Fragrance: Friend or Foe?

From cleaning products to personal care items, perfumes and fragrances are everywhere. They might smell nice, but they often contain harmful chemicals that may cause irritation or even more serious health problems over the long term.

Unfortunately, the term “fragrance” is very loosely regulated by the FDA. Because of a loophole in the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (which requires companies to label the ingredients in their products, except for fragrance) companies can pour unsafe or untested chemicals into products and consumers have no way of knowing about it. Yes, you read that last sentence right: companies can pour unsafe or untested chemicals into products without disclosing it to you.

The FDA considers “fragrance” a trade secret–this is why they allow companies to lump any number of chemicals into the one ingredient “fragrance” listed on a label (whether or not they are really present for fragrance purposes). The ingredient “fragrance” seems harmless, but it’s not.

Companies can select from over 3,000 different ingredients and use them in countless combinations to create fragrances and perfumes. These ingredients include synthetic petrochemicals (derived from petroleum), phthalates (plasticizing chemicals), formaldehyde (causes cancer) and more.

Petrochemicals can not only cause contact dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) but they have also been linked with endocrine disruption, a weakened immune system and more.

Phthalates are linked to autism, ADHD, cancer, neurological disorders, endocrine disruption, infertility, and development and reproductive toxicity. Phthalates are banned in the EU, Japan, South Korea, Canada, and China–why does the US still allow them?

Formaldehyde? Don’t even get me started. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) admits that formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen and the more we are exposed to it the bigger the chances of cancer. Unfortunately, formaldehyde is not only found in fragrances but also many kinds of conventional building materials, fabrics, households products (glue, paint, caulk, pesticides, etc.), smoke, smog, and more.

The bottom line is this: The ingredient “fragrance” represents an undisclosed mixture of various chemicals that can be harmful to your health.

Easy tips to remove fragrances from your lifestyle:

  • Look for products that do not have “fragrance” or “parfum” listed on the ingredient label. 
  • Don’t trust front of the label claims like “unscented”–always check the ingredient section.
  • Look for perfumes by safer brands like Phlur (recommended by Dr. Angela Lucterhand) or Ambre (recommended by multiple friends of mine).
  • Look for products scented with essential oils.
  • DIY room sprays and cleaners. Follow my friend Natalie from The Modern Mamahood for inspiration.
  • Always do company research. Email a company if you can’t find the information you are looking for online. 
  • Replace dryer sheets with wool balls scented with a trusted essential oil brand. My trusted resource for essentials oils is Lisa Nyers.
  • Diffuse essential oils in your home instead of using a room spray. My favorite combination to diffuse is DoTerra’s On Guard, Breathe, and Lemon.

Have you been avoiding fragrances too? I would love this post to be a resource for others–please share your tips in the comments below so we can all learn from one another.

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