When you start making candles, soap, bath bombs, room spray, or essentially any other scented product, chances are you’ve come across IFRA certificates. You might be wondering what IFRA statements are, why they matter, and how to use them. Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced maker, IFRA statements can be confusing to use. But don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with all the info you need to know about IFRA certificates for fragrance oils.
What is the IFRA?
Before explaining what IFRA certificates are, it helps to understand what the IFRA is. “IFRA” stands for the International Fragrance Association. The IFRA was formed in 1973 to promote the safe use of fragrance oils. It uses scientific evidence and consumer insights to determine which ingredients can be used in fragrance formulations, as well as safe-usage limitations for these ingredients. These rules are referred to as the IFRA standards.
IFRA standards are updated regularly to stay current with the latest scientific insights. When these standards are revised, the IFRA publishes amendments. Some amendments are minor, but others introduce large changes to the fragrance industry. In any case, fragrance manufacturers are expected to comply with the amendments – usually within a specified time period from the date when they are published.
What are IFRA certificates?
An IFRA statement or IFRA certificate is a document that explains how much fragrance you can use in different products such as soap, room spray, diffusers, personal care items, and much more. Essentially any product that may contain fragrance is included on an IFRA statement.
The maximum amount of fragrance allowed for each category is shown with a percentage. These numbers tell you how much fragrance you can use in your formulations. Some categories have much lower limits, such as baby products, while other categories are not limited at all. We’ll explain all of that in more detail later in this article.
Why do I need to check the IFRA certificate?
Like any other product, fragrances can pose a health hazard if you use them incorrectly. It’s important to check the IFRA statement for each fragrance oil you use so that you can stick to the safe-usage limits.
It’s never a good idea to make assumptions about the amount of fragrance you can safely use for different products. For example, some fragrance oils may have a very low percent allowed for products like shampoo or lotion, but allow a higher percent to be used for things like bar soap or perfume. And while the majority of our fragrance oils are skin-safe (meaning they can be used for products that come in contact with skin), not all fragrances are approved for skin use. Do your due diligence and always check the IFRA certificate.
Did you know? You can access the IFRA certificate for any of our fragrance oils at the bottom of the product page.
How do I use an IFRA certificate?
Now that you understand what IFRA certificates are and why they matter, we can talk about interpreting IFRA statements.
It’s important to be aware that every fragrance has its own IFRA statement. The types of categories (e.g. soap, deodorant, lotion, perfume, etc.) are the same on every IFRA statement. However, the percent of fragrance allowed for each category will be different for each fragrance oil. When formulating your products with different fragrances, you will need to check the IFRA certificate for each individual fragrance.
With that in mind, let’s use our Black Raspberry Vanilla fragrance as an example. Below, you will find the first page of the IFRA Conformity Certificate for the Black Raspberry Vanilla Fragrance Oil. Alternatively, you can click here to download and view the entire IFRA statement for this fragrance.
The first page (shown below) contains the information that is specific to this fragrance oil. The subsequent pages explain what the different categories are. Remember, these categories are the same for all fragrances. It’s the maximum-usage percent that is different for each fragrance.
To determine the maximum safe amount of fragrance to use for any product, you will simply find the product you want to make in the list of categories, then check the percent in the table.
For this example, let’s say you want to make a scented body spray. Body spray & body mist is in Category 2. In the table above, you will see that Category 2 has a LEVEL OF USE % of 2.65%. This means that a maximum of 2.65% of your formula could be made up of fragrance oil if you were making a scented body spray.
Now let’s look at another example with this fragrance. This example helps illustrate why so many people find IFRA statements to be confusing.
Let’s say you wanted to make body lotion scented with the Black Raspberry Vanilla fragrance. Body lotion is in Category 5A. With this in mind, the fragrance could account for a maximum of 12.5% of your lotion formula, as shown in the table above.
Here’s where IFRA statements can be a little tricky. Most body lotion recipes will not work with a fragrance load of 12.5%. For most lotion recipes, this is way too much fragrance oil to use, and it will likely separate from the oils and create a mess. For situations like these, you should always defer to the maximum amount of fragrance that your base product can hold. Simply put: Just because you can safely use 12.5% of this fragrance for lotion, it doesn’t mean you should. If the IFRA statement allows a high percent to be used for a certain type of product, never go above the maximum amount of fragrance that your base can handle.
Another example for this fragrance would be bar soap, which is in Category 9. In the table above, you can see that Black Raspberry Vanilla can be used at 71.43% for Category 9. This is, of course, way too much fragrance oil to use in any bar soap recipe. The IFRA statement is simply telling you that you could theoretically use that much fragrance without any negative health impacts.
With all that being said, one of the most important things to understand about IFRA statements is that the maximum percent of fragrance allowed for different products is not necessarily the recommend amount of fragrance to use for your product. If the IFRA certificate tells you that you use can use a higher percent of fragrance than your base product can hold, always stick to the maximum amount that your base can perform at. On the other hand, if the IFRA statement tells you to use a lower percent of fragrance than your base product could hold, stick to the maximum amount on the IFRA statement.
What does “Not Approved” mean on an IFRA statement?
For certain fragrances, you will see that some categories on an IFRA certificate do not list a percent at all, and instead say “not approved.” This simply means that the fragrance oil cannot be used at all – in any percent – for that type of product. It’s common for fragrances to be marked as “Not Approved” for Category 1 (lip products/children’s toys) and Category 6 (mouthwash/toothpaste). This essentially means that ingredients in the fragrance are not safe for ingestion.
Why are there no limits for some categories on an IFRA statement?
If you study an IFRA certificate, you may notice that certain categories in the table are listed as 100% or “No Limit.” This simply means that there are not limitations for the fragrance in that category. Candles and incense sticks, for example, are usually listed at 100% approved usage on IFRA statements. However, as with any other product category, this doesn’t mean that you should use 100% fragrance oil.
As mentioned above, always defer to the maximum amount of fragrance that your base product can hold. For example, candle wax can usually hold between 8-12% fragrance oil. The IFRA statement may tell you that you can safely use 100% fragrance oil in your formula, but that obviously wouldn’t work for a candle. When making candles, never go above the maximum amount of fragrance that your candle wax can hold.
What’s the difference between an SDS and an IFRA certificate?
If you’re familiar with fragrance oils, you probably have also come across Safety Data Sheets, also known as SDS documents. SDS documents are not unique to fragrance oils – you can find SDS sheets for a wide variety of consumer products.
Whereas IFRA certificates tell you how much fragrance you can use in your formulation, SDS documents tell you how to safely handle the fragrance oils. Keep in mind that fragrance oils are highly concentrated. When you stick to the maximum usage levels spelled out by the IFRA statements, they won’t cause adverse health effects such as respiratory irritation or skin irritation. However, in their pure, undiluted form, fragrances can cause irritation and other adverse health impacts if not handled properly.
SDS documents are also available to download on all of our fragrance oil pages. Be sure to refer to the SDS document for each fragrance oil that you use for helpful information on handling fragrances safely as you make your products.