Henry Rose, the clean, gender-free, EWG- and Cradle-to-Cradle-certified perfumes from icon Michelle Pfeiffer have one big secret to their success: they don’t keep any secrets.
When Golden Globe-winning actress Michelle Pfeifer, 64, launched the perfume brand Henry Rose in 2019, she had gone an entire decade without wearing any fragrance at all.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like scents — quite the opposite. She loved them. But in 2004, with two young children at home, she stumbled on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) newly launched Skin Deep database that catalogs thousands of personal care and household products, rating the chemicals in them for their health risks.
The hidden hazards in fragrance
The high hazard ranking is often because of ingredients like phthalates and parabens that have been linked to a range of health issues from metabolic and reproductive issues to damage to kidneys and lungs, and certain types of cancer, among other risks.
Another part of the reason fragrances come with high-risk warnings is because their ingredients are kept hidden for proprietary reasons — to safeguard formulations. Brands aren’t required to disclose what’s in their perfumes because they’re considered trade secrets.
“Fragrance is a notoriously mysterious industry,” Debi Theis, President of Henry Rose, told Ethos via email. “formula and ingredient lists are considered trade secrets, and therefore aren’t required to be disclosed. “Fragrance can be listed as a single ingredient on personal care product labels, despite being composed of up to 3,000 potentially harmful ingredients,” she says.
A mother to two (Henry Rose is named after Pfeiffer’s and producer David E. Kelley’s daughter Claudia Rose and son John Henry), the health hazards in anything containing fragrance put Pfeiffer on high alert. So she quit wearing fragrances and instead turned her focus toward creating her own without the toxic chemicals in conventional fragrances. It proved a challenging feat.
Eventually, she’d find a partnership with International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), which helped her develop fragrances that were EWG-certified — meaning none of those toxic ingredients she was trying to avoid.
Natural is not always better
Theis says a key learning in the process was that many people have allergies to a lot of plant-based materials. So while products like essential oils may seem like a “quick fix” it was not. She says in those cases, using a synthetic is actually a better option because that synthetic is going to be safer for people who suffer from allergies to natural ingredients.
“We also take a strong approach to green chemistry,” Theis says. “Green chemistry principles are centered around energy efficiency, the use of renewable raw ingredients, and the avoidance of hazardous materials.”
While Pfeiffer was simply seeking to create a fragrance that met her standards, she wound up setting an industry first with the first EWG-certified fragrances. Henry Rose is also Cradle to Cradle certified — a metric that measures the environmental and social sustainability of a product in five categories: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
“With Henry Rose, because of the restrictions we have between our EWG and Cradle to Cradle certifications, our perfumers had to work with an extremely limited ingredient palette — they were only able to use less than 400 of those ingredients to formulate our fragrances,” Theis says. “We believe you shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality for safety.”
Green chemistry, clean fragrance
Through its partnership with IFF, Henry Rose’s fragrances — the brand now has 11 — are made using the highest standards of both green chemistry and biodegradability.
“In fact, Henry Rose helped build the data for IFF’s Green Chemistry Assessment Tool through our collective work with EWG and C2C,” Theis says. All of the brand’s products use 90-100 percent green chemistry, “90 percent is considered really good,” Theis says, and all are at least 98 percent biodegradable.
“We use a combination of safe synthetic ingredients and sustainably sourced ingredients in our fragrance blends. Our safe synthetic ingredients are produced using green chemistry wherein every ingredient has been tailored to be at its best olfactive power while avoiding any known allergens, endocrine disruptors, or carcinogens,” Theis says.
“Additionally, we run screenings to make sure our fragrances are free of parabens and phthalates.” The EWG reviews and verifies every ingredient as well as the final formula “to make sure it is the safest out there.”
The company is also committed to eco-packaging and packing materials. Theis says the company sources packaging materials from sustainable or renewable resources wherever possible.
“All of our packaging is either recyclable, refillable, biodegradable, and/or compostable,” she says. “Our bottles are made from 90 percent recycled glass and our caps are compostable soy resin. Our secondary packaging uses biodegradable FSC Hemp paper. We eliminate the use of plastics unless there is no available alternative to ensure product safety and shelf life. For example, we use plastics for some closures and pump components. All of our plastics are 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastics, and of course, can be recycled when finished.”
While all of these factors go into a bottle of Henry Rose’s gender-neutral fragrances — top sellers include Windows Down, Jake’s House, Flora Carnivora, Queens & Monsters — Theis says all the wearer experiences is a beautiful, lasting scent. There’s no sacrifice in avoiding the toxins by choosing Henry Rose over conventional scents, she says.
“You can feel safe knowing that the fragrance you are wearing has been vetted against the strictest standards in the industry,” Theis says. “You can experiment with the different scents, wearing them alone or layering different ones. There are no rules when it comes to Henry Rose — you can make it your own experience.”
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