April 10, 2015

What’s in a Scent? How to Avoid Chemical Fragrances.


At the beginning of the year, I offered my Predictions for Beauty Trends in 2015.

While I don’t believe that it will happen this year, I do think that one day chemical laden, artificial scents will be banned eventually.

Last week I saw a commercial where a young man walks into his mother’s house and begins to reminisce about his favorite meals as he smells his favorite scents. But, they were not the actual food they were from a plug in air freshener.

In the future, maybe these artificial scents will be looked at as cigarette smoke is today—not just something that is not in vogue, but as something that people are shocked by, astonished that anyone would choose fake scents when there are so many fabulous real scents in this world. Maybe commercials like the one I saw will be considered as inappropriate as the ones that some of us remember of the Marlboro Man (who subsequently died of cancer) advertising cigarettes on TV and in print.

We have so many myths about fragrance in our culture. I am trying to figure out why we believe that pine is equal to clean. I love being out in the woods amidst trees, but I don’t think of it as a clean place. I’ve read of a baby wash that is scented to smell like a baby.

Why do we subscribe to the belief that we should cover over natural scents with unnatural ones?

While I personally do not enjoy these types of scents, I would mostly be willing to take a live and let live attitude about them when they are not invading my personal space.

But there are a few important factors that make this idea less-than-preferable:

  • Manufacturers are not required to identify the ingredients that comprise fragrances. Therefore, even when ingredients are listed, as on many personal care products, the components of the fragrance are not included. It is more confusing with home cleaning products which list far fewer ingredients.
  • Among other chemicals, fragrances often contain phthalates. Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals and associated with a number of common diseases. It’s not something we want to mess with unwittingly. As a survivor of hormone-sensitive breast cancer, I am very concerned about exposure to phthalates.

There is not an easy answer to avoiding chemically created fragrances. Here are some tips that at least can help reduce exposure:

  • Avoid artificial fragrances at home. I find that I can get a lot done with various combinations of olive oil, lemon, baking soda and vinegar. In buying products, I buy non-toxic or at least non-scented. Reading labels, while often annoying, can yield interesting, if incomplete, information. I often say that if something is banned in California or Europe or has a skull and crossbones, perhaps this is a reason not to buy it. There are a wealth of resources available on the Internet, I often check the Environmental Working Groups Guide to Healthy Cleaning.
  • Avoid artificial fragrances in personal care products. Our skin is our largest organ. It is important to be mindful of what is absorbed from skin into the blood stream and throughout the body. There are some great non-toxic brands available for personal care products and DIY is often a great option. One of the interesting things about personal care product brands is that many have a wide range of levels of toxicity among their products. Therefore, one brand can include both very safe and far less safe products. Again, the Environmental Working Group is a great resources with their Skindeep database—there’s even an app for that.
  • Be mindful. By paying attention to scents in nature and how things actually smell and taste, we become more attuned to our surroundings and our selves. I’m suggesting that perhaps we don’t need added fragrance all the time.

The good news is that the conversation about phthalates is gaining national and media attention. There is an increased awareness that there are toxins in our products and that we have the right to know what is in them. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.





Author: Wendy Kuhn 

Editor: Renée Picard

Hanna K. Photography at Flickr


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