Perfume and cologne are everywhere. From sprays to lotions to cosmetics to roll on bottles, everything in the personal care market seems to have fragrance. And why not? Everyone loves to smell good and use products that smell good (at least everyone who I’ve ever met). But what exactly is in that fragrant “smell-good?”
What exactly is a fragrance?
That is a tricky question. According to the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), fragrance may include any number of the industry’s 3,100 stock chemicals, none of which are required to be listed on labels.
According to the FDA, federal law allows companies to leave some chemical ingredients off their product labels, including those considered to be trade secrets, components of fragrance, and nanomaterials. Data provided from the Environmental Working Group shows tests of fragrance ingredients have found an average of 14 hidden compounds per formulation, including ingredients linked to hormone disruption and sperm damage.
But don’t products need to be proven safe to be sold in stores?
The Food and Drug Administration has no authority to require companies to test cosmetics products for safety. In fact, in 1938 federal law decided to put the burden of proof on the FDA who doesn’t have the time or funding to test safety. The agency does not review or approve most products or ingredients before they go on the market. In fact, the FDA does not even have the authority to require recalls of harmful cosmetics! On top of that, manufacturers are not required to report cosmetics-related injuries to the agency. Instead, the FDA relies on companies to report injuries voluntarily (FDA 2005).
So, basically perfume and cologne (along with anything labeled “fragrance”) can be any variety or combination of over 3,000 different chemicals. There are some safe perfumes and colognes, like those rated 1-3 on EWG’s Skin Deep Database. But the majority of what you will find on big box and department store shelves will likely not have a healthy ingredient list, if they even list their ingredients.
Can fragrances cause health problems?
Some of the most common chemicals in perfumes are ethanol, acetaldehyde, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, a-pinene, acetone, benzyl alcohol, ethyl acetate, linalool, a-terpinene, methylene chloride, styrene oxide, dimenthyl sulphate, a-terpineol, and camphor.
Some of the above mentioned chemicals cause irritability, mental vagueness, anxiety, depression, muscle pain, asthma, bloating, joint aches, arthritis, sinus pain, fatigue, sore throat, eye irritation, hormonal imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, cancer, laryngitis, headaches, dizziness, neurological issues, swollen lymph nodes, spikes in blood pressure, coughing, and burning or itching skin irritations.
Even if you can’t smell the fragrance, it can still effect you. If certain times you feel more nervous or irritable (or any if he above mentioned side effects), think about what synthetic scents you may be wearing or in close proximity to.
Watch out for “fragrant oils.” Often marketing suggests fragrant oils or perfume grade oils are essential oils. They are not. Perfume grade oils are most often a combination of synthetic fragrant chemicals, although some can include some natural compounds as well. Essential Oils are created by distilling or cold-pressing plant matter. Although essential oils can be used as a nontoxic perfume or cologne (which is what I use).
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I’m a huge advocate for essential oils for several reasons. This is one. There are many essential oils and blends that make incredible perfumes and cologne. For example, my husband smells irresistible when he wears Young Living’s Valor or Sacred Mountain essential oil blends. Seriously, I can’t get enough how he smells when he has one of those two oil blends on.
For me, I love Young Living’s Joy, Valor, and Sensation essential oil blends. Sometimes I also make my own perfumes using essential oils, often based on what mood I’m in.
It’s easy to do, completely customizable, and actually benefits your body all in one application! Smell good and feel better? Yes please!
You can add a couple drops into a diffuser necklace or bracelet. You can add a couple drops on to a leather necklace or bracelet. You can dilute them and apply directly to the skin (neck and wrists are popular locations). Or you can buy an atomizer (like this) and add 5 drops of essential oil to 5ml of water, shake and spray.
I love how there are no rules and you can do whatever you choose that fits your lifestyle. (bonus: no need for standing in the department store sniffing through to find a bottle of “smell goods” or dealing with the associated sneezing and headaches).
I like to pair woodsy scents with citrus scents. Sometimes I add flower scents. I choose which ever I gravitate to at that moment. Today, I’m wearing Black Spruce with Tangerine. Its relaxing, calming, and uplifting.
How do you choose which essential oils to make a perfume or cologne with?
Make sure you do your research on oils before settling on a brand. There is a lot of dishonesty in the essential oils market that few people truly understand. I do have a blog post about understanding quality I encourage you to check out.
I choose to use Young Living essential oils because of their Seed to Seal Guarantee and because of all the support I’ve received from them over the past few years I’ve been a customer. They complement my nontoxic lifestyle perfectly, and have enhanced my quality of life in ways I could never imagine being possible beforehand. Check out my Membership page to see more about how you can receive a 24% discount on their essential oils and essential oil infused products, for life.
And please: read your labels. If a company doesn’t provide full ingredient disclosure, don’t buy their products.
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P.S. If you’re feeling overwhelmed on where to begin with removing toxins from your home, please reach out!