We all love fresh scents and clean aromas. This is why the ingredient “fragrance” is in many household and skincare products, including lotion, shampoo, laundry detergent, deodorant, and even baby wipes. However, these scents are often a toxic fragrance in disguise and they can be harmful to your and your family’s health.
Fragrance is similar to “natural flavors,” in that it’s a catch-all word for lab derived odors with many ingredients hidden inside. We’re not saying that the smell of baking cookies or the pleasant scent of lavender plants are bad. But synthetic fragrance is usually a dangerous cocktail of more than 100 ingredients, and many of those are toxic. Plus, like with the many ingredients in natural flavors, companies aren’t required to disclose what’s hidden inside.
It’s easy to assume that companies, especially the seemingly “clean” ones, would only use natural scents that are safe, but like Big Food, many companies prioritize profit over health. Always read the ingredients and avoid products with “fragrance.”
To help keep you and your family safe from the danger of fragrance, we’re sharing six reasons to avoid toxic fragrance. By the end of this article, we hope you ditch those synthetically scented products for good and choose clean, fragrance-free, and (truly) safe products for your home and health.
Most importantly, ditch perfume and all skincare and beauty products that contain toxic fragrance. When applying a lotion, perfume, or deodorant with synthetic fragrance directly to your skin, you’re fast-tracking harmful chemicals into your bloodstream. No thanks!
A Note on “Natural” Fragrance vs. Synthetic Fragrance
While we would like “natural fragrance” to mean it’s safe to use, there isn’t a standard criterion for what those words mean. It could be a mixture of a plant extract and a chemical solvent, or it could contain pure plant extracts. However, “natural” doesn’t mean safe. Plants are made of active constituents that affect us in a variety of ways, and sometimes those effects could be negative for our health. For example, plant extracts can cause severe allergic reactions, making them just as harmful as toxic chemicals.
Clean or “natural” products will also advertise as “scented naturally with essential oils.” This is where things get tricky, as it’s hard to know the purity or quality of the essential oils used. Plus, they may use essential oils as a marketing tactic even though their product also contains toxic fragrance.
Here’s an example of two “clean” home and beauty products:
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Hand Soap’ advertises:
- Lemon Verbena Scent
- “Made with Essential Oils”
However, upon reading the ingredient list, they also list fragrance as an ingredient! Therefore, this isn’t a “clean” brand as it contains harmful chemicals.
‘Humble All Natural Deodorant’ advertises:
- Lemongrass & Sage
- The ingredient list reads: Cymbopogon flexuosus (Lemongrass) oil, Salvia officinalis (sage) oil
This deodorant brand does not list fragrance as an ingredient. Therefore, this is a trustworthy brand as it does not contain toxic fragrance. Furthermore, it’s a good sign when a brand lists the essential oils in the ingredient list (as shown above) with the scientific name first and the common name in parentheses.
The most important way to approach products scented with essential oils is to read the ingredient lists and perform a spot test on your skin. Even though essential oils are natural and safer than synthetic fragrance, they can still cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
Lastly, use your intuition for “clean” and “natural” home and beauty products. If something doesn’t feel right, trust it.
6 Reasons to Avoid Fragrance
1. Fragrance is Made From Toxic Chemicals
The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) lists 3,059 materials that are used in fragrance compounds. Some of these ingredients have strong evidence linking them to negative health effects including cancer, reproductive toxicity, allergies, migraines, asthma, GI complications, cardiovascular problems, and many others. Across multiple research studies, chemicals used to make fragrance are classified as highly toxic. By going fragrance-free, you’re avoiding all those nasty chemicals!
2. Companies can Hide Harmful Ingredients Under “Fragrance”
The FDA does not require manufacturers to list the chemicals that make up the ingredient “fragrance.” Because scents are considered “trade secrets,” manufacturers are not required to disclose what exactly is in their fragrance. As you can well imagine, this is quite disheartening, as any of the 3,059 harmful chemicals can make up the ingredient “fragrance.”
3. Fragrance Contain Phthalates
While it’s hard to know what chemicals make up fragrance, one we know for sure is phthalates, which are almost always found in fragrance. This is because phthalates help the scent last longer. In the case of a skincare product, it helps the scent “stick” to your skin longer. Phthalates are a group of chemicals found in many products, and research has linked several health risks to phthalate exposure, including cancer, endocrine disruption, birth defects, and respiratory problems.
4. The Fragrance Industry Regulates Itself
The fact the fragrance industry is self-regulated is a major red flag, as they don’t have any external regulations to keep them in check. Rather, they have internal organizations like the RIMF and IFRA. Because of this, The fragrance industry has established itself as the sole authority on fragrance safety. The vast majority of scientific studies on fragrance safety have come from major fragrance manufacturers themselves. These studies are hardly published, peer-reviewed, or publicly available. The fragrance industry does not serve the public’s best interest – they only serve their own.
Does this sound a lot like how natural flavors are “regulated?” It’s no surprise to us.
5. Fragrance is Absorbed Into our Bloodstream
The chemicals in fragrance can pass from the skin to the blood. This is one of the reasons chemical exposure can cause so many health risks, as absorbing toxic fragrance through the skin can cause diseases and disorders similar to inhaling them. Those more sensitive to chemicals can experience contact dermatitis, also known as eczema. However, the chemicals in fragrance can still damage organ systems and disrupt hormones even in individuals whose skin isn’t sensitive to certain chemicals.
6. Child and Baby Products Contain Toxic Fragrance
As parents, our number one priority is to keep our little ones safe. That’s why it’s extremely important to know that harmful chemicals found in fragrance are in many child and baby products, including shampoo, lotion, laundry detergent, and more. One of the most common baby lotions is Johnson and Johnson, and they don’t disclose what is in their fragrance. Given what is in toxic fragrance, and how little we know about the extent of its harm, it may be just as dangerous as exposing our babies to secondhand smoke.
How to Avoid Fragrance At All Costs
While fragrance is in many of our daily products, it’s still possible to avoid it. The easiest way to avoid fragrance is to purchase fragrance-free products. Fragrance can also appear on the ingredient list as perfume, natural fragrance, parfum, and aroma. It’s important to always read the ingredients on any product and avoid any of these descriptions for fragrance.
Don’t let the term “unscented” fool you! Always check the ingredient list on these products as sometimes manufacturers use masking fragrances to cover the chemical smell of their products. The term “fragrance-free” should indicate an item is actually fragrance-free but double-check the ingredient list just to make sure.
Retrain Your Brain. Avoid Toxic Fragrance.
The fresh scent of laundry detergent or a cleaning product makes us think we’re getting a better product or that it somehow cleans better.
This is false. Fragrance doesn’t enhance a product’s performance in any way! We must be aware of the danger of fragrance so we can protect ourselves and our kiddos as best as we can.
Go fragrance-free and ditch synthetic fragrance for good!