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 just what exactly they mean, but ultimately assumed it didn’t matter.
Unfortunately, while it may be tempting to trust that if a product is on the shelf it must have met guidelines to prove it’s safety, - after all, that is the case in the European Union where the precautionary principle is observed - the damaging truth is that cosmetic products are unregulated by the U.S. government.
We’ll give you a minute to let that sink 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.
What is 'Fragrance'?
When the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act was passed over 50 years ago, requiring listed ingredients, corporations feared losing their competitive edge and argued that they should not have to disclose their “trade secrets”. They succeeded in making a dangerous loophole out of the word “fragrance”, winning the right to use it as a catch-all term rather than listing out each individual component. To this day, corporate competition outweighs consideration for consumers' health.
We all come into contact with fragrance oils. They’re everywhere! In candles, lotions, laundry detergent, diapers, even garbage bags. For many, breathing in these scented products seems harmless. But to others, even brief exposure can be physically debilitating.
Why is 'Fragrance' Used?
Numerous studies have shown that fragrance oils can adversely impact human bodies as well as the environment. In fact, The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has reported that fragrance chemicals are the top cause for allergic reactions to cosmetics! And even if you never have an allergic reaction to any of them, those synthetic fragrance chemicals contain hormone-disrupting phthalates and parabens that can cause long term health effects and stay in the body long enough to be passed down to the next generation.
Despite the danger of potential allergens, the presence and lasting consequences of endocrine-disrupting phthalates and parabens, the headaches, skin irritation, nausea, and respiratory issues, the AAD says there are currently upwards of 5,000 different fragrance molecules in heavy circulation.
The dirty truth is that companies can put anything they like into a product and cover it all up with a single word - fragrance - in pursuit of their own competitive advantage. So at the very least, we hope you see waving red flags every time you spot that word listed among ingredients.
Here are a few ways to advocate for yourself in a world that prioritizes capitalist gain over public health:
1. Assess the current toxicity of the products you use in your home and on your body by taking our Synthetic Fragrance Assessment, or simply by reading ingredient lists and taking count of how many products do in fact contain fragrance or parfum. Remember those words could be hiding multitudes, and reexamine your inclination to trust a product that declares itself “natural” while listing fragrance among its ingredients.
2. Read the ingredient list before purchasing your next home and body products. Look for products with short and simple ingredient lists! Google words you don’t recognize (because not all big words are bad!) and look for certifications from organizations that audit and verify the company’s claims.
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 discerning of what you let in. In this world, we will each need to be our own advocate, because as we’ve found, we cannot trust companies to put health over profits.