under the Fair Packaging and Label Act, brands can't be forced to disclose trade secrets. The components that make up these scents are likely to be considered "trade secrets." However, a new bill passed in California will require cosmetic makers to disclose the fragrant and flavor ingredient information to California's Environmental and Occupational Disease Control division from January 2022.

In an effort to make the category more transparent, a number of clean fragrance brands have created options for people who want to enjoy perfumes, but are concerned about what's possibly in them.

So, What Makes a Fragrance "Clean"?

Like the rest of the clean beauty space, there are no regulations on what defines a "clean fragrance." For many brands, this means incorporating naturally-derived notes like essential oils and plants, and using alcohol made from recycled sugar cane.

While essential oils can be great alternatives to synthetic-derived notes, they can be irritating for some people, because there is no regulatory definition by the FDA for "essential oils". Clean beauty retailers and brands should monitor how the oils are processed and the percentages in the formulas they sell and make. If they don't disclose these details, ask, or look for options that do. The safest course of action is to always buy essential oil products from reputable retailers and brands.

Sustainability is another focus for many clean fragrance brands. Using ingredients that cause little-to-no environmental impact are important, but so is sourcing ingredients from places that practice ethical labor. In addition to the juice, these brands also tend to use recyclable materials to make their bottles and packaging. Some take things one step further by using compostable boxes.

VIDEO: How to Properly Apply Perfume So It Will Last All Day Long

Ahead, eight of our favorite clean fragrance brands and their signature scents.

Henry Rose Queens & Monsters Eau de Parfum

Best Clean Perfume Brands

When Michelle Pfeiffer launched Henry Rose in 2019, it was the first EWG-verified luxury perfume brand. The actress discloses 100% of the collection's ingredients and uses sustainably-sourced, recyclable materials for its bottles and packaging. Queens & Monsters is a fresh, but sensual sent with notes of violet leaf, neroli, freesia, jasmine, vanilla, coco musk, and sandalwood.

To shop: $120; henryrose.com

Clean Reserve Rain Eau de Parfum

Best Clean Perfume Brands

While many of Clean Reserve's fragrances are inspired by the scents we come across in our everyday lives, don't assume they'll be literal replicas. This scent smells fresh like many rain-inspired perfumes tend to do, but a few unexpected notes like vetiver and patchouli make it multidimensional and complex — like all of the heightened smells you experience on a walk post-rain fall.

To shop: $98; sephora.com

Maison Louis Marie No.10 Aboukir Perfume Oil

Best Clean Perfume Brands

The founders of Maison Louis Marie have a family history of making fragrances with sustainability-sourced ingredients for 200 years. Today, the brand is known for its unique scent combinations based around floral notes. Its No.10 perfume oil is an earthy, woody scent, ideal for anyone who isn't a fan of super sweet floral or gourmand fragrances.

To shop: $57; sephora.com

Floral Street Neon Rose Eau de Parfum

Best Clean Perfume Brands

All of Floral Street's fragrances are built around, you guessed, flowers. Each one remixes classic floral notes, resulting in fresh, modern scents that are nothing like your grandma's signature perfume. Take Neon Rose for example, which contains notes of pear, galbanum, and Sichuan pepper. The U.K. brand is vegan and cruelty-free and its sustainably-sourced packaging is either reusable, recyclable, or compostable.

To shop: $78; sephora.com

Ellis Brooklyn Salt Eau de Parfum

Best Clean Perfume Brands

Since launching last spring, Ellis Brooklyn's Salt has quickly become a cult-favorite clean perfume. With notes of ylang ylang, violet leaf, Tahitian tiare, jasmine, magnolia, musk, amber, and sandalwood, the scent has the vibe of salty, sweaty skin during a hot afternoon at the beach.

To shop: $105; credobeauty.com

DedCool Fragrance 02: Juniper/Sandalwood

Best Clean Perfume Brands

Thanks to brands like DedCool, high-end scent profiles don't have to be sacrificed for sustainability. The unisex, vegan, cruelty-free line uses natural ingredients for its cult-favorite perfumes like Fragrance o2: Juniper/Sandalwood, a blend of rich and sweet notes.

To shop: $90; credobeauty.com

Heretic Midnight Toker

Best Clean Perfume Brands

This calming perfume by Heretic is created with CBD lovers in mind. In addition to 150mg of full-spectrum CBD oil, it includes other naturally-derived ingredients such as nutmeg, vanilla, amber, and black pepper. All of Heretic's fragrances are made with essential oils, absolutes, and concretes that are blended in organic, non-GMO grape and sugarcane alcohols.

To shop: $185; credobeauty.com

The 7 Virtues Vanilla Woods Eau de Parfum

Best Clean Perfume Brands

This blend of vanilla, caramel, pear, rose, and amber is every gourmand lover's dream. The 7 Virtues uses sugarcane alcohol in its Peta-Bunny- and Leaping-Bunny-certified, cruelty-free, and vegan formulas, and sustainably-sourced ingredients — including this scent's Madagascar vanilla. It comes from a cooperative that pays families fair wages.

To shop: $79; sephora.com.

From non-toxic makeup and skincare to sustainability practices, Clean Slate is an exploration of all things in the green beauty space.

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