Are Fragrance Oils Safe for our Health?

Uncovering the Health Implications of Fragrance Oils

Are you one to read the ingredient list before buying a product? Perhaps you’ve noticed the terms fragrance and parfum and wondered how these ingredients are formulated anyway? In this article, we intend to inform you of the insidious health dangers lurking within this seemingly harmless input.

What is fragrance?

Let’s start with the basics:

We’ve all come into contact with fragrance oils, whether in candles, lotions, laundry detergent, diapers, or even garbage bags. To many,  it may seem harmless to have everyday products scented. But to others, just the scent of fragrance can adversely affect the quality of their day-to-day life. Why is this?

The truth is, scientific studies show that fragrance oils affect human and environmental health , significantly. So much so that the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that fragrance chemicals are the top cause for allergic reactions to cosmetics . They also conclude that over 5,000 fragrance molecules are used in heavy rotation and these are the culprit of  causing headaches, skin irritation, nausea, and respiratory issues , to name a few.  Additionally, fragrance chemicals contain phthalates, which are known hormone disruptors that  bioaccumulate in the body (mostly in our fat stores), and are passed down from mother to child for generations to come.

Why is Fragrance Used? 

So why is fragrance permitted in products if there are known health concerns? Unfortunately, while it may be convenient to trust that if a product is on the shelf it must have met guidelines to prove it’s safe for the public, as is the case in the European Union, where the precautionary principle is practiced, such is not the case in the United States.

The damaging truth is that cosmetic products are unregulated by the government. We’ll give you a minute to let that set in… the Food and Drug Association (FDA) does not have the authority to approve cosmetic products prior to them being available to consumers on the market. 

While it is true that companies must disclose all inputs of a product under an ingredient list due to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) of 1967, it turns out this act is the very reason why the cosmetic industry has a substantial loophole- and it is the term fragrance or parfum. When the FPLA was passed, over 50 years ago, there was consideration for company’s “competitive-edge” and brands argued they couldn’t share their “trade-secrets” for their elusive perfumes, so  manufacturers are able to list fragrance as a catch-all term rather than each individual chemical used. To this day, corporate competition outweighs consideration for consumers' health.

How to be an Advocate for Your Own Health:

We’ve got the dirty truth on the table- companies can put any inputs they’d like into a product and label it with the single term fragrance in pursuit of their own competitive advantage. So, we hope a red flag waives every time you see it listed in products. Here are a few ways to advocate for your own health:

  1. Assess the current toxicity of the products you use in your home and on your body by taking our Synthetic Fragrance Assessment . This involves reading ingredient lists and taking count of how many products do in fact contain fragrance or parfum. You may find that your old ways of trusting the product packaging’s “green” statements such as “all-natural” do not accurately represent the contents inside. 
  2. Read the ingredient list before purchasing a product. Look for products with short and simple ingredient lists. You’ll soon find which companies show more transparency than others. One way to identify these companies quickly is by their third-party certifications such as certified Vegan, showing that the brand's claim of being free of animal byproducts and animal testing, are in fact being audited. But even then, read the inputs of the product before buying. 
  3. Reference the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database that allows you to see the toxicity levels of common beauty products. It scans the ingredient list and shows which ingredients are the most hazardous. Thank you EWG! 

Your body is a temple, so be keen on every input you allow into your system. And equally important, be your own advocate, because as we’ve found, we cannot trust companies to put health over profits. Share with us your triumphs and tribulations when it comes to navigating home and personal care products in a comment below.

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