The Hidden Dangers of Artificial Fragrances

It seems commonplace that once a celebrity has “made it,” they introduce their own signature fragrance. You’ll see fragrance counters lined with these sexy bottles that promise you nothing less than the most alluring scent. We admit that we were once wooed by these scents, but that was before we realized exactly what made up “fragrance.”

A recent celebrity fragrance release was marketed to encourage "all women to live life on their own terms” and to “show your strength and beauty.” So how do the ingredients stand up to such powerful messaging? The product label explains this perfume has base notes of Vanilla, Patchouli, and Amber, but nowhere on the ingredient list are these ingredients listed. Instead the ingredient list features “fragrance.”

By law, skin care manufacturers are allowed to use “fragrance” on their product labels, as the combination of this fragrance is defined as proprietary. But in no way is the addition of “fragrance” allowing you to live life on your own terms. Any number of potentially toxic ingredients can fall under the term “fragrance,” most of which are artificial. Did you know an estimated 3,000 chemicals, most 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, so it’s no surprise that dermatology researchers rank fragrance as a top five allergen. Tellingly, at a recent dermatology appointment we noticed a receptionist ripping pages out of magazines. When we inquired what she was up to, she explained that she was getting rid of all the fragrance ads before she put them in the waiting room.

Skin irritation isn't the only way a perfume can impact your health. By design, a fragrance can enter your body in multiple ways: through skin absorption or breathing in the odor. 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 of those around you. Think of those who are breathing your scent and those you cuddle with, especially babies. You are transferring whatever is on your skin directly to theirs.

So, how can you avoid artificial fragrance in your perfume and cologne?

  • 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. The term "phthalates" will never actually appear on a label, so you'll want to look for the ingredients ethylene oxide or Dibutylphthlalate (DBP, DEP, butyl ester), which are all phthalates commonly used in perfumes. You can read more about phthalates here.
  • Read a product's ingredient list in its entirety. Due to a lack of regulation, products can claim to be “unscented” and still contain artificial fragrance. You can read more about unscented products here.
  • Search out companies that scent their products with 100% certified essential oils or other safe plant botanicals, like Lavender or Neroli, like we do with our EcoSprays.
  • 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.
  • Don't forget about the men in your lives. Their cologne and body spray can pose just as many health risks as your perfume.

One of our biggest pet peeves in the fragrance industry is the gray area that surrounds "fragrance." So often we find perfumes marketed as "made with essential oils," though its product label reveals artificial fragrance. Good and bad ingredients can co-exist within a product, so ALWAYS flip over to the ingredient list to see exactly what is in the product you're buying.

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