Have you heard that artificial fragrances can be as bad for you as second hand smoke? It's true.
Let's talk about the dangers of fragrances, what you need to know, and what you can do about it.
Could your shampoo, perfumes, air fresheners, house cleaners, candles, and dryer sheets really be killing you?
More than that, it's now being said that Fragrance is the New Second Hand Smoke, due to something called Phthalates (ph-thal-ates)
When I was a young girl, my parents both smoked. I have distinct memories of asking them to:
- “PLEASE roll the (car) windows down.
- “Roll them down MORE please?”
- I even cut up my mom's pack of cigarettes once in protest.
The smoke made me feel sick. Reeeeeeeeally sick.
And it still does to this day.
I also couldn't stand artificial fragrances. Whenever I passed through the perfume section of a department store, or went down the cleaning aisle of the grocery store, my head felt terrible. To this day, I try to hold my breath as much as possible in heavily-fragranced public restrooms — it's not easy!
Anyway, I always felt like artificial fragrances weren't good for me, but I never knew that they could be as bad as that horribly demonized (and rightfully so) second hand smoke!
Well, turns out, it is.
What is “Fragrance”?
Fragrance is basically a catch word for all kinds of bad things. It can be labeled as “fragrance” or “parfum” and the real ingredients don't need to be disclosed and have not been tested for safety (source).
“Fragrance” can be made up of 1, or 2, or even hundreds of chemicals (Source),
Up to 75% of the time, when there is a “fragrance” in an ingredient, there are legally hidden phthalates, which is not a good thing. (source)
In addition to phthalates, there also can be other ingredients of concern, including aldehydes, toluenes, and petroleum-derived chemicals that might be best to be avoided.
Let's find out more about the issues with these.
What are Phthalates?
Phthalates (pronounced “THAL ates”) are solvents that are often used in cosmetics because they help fragrances last longer and also help lotions penetrate the skin.
Those are nice benefits, but they are known endocrine disruptors that have been linked to:
What is an endocrine disruptor? Basically your endocrine system (adrenals, thyroid, pituitary, sex hormones, and more) affect just about everything in your body. So if you disrupt them, you disrupt everything.
Oh, and they are not regulated in food or personal care products in the U.S. Nice……
No thanks, I don't want these things in my products.
Alehydes, Toluenes, and More
Aside from phthalates, there are other troublesome ingredients that can be in artificial fragrances. The list is so plentiful, that to cover all of them would be quite difficult), but I will touch on these others briefly.
Aldehydes are linked to breathing problems, depending on the concentration. Note that the concerns are with levels higher than that which is normal for outdoors, and if one is using products with aldehydes in them, one would think that those levels would be higher. (source)
Toluene (methyl benzene) is linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity, organ system toxicity, irritation (source) It is a neurotoxin and is largely sourced from petroleum crude oil. It can cause damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys, heart, and central nervous system, and can cause headaches, loss of muscle control, brain damage, memory loss, problems with speech, hearing and vision, and even death.
Other synthetic fragrance ingredients that are of notable concern are:
Acetaldehyde, which produces a fruity odor, but is a probable human carcinogen.
Acetonitrile, which can cause weakness, headaches, tremors, numbness, and nausea.
Styrene oxide can cause skin and eye irritation, and in animal studies, it is known to cause depression.
Musk tetralin (AETT) has been shown to cause brain cell and spinal cord degeneration. (source)
Aren't Natural Products Safe?
If you've been shopping at your local health food store, surely you're not in danger, right?
I personally have been shocked to see the multitude of companies that are supposed to be “green”, “organic”, or “natural” that have these dangerous artificial fragrances in them. I think you'll be shocked too.
Here you are, shelling out extra money to get something that you think is clean and non-toxic, but really you are ending up with something that is mucking with your endocrine system big time.
Here is a listing of companies that tout themselves as being “natural”, but some of their products are far from.
Melaleuca (contains “fragrance”)
Mrs. Meyer's (contains “mixture of natural, high-quality essential oils and safe synthetic fragrance ingredients”)
Babyganics (contains “fragrance” despite having “fragrance free” on the label).
