MAKEUP BAG DETOX WEEK 2: Artificial Fragrance

It goes without saying that we all want to smell our very best. Walk down the beauty aisle and you will see a variety of fragrance options for shampoos, lotions, body wash, hand soap, and perfumes. We all have our signature scent, and we admit that before our transition to healthy products, the perfume counter was one of our favorite shopping stops. So when we say how important it is to leave behind artificial fragrance, we also know how difficult it is. We do however sincerely hope the important health factors will eventually win.

It’s telling that dermatology researchers rank fragrance as a top five allergen. As many as 3,000 chemicals, mostly synthetic, are used to manufacture an artificial fragrance.  Use of these chemicals has been seen to cause topical reactions like contact dermatitis or itchy skin rashes for those with sensitive skin. However, if you’re not seeing this skin reaction, you may be blind to what is happening underneath the skin.

By design, a fragrance can enter your body in multiple ways: through absorption or inhalation. Studies have shown that the use of artificial fragrance can exacerbate asthma and cause a range of problems in the immune, reproductive, and nervous systems.  Using artificial fragrance not only affects your personal health, but also the health of those who breathe in your scent (ever been in an elevator with someone heavily perfumed?) and those you cuddle with, like babies who snuggle close to your skin. You are transferring whatever is on your skin directly to theirs. 

A few facts: 

  • It is estimated that 95% of the synthetic fragrances on the market today are derived from petroleum by-products
  • More than 2 million Americans have a fragrance allergy or sensitivity
  • 1 out of every 3 American children has allergies, asthma, ADHD or autism
  • Asthma and allergies affect 1 out of 5 Americans

When it comes to fragrance, there is very little government regulation on what ingredients can be used or what has to be represented on product packaging. Fragrance ingredients are deemed "trade secrets" by the FDA and manufacturers are not required to display the many compounds that make up an artificial fragrance (click here for more info on product labeling). This means that any number of chemical fragrance or masking agents could be lurking in your good-smelling products. For example, you will never see the term "phthalates" on your labels, yet they can be used as part of the formulation of a fragrance. It is up to you to take action for your own health and begin self-policing your products for artificial fragrance. Luckily, there are alternatives to keep you smelling good without exposing yourself and others to toxic and potentially hazardous chemicals.


  • Avoid synthetic musks, which have been linked to cancer. They bioaccumulate and store themselves within the body and have even been found to be present in breast milk, meaning that nursing infants ingest them.

  • Avoid products with phthalates, which have been linked to disruptions in reproductive and endocrine systems. Spot them on ingredient lists by looking for the term "fragrance," ethylene oxide, or Dibutylphthlalate (DBP, DEP, butyl ester).

  • Read ALL product ingredient lists. Due to a lack of regulation, products can claim to be “unscented” or “fragrance-free” and still contain artificial ingredients and even artificial fragrance to mask the scent of other ingredients. Navigating ingredient listings can be tricky. As a general rule of thumb, "fragrance" or "parfum" usually means artificial fragrance. Look for products that list out all the plant-derived and/or essential oils on their packaging. Become familiar with good-for-you ingredients by reading our ingredient glossary

  • Always use products that are free of artificial fragrance or use essential oils or other safe plant botanicals, like Lavender or Neroli, for fragrance. Note: Those with known allergies can also react to plant based ingredients so if you are a highly allergic type, use sparingly at first or even consult with your doctor.

  • When in doubt, check out the EWG's Cosmetic Database to research the product you're unsure about. Their database will clue you in as to what ingredients the product uses and its overall toxicity to your health.

Artificial fragrance is not just limited to your makeup bag. Personal care products, scented candles, laundry detergent, and other household cleaners all use fragrance to market their products. Sniff out the products in your home that contain toxic chemicals and make it a point to phase them out. There are many healthy alternatives on the market just waiting to be discovered.



  • Pam Baker

    Thank you for all you’re doing to educate us about what we’re putting on our skin and breathing. I’m finally getting it about the chemical fragrances and hope this information spreads to all.

  • Korin Anders


  • Korin Anders

    Terric article! This really puts things in perspective. I will be passing this one along! Thanks Sally B!

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