What is fragrance? In layman's terms, fragrance is a set of chemicals added to a product, normally perfume, to make its scent pleasant and alluring. It's also important to know that according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 5,000 different fragrance chemicals, in countless combinations, are used in products today.
But what you might not be aware of, is that although so many products use fragrance, there's a good portion of the population that doesn't realize the grave health risks associated with these concoctions of chemicals.
What Does Fragrance Do?
Scents sell. What smells good to a general audience is essentially a cash cow in the perfume and cologne industry. We rely on our noses more than one might believe, and our sense of smell is more closely tied with memories and nostalgia than any other sense. That's why a specific scent or smell can you take you back years or even improve your current mood. And not just this, but pleasing scents make almost anything more desirable, from food to perfumes, car interiors to the scents and aromas of a flower garden. Scents surround us, and the perfume industry is well aware of this.
Enter fragrance, a crafty collection of chemicals designed to do one thing: make a product smell good. Fragrance can mask unwanted scents, improve upon an already existing scent, or just make a product smell a certain type of way (ever wonder how something smells exactly like lavender or freshly-baked cookies?).
The Loophole in Fragrance
By law, each ingredient used in personal care products is to be explicitly stated. However, a fragrance formula is considered proprietary, or a trade secret, to the company who created it, meaning they have no obligation to state what chemicals they're using in their fragrance on product labels, or online.
Put simply, manufacturers can include chemicals that are known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) in their fragrance and the consumer would be none the wiser. Which, (surprise), they do.
Some Fragrances Include Carcinogens
Carcinogens, allergens, and disruptors are just a few of the type of chemicals fragrances can include. But what do these mean exactly? And how are they harmful to humans?
Known as cancer-inducing agents, carcinogens cover a broad range of chemicals. Some of these chemicals are used in fragrance, such as the benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and toluene, and are known carcinogens. Another widely known carcinogen, phthalates, (a chemical used to make fragrances last longer) is linked to so many hazardous health conditions including reduced sperm count, liver and breast cancer and diabetes, that it is currently banned in such countries as the EU, Japan, South Korea, Canada, and even China.
Although the US government has banned certain phthalates from being used in today's personal care product market, certain phthalates, such as DEP, are still being used today.
Akin to pollen or peanuts, an allergen is an agent (often given an anti-parasitic distinction) that causes an "allergic reaction" within the human body. Studies have found, not surprisingly, that fragrance is one of the most frequently identified substances causing allergic reactions.
Also known as endocrine disruptors, or endocrine disrupting chemicals, these are chemicals that can interfere with endocrine systems. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.
This is also where phthalates make their formidable return. Not only can phthalates cause cancer or cancerous tumors, phthalates are linked to hormone disruption, which can affect development, reproduction, and child health.
Neurotoxins are chemicals toxic to one's nervous system. While some fragrances can enter your body through direct exposure to the skin (think lotions, detergents, and soaps), some fragrances (especially those in perfumes) enter your body through the upper airways, where they pass through the olfactory before continuing on to the lungs. In both cases, the chemicals inevitably creep their way into limbic section of the brain and begin to wreak havoc on the nervous system. What are some symptoms of neurtoxicity?:
- Increased stress or anxiety
- Memory loss
- Severe depression
- Increased blood pressure
- Shifts in mood
- Sedative effects
Since neurotoxins ultimately affect and change your brain's biochemistry, it's a scary thought to consider that most fragrances are intended to linger in the air that we breathe.
How Can You Tell If a Product Has Fragrance?
There are a few tell-tale signs that a product contains fragrance, however, determining the presence of fragrance in a product isn't so black and white. By standard, any product containing the words, "fragrance", "parfum", and even "essential oils".
However, while some products may state they are "fragrance-free" or "unscented", they may still contain fragrance.
According to Dr. Joseph Schwarcz, chemist, author, professor, and director of McGill's Office for Science & Society:
Unscented products are formulated to have no smell but can contain ingredients that have a smell but the smell has been neutralized by other components. A fragrance-free product cannot contain any ingredients that have been added to impart a smell but may contain ingredients that have a scent but are not added because of their scent. For example if a cream is made with an oil that has a smell, it could still be labeled as fragrance-free because the purpose of the oil is to act as an emollient, not as a scent. But it could not be labeled unscented. However, if a product is formulated with lavender, for example, but some chemical is added to mask the smell, the product can be labeled as “unscented.”
While the loopholes are endless, knowledge is power. And it's best to know how you can better determine which products have fragrance and which products don't. If you're not sure about a product or have your suspicions, more often than not you should listen to your gut.
Fragrance Applies to More Than Just Perfume
While fragrance is used heavily in the perfume and cologne industry, it goes without saying that fragrance is used anywhere something is meant to smell good.
Fragrance can be found in most personal care products including sunscreen, shampoo, soap, body wash, deodorant, body lotion, makeup, facial cream, skin toner, serums, exfoliating scrubs and perfume.
This is why it's best to pay attention to labels and be conscious as to what you're putting in or on your body. Fragrances are tricky chemicals and can sneak their way into a product if you're not aware of what you're purchasing.
Gin Amber Beauty is Fragrance-Free
It also goes without saying that my own personal beauty brand, Gin Amber Beauty, has rolled out a list of beauty products, including serums, creams, cleansers, and masks that are absolutely fragrance-free and organic.
Check out my store here.
Thank you Amber Babies for tuning into this very important blog post. I'm extremely passionate about spreading the knowledge on fragrance and I hope this information helped!