Nubian Heritage (contains “fragrance”)
Jason (contains “fragrance”)
Alba Botanical (contains “fragrance”)
Now, I'm not saying that everything these companies make is a problem, but I was personally shocked to see synthetic fragrances in these lines and figured you might be too. Of course, that could change, but I am encouraging you to read the labels and see what really is in your products.
Natural Fragrance MIGHT Not Be Natural After All
I'll be sharing more about this later, but I have tried many products that said “Essential Oil Blend” or “Essential Oil” on the label, but believe me, something's not right there.
The scents are WAY too strong. And one company even owned up to me that “Essential Oil Blend” only meant that MOST of the fragrance ingredients were natural–HUH!?!?!?!?
and be careful with DIY recipes too.
There are loads of recipes on the internet that can help you save money by making things yourself, but some of those have unsavory ingredients too.
Be on the lookout for anything including Dawn Dish Soap (that's a pretty obvious one to avoid) or the more seemingly natural “Fels-Naptha” soap. My mom used that soap a lot when I was young so I picked up a few bars thinking I would do some nice DIY projects, only to find that it contains that mystical “fragrance” too.
How to Avoid Toxic Fragrances
So what's a person to do?
Read, Return, Ditch, and Choose
1. First of all, READ YOUR LABELS.
If the label says “fragrance” or “parfum” contact the manufacturer and find out what that term means in this case.
Make sure you aren't buying products with phthalates or aldehydes, at the very least.
And even if it clearly says “fragrance free” on the label, sometimes there still are synthetic fragrances in there. Sadlyl, misleading marketing is everywhere.
You REALY need to be a detective here. I once bought a product that had “Fragrance (Essential Oil Blend)” listed on their label. I ended up having heart palpitations in the middle of the night from this product and had to wash my hair out! I contacted the company about this and asked them how that could be and they finally owned up that the “blend” wasn't entirely essential oils!!
Talk about deceptive marketing!!
2. Second, return any products with containing phthalates, aldehydes, or any of these other problematic ingredients to the store where you bought them. Tell them that you refuse to poison yourself, your family, and the environment with these toxins.
3. Third, read labels and ditch products like air freshening sprays and gels, scented cleaners (think dish soap, toilet bowl cleaner, window cleaner), laundry detergent and toxic dryer sheets, and personal care products with problematic fragrances. Not only do they likely contain phthalates, but they also many contain industrial chemicals that can cause asthma attacks and more.
4. Choose wisely. Learn to be an ingredient detective and find companies and products that you can trust.
There is more green-washing out there than not, but there are for sure some good companies out there that you can buy from with confidence.
Just be careful as more and more those “good guys” are getting bought up by larger companies without a reputation for “being green”, so you really need to stay on top of things.
What might be “fragrance free” one day, might not be so the next.
5. Make your own products, but only use natural essential oils for your fragrances. Of course, you have to be very very careful to make sure that you are buying pure essential oils (that post shows you how to evaluate companies for purity) since many essential oils on the market have been adulterated.
Where to Shop
Basically, find a company that doesn't have “fragrance” or “parfum”, or if you really want to use a product that has those ingredients listed on the label, contact the company and do your homework.
Just make sure to read your labels.
AND reading labels might not be enough. I have been trying out the products of many so called “natural” products, and my youngest is complaining that his head hurts from the smells– and ONE of them even admitted that their labels were not honest. UGH!!!!!!! More on this later.
I recommended Ava Anderson in my original post, but I decided to leave them as there were just too many issues with mislabeling and other things. They are now Pure Haven Essentials but–no thank you. Not after what I saw.
I spent a long time searching for a company that I could recommend wholeheartedly and I have a few companies that I am comfortable with. The main one is Beautycounter
Here is more about Beautycounter:
Beautycounter is transparent about their ingredients and uses no artificial fragrances, no phthalates and no aldehydes.
In my search for companies that I could trust, I found MANY others lying about ingredients, including telling lies or making giant semantic leaps about the lingo related to the fragrances in their products. Some of them even have ingredients on their labels that don't exist!
I don't want these things in my home or on my body. And I for sure don't want them on my kids' bodies.
Regardless of whether you choose to DIY, or buy products that are transparent like those from Beautycounter, please make a change for health.
Ditch the fake fragrances for good.
Your health and your family's health might truly depend on it.