There is nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked cookies or a freshly sliced lemon. Did you know that we actually make memories with scents too? That’s why the smell of warm apple pie reminds you of your grandma’s house or the smell of the first snowfall brings you back to your childhood sledding days.
Our olfactory system is responsible for processing scents and associating them with emotions too. This is why certain smells can trigger either really pleasant memories or really negative ones (i.e. skunk, vomit, body odor… you get the picture!)
So why even bring this up? Here’s why- go find any of your personal care products. Grab a lotion or a facewash or even your shampoo. Flip it over and scan the ingredients. I bet you will find the word “fragrance” listed as a single ingredient.
But what you may not realize it that this term can actually legally be used as a cover up for any combination of ingredients that does not have to be disclosed on the label. This is a “trade secret” that functions as a loophole for companies to hide hundreds of toxic chemicals.
This is clarified further by the Environmental Working Group’s website:
“The word “fragrance” or “parfum” on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.”
There have also been reports of links to ADHD, obesity, autism, seizures, and possibly even cancer. Now as a quick disclaimer, causation is extremely difficult to prove given a myriad of other contributing factors that cannot be isolated out for scientific study- so most of these reports contain correlative data meaning that there has been a correlation found between certain ingredients and certain health issues.
But my take on this is, why risk it?! If there is even a chance I’m using something with the potential to cause harm to myself or my family, I’m going to toss it. After all, is it really worth risking your health to smell like a (fake) flower?!
Phthalates, which are a group of chemicals that are commonly contained in fragrance compounds, are also used in factories as “plasticizers” to soften plastic and are used to make PVC pipes. They are also in many plastic packaging (which is part of the reason why I never heat my food in plastic containers!)
Why in the heck would we want to rub these chemicals onto our skin, our largest organ? Not to mention that our skin absorbs what we put on it easily. Think about the way medication patches work- by allowing medication to quickly enter our bloodstream via the skin. This means that whatever we rub on our skin is, at some point, circulating in our bloodstream which then is delivered to every internal organ in our bodies!
My biggest issue with fragrance, to be completely honest, is that is it widely used in products that are marketed as “green,” “safe,” and “natural.” I’m looking at you, Mrs. Meyer’s!! While the rest of their ingredients may check out, all of their products contain “fragrance.” On their website, they state that their fragrance is a “mixture of natural, high-quality essential oils and safe synthetic fragrance ingredients.” I don’t know about you, but reading “safe” and “synthetic” in the same sentence sure gives me pause.
While I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt, I just can’t. If your ingredients are so safe, then why don’t you just list them on the label? Why the secrecy? It just makes it seem like there is something to hide and in my opinion, that’s probably because there IS something to hide.
I’m sorry to say, but I don’t believe that these big companies truly care about us that much. At the end of the day, they have to make a profit. And if they can accomplish this by preying on our emotions and desire for safer products, then they will do what they have to do to make us think they have the answers!
Alright but enough with the doom and gloom. The point is, fragrance, even if it’s called “natural fragrance” cannot be proven to be safe and has actually been suggested to be quite harmful. So the bottom line is, if a product you are considering has that on the label, you’d better just skip it.
But what can you do instead? Don’t worry, you have options!
- Choose products scented with organic essential oils. These are oils derived from actual plants and fruits, not made synthetically in a lab. Make sure that the product you are using lists out each oil though and doesn’t just lump them as a category of “essential oils.” This is for the same reason we aren’t accepting “natural fragrance” as an ingredient- it leaves room for undisclosed additives. I choose Pure Haven products for most of my needs from skincare to household cleaners- all of their ingredients are right on the label and are 100% nontoxic. They also have very strict quality and purity standards so they are a company I not only feel comfortable using, but also recommending to others. (I am an ambassador for the company because I live them so much- please read my full disclosure policy here.)
- Choose unscented products and add your own essential oils. This is my favorite method to use with laundry detergent. I toss in a couple drops of essential oils with my wash and my clothes come out smelling great. It’s easy to change up the scents and I still know I’m not covering myself with toxic crap!
The best way to avoid toxic ingredients like fragrance in your products is to do your research and really understand what you are buying and where it is coming from. You’ll find that even companies that tend to be “safer” or tout more “natural” products are owned by even bigger companies that probably don’t care as much about purity and safety (i.e. Seventh Generation is owned by Unilever, Honest Company and Burt’s Bees are owned by Clorox, Tom’s of Maine is owned by Colgate Palmolive).
So before you reach for that vanilla and brown sugar scented hand lotion that reminds you of baking cookies at grandma’s house, take a minute to stop and read the ingredient label. And once you see the words “fragrance” or “parfum,” put it down and walk away! Your health is worth more than smelling like a cookie, I promise!
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