Q&A: fragrance, health and COVID-19

In response to your questions, some answers on fragrance materials and COVID-19.

What is IFRA's view on possible treatments for COVID-19 using anti-viral fragrance molecules?

Media reports have suggested the possibility of treatments for COVID-19 using anti-viral fragrance molecules.

IFRA is not connected to the work and is not in a position to comment on the work of the companies and research organizations involved in this work.

Some reports have suggested that research is based on "anti-viral activities of fragrance allergen molecules according to the IFRA 49th Amendment".

It is important to be clear that the IFRA Standards, and the 49th Amendment in particular, do not make reference to antiviral effects and we have no scientific data to substantiate such effects.

Our understanding is that the selection of fragrance allergen molecules instead relates to the European Union list of 26 fragrance allergens - IFRA and the IFRA Standards are not connected to the research.

Can COVID-19 be carried via fragrance ingredients or raw materials?

On this topic, IFRA has been guided by the advice of the World Health Organization and national disease prevention centers about the routes of transmission of the coronavirus pathogen.

The virus is generally spread by human-to-human contact. A study in the New England Medical Journal found that the virus is viable for up to 72 hours on plastics, 48 hours on stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard and four hours on copper, and is also detectable in the air for three hours – but with rapidly diminishing likelihood of infection over these periods.

There is likely to be a very low risk of spread from raw fragrance materials that are shipped over a period of days or weeks.

We are convinced that our supply chains and work are not aiding the spread of the virus. We maintain a close eye on scientific studies and the work of authorities on this point.



Is there a fragrance that can address COVID-19 symptoms or prevent transmission?

This is a question that has been put to us by a member of the public. Our response is that we cannot make any recommendations on this point, and it is extremely unlikely that a fragrance will influence transmission of the virus.

Instead, the best practice is to follow the guidance of public authorities, notably on maintaining good hygiene and practicing social distancing.

Is it true that loss of a sense of smell is a symptom of COVID-19?

Reports have indicated that losing the sense of smell and taste may be a symptom of COVID-19, or an early indication of infection. The science is still developing and other symptoms, such as fever or a persistent cough, are more reliable indicators.

One researcher told Newsweek magazine that 12 per cent of the 1.5 million study participants reported the symptom, making it "common".

Prof Tim Spector of Kings College London said anosmia (a loss of a sense of smell) and ageusia (a loss of a sense of taste) were more strongly associated with COVID-19 than a fever. Therefore, those who lose their ability to smell and taste but have no other COVID-19 symptoms should also self-isolate "if in doubt".

ENT UK, an organization of British ear, nose and throat specialists have also published a paper of the loss of a sense of smell.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery also said symptoms of anosmia should be used to identify possible COVID-19 infections.

It said that anosmia symptoms "warrant serious consideration for self-isolation and testing of these individuals".

Evidence from other infections suggests that while damage to the sense of smell is possible, it is unlikely to be permanent.