Everything You Need to Know About The Mystery Ingredient "Fragrance"

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We love to smell good! And when we spray that spring scent on, we shouldn’t have to think about what toxic chemicals we’re breathing in.

We should be able to trust the products we put on our bodies are safe.

But, many products contain toxic chemicals. And some of those toxic chemicals aren’t even listed on the label.

They hide behind the ingredient “Fragrance”.

What ingredients are in this mysterious fragrance? Well, it turns out that there may be a good reason that companies don’t want to list exactly what's in “fragrance.”

So why is fragrance so toxic?

According to the Environmental Working Group, the average fragrant contains about 14 secret chemicals that aren’t listed on the label, many of which are linked to hormone disruption and allergic reactions, as well as about 80 percent of them not being tested for human safety in personal care products.

There are thousands of synthetic chemicals in modern fragrance, some of these chemicals have been linked to health concerns ranging from skin an eye irritations to hormone imbalance to cancer.

How can toxic ingredients be allowed in fragrance products?

You may be wondering how this could even be allowed in the first place.

Fragrance acts as a loophole on the FDA’s regulation of personal care products. They are considered a trade secret under the Fair Package and Labeling act of 1966, allowing companies to not list ingredients so their formula cannot be replicated easily.

Unfortunately, brands hide behind this to add in cost-effective, but toxic, chemicals to their products to make a scent that is “better” than natural.

You’ve probably noticed that natural perfumes or essential oil sprays don’t last as long as synthetic perfumes. These chemicals are meant to make sure the spray disperses well and so it lingers for longer, giving the desired effect of perfume and body spray. But at what cost?

How does fragrance harm us?

When a product is sprayed into the air, it doesn’t just affect the person that sprayed it but can cause many problems for other people around. It can throw their bodies into a frenzy of reactive behavior and trigger migraines, allergy symptoms, asthma, chronic lung disease, and other health conditions.

And even if people do not have immediate symptoms from these chemicals, due to the lack of testing these chemicals, we don’t actually know the long-term effects of spraying or rubbing them on our highly sensitive skin every single day.

Perfumes are not the only culprit; these effects can come from furniture, adhesives, cleaning supplies, paints, and even paper.

“Fragrance” is snuck anywhere they can, so no chemicals go to waste.

Do we even know what chemicals are in “Fragrance”?

EWG found that about 75 percent of products that list fragrance contains the hormone-disrupting chemical, phthalates.

Phthalates have been linked to many hazardous health conditions, such as reduced sperm count, liver and breast cancers, reproductive malformation and diabetes. This carcinogen has been banned in many countries, like the E.U. and Japan, but our government sets such an intense level of proven harm for these chemicals that some say it’s almost impossible to reach.

Phthalates have been found in blood, urine, and fat tissue, and appear to be linked to fragrance. The levels are higher in people who regularly use products with fragrance, including body lotion and deodorant.

Companies voluntarily comply with many safety standards, but the current law does not require those cosmetic ingredients to be free of certain harmful health effects before they are put on the shelves. The fragrance industry is self-regulated and they will do everything they can to make sure it stays that way.


How you can avoid fragrance

Like with many other personal product worries, it’s up to us to protect ourselves.

  • Check the label and avoid products that say “fragrance” or “perfume”, and remember, “unscented” does not mean it’s fragrance-free.

  • Consider cleaning products free of fragrance.

Some companies list the exact ingredients in parentheses next to the word fragrance, to see how toxic they are, you can enter them into the EWG’s Skin Deep database and see the hazard level.

You can also make them yourself, like these awesome product recipes from Coconut Mama or ours below! You can even avoid scents all together and rely on your own awesome natural scent, often found more attractive anyway.

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DIY Roll-On Perfume from NTR

~ Ingredients ~

Olive oil or liquid coconut oil (aka carrier oils)

3-5 drops of essential oil(s)

or more if you like!

roll-on tube

~ Directions ~

Remove roller ball

Add carrier oil, almost to the top

Add essential oil(s)

Pop roller ball back in

Shake to mix

Roll-on and enjoy!

What can you do to help make fragrance safe and protect yourself?

There is hope for a safer cosmetic future, but we have to make it a priority in our cities, counties, and states that lawmakers can no longer ignore it.

Until we can get the government to regulate these chemicals and stop allowing companies to be able to omit them from labels (and we’ll keep trying), one thing we can do is spread the word to our friends and family and always take the initiative to look out for our own well-being. Support companies who are disclosing those ingredients and using safer chemicals.

Take the Women’s Voices for the Earth Fragrance-Free Pledge and tell companies that we’re done with toxic chemicals in personal care products!