Not too long ago, a friend and I were sitting at Atlas Eats, a quaint little eatery here in I-town and she asked me what I thought was the worst ingredient in beauty and skin care products. She said, “Is it parabens? Sulfates? What is public enemy #1 for ingredients?”
No. It’s not parabens or petrochemicals or sulfates. I paused briefly and said that it’s Artificial Fragrance.
I have been writing about the research surrounding artificial fragrance for a few years now. At that time, I eliminated faux fragrances from my personal care products. My headaches stopped. My allergies were not as severe. And then I started using scented scrubs and body products again. I wanted to slather myself in scents like pumpkin pie, pistachio pudding, and in my favorite Amazing Grace perfume. Not surprisingly, the headaches and allergies came back full force.
A few months ago, I was assigned a magazine article about the possible dangers of artificial fragrance. Researching this once more prompted me to eliminate artificial fragrance again. There are just so many studies now about fragrance. Don’t let companies tell you it’s OK if they are using fragrance oil that is phthalate free. It’s not just phthalates that make synthetic fragrances so bad.
Let’s look at the science
It’s amazing how the faint scent of a certain perfume can transport you on an emotional journey. For me, it’s when I walk by the Estee Lauder counter and lift up the tester bottle of White Linen. It instantly reminds me of my paternal grandmother, who passed away in 2008.
With that one little whiff, I am almost able to hear her voice and see the remnants of her Rich and Rosy lipstick left behind on her bone china cup.Your nerve receptors, once hit with a fragrance, send a message right up to something called the Limbic System. This is within the brain and it essentially processes a scent and gives you a certain reaction. This is the system that triggers emotional responses to fragrance. Many people associate a certain scent with a person or memory.
The term “fragrance” is so familiar that one assumes it must be benign. Research indicates it is anything but. Your favorite bottle of perfume or scented body wash could very well be impacting your health.
When you are reading your product labels and see the word “fragrance” listed, know that this is just a blanket term for a larger group of chemical ingredients.
There are over 3000 chemicals used in fragrance oils.
The typical single bottle of synthetic fragrance oil contains a complex recipe of over 100 differentchemical compounds including amines, ethers, ketones, lactones, terpenes and thiones. Trade secret laws have made it so the companies do not have to disclose all of the chemical compounds found in the fragrance, so you will only see “fragrance”, “parfum” or “fragrance oil” on the labels. These chemical compounds are potential toxins linked to cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, neurological disorders, and allergic reactions.
Quite alarming is the fact that the majority of fragrance oils contain benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and phthalates.
An abundance of research has been done in recent years examining fragrance and its impact on our health and the ecosystem.
The Environmental Working Group conducted an investigation into personal care products containing fragrance and the research showed that 75% of all fragrance contains phthalates.
Phthalates are chemicals that make vinyl and plastic softer and more flexible. They also are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors which are banned in the European Union. Studies show that phthalates may also damage the reproductive system.
In addition to the possible health implications, these compounds are dispersed into the air and can have grave effects on the ecosystem. When you use a laundry detergent with artificial fragrance, for example, it may harm our lakes and streams, while triggering your allergies at the same time.
That “natural” aroma of lavender or rose may be anything but.
This is another way consumers are often a bit misled by marketing. Let’s say you are buying a lavender scented perfume. One would assume that the scent is derived from lavender buds, right?
No. Fragrance oils are synthetic and have been created to mimic the aroma of scents found in nature or in foods. Think about it. When you carve a pumpkin in October, does the raw pumpkin smell like a freshly baked pie? Not at all. The pumpkin lotions and creams you buy each season don’t actually smell like the real deal – pure pumpkin – they smell like the desserts we love so much. The scent isn’t derived from an actual pumpkin, but rather from a laboratory using a chemical cocktail of sorts to mimic the aroma of a sweet pie.
Is your scented lotion giving you a headache?
There is mounting evidence that fragrance is harmful, even toxic. The watchdog EWG’s Skin Deep Database now ranks fragrance a very disturbing 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, with score of 7-10 being described as a “high hazard” to health.
As a mom, I am troubled by the fact that nearly all products marketed to my kids are not just full of harmful chemicals, but contain copious amounts of fragrance. Of course, I want to oblige if my child sees a product in the aisle and wants to smell like a strawberry milkshake or a banana split, but at what cost?
There is much we do not yet know about the consequences linked to artificial fragrance. Here is what we do know, though. Ailments associated with the chemical compounds found in fragrance include migraines, asthma, and allergies. Those suffering with chemical sensitivities are also impacted. Perfume can trigger such negative health effects that those with chemical sensitivities are unable to work.
If you have seen your doctor and ruled out any other health issues linked to your headaches, asthma or allergies, consider eliminating fragrance from your daily routine and see if it makes a difference.
Essential oils provide a healthier fragrance option
Until the time comes when formulators are able to create a truly safe and natural synthetic fragrance oil, do you have to forgo perfumes and scented lotions altogether? No. Natural essential oils can be used to create any scented products synthetic fragrance can, although the selection is a bit more sparse.
The term “essential oil” is a bit misleading, truth be told. An essential oil is actually a concentrated compound and not an oil at all. These compounds come from various parts of plants. They can be extracted from flowers, bark, resin, leaves, roots, and peels. They are typically extracted through a method called distillation.
Distillation can occur chemically or through steam and you really want them to be steam distilled. It is not always an easy process, as it is sometimes much more difficult to extract these natural compounds. While perfumes and body products scented with natural essential oils are typically more expensive, you’ll find that a little goes a long way and your products will last longer.
Unlike synthetic fragrance oils, which offer no benefits, there are many benefits of essential oils. Research shows that the aroma of essential oils can help relieve stress, give you more energy, and even help you fall asleep at night.
5 products I love without artificial fragrance
Ren Evercalm Gentle Cleansing Milk is ultra soothing and calming. Without artificial fragrance, this uber gentle formula calms and soothes with chamomile, black currant seed oil and more. Find it at Sephora.
Pangea Organics Brazilian Brown Sugar With Cocoa Butter Body Polish is like a trip to the spa in a jar. This invigorating body scrub sloughs off dead skin cells and smells exquisite using only natural extracts & essential oils.
Avene Eau Thermal Spring Water is a fragrance free hydrating skin spritzer you can use as a toner or makeup setting spray. Sensitive skin types will find that if you pop this in the fridge and spray it on throughout the day that it will provide a sense of calm.
Original Moxie Get Fresh Shampoo has been a favorite for-evah. It lathers well, but is free of sulfates and it smells so fun and fresh (like limes) with its essential oil blend. You’ll love it!
Seed Body Care Fragrance Free Gentle Body Wash is sulfate-free and plant based. Best of all, though, it is available in a completely fragrance free option. If you want a scent, though, never fear! Seed Custom Blend Body Wash allows you to mix and match essential oils to create your own natural blend. They also offer other scent options all without artificial fragrance, as well as Good to Grow, a line for babies and young children.