It’s in everything. Perfume, candles, makeup, air freshener, lotion, detergent, soaps. The list of fragrance-containing products could go on for a mile. For some reason, we women seem to think that we’re supposed to smell like Peaches & Creme or Warm Vanilla Sugar. (And men, I know you can be all about that cologne, too!)
News flash! We’re not.
Fragrance has completely taken over our lives. Everything has to have a delightful, synthetic scent to be attractive to consumers. But what no one talks about are the massive risks to your health that come with living in a fragrance fog.
A Toxic Chemical Cocktail
The ingredient that you’ll see on any label with a scent has been added is “fragrance”. The word sounds simple and benign. But the chemical cocktail encompassed by fragrance is exactly the opposite: complex and toxic. (You might also see the word “parfum”. It’s the same thing!)
95% of chemical fragrances are made from petroleum , aka crude oil. Not sure exactly what petroleum comes from? Benzene derivatives (carcinogenic), aldehydes, and toluene top the list. But there are many other known toxic chemicals that can come into play .
These chemicals are known to cause birth defects, nervous system problems, allergic reactions, and cancer.
“Fragrance” as an ingredient is a vague stand in for over 3,000 chemicals , any combination of which could be in a single product since regulation on listing and labeling what’s included as fragrance is nonexistent . The industry is self-regulated, so nobody is telling them what they can and can’t use .
And these chemicals (including known or suspected endocrine disruptors) get absorbed directly into your bloodstream.
That means that with each exposure, you’re putting carcinogens, allergens, respiratory irritants, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxic chemicals and environmental toxicants directly into your body full-force .
Symptoms of Fragrance Exposure
Short term? Fragrance exposure might cause headaches, brain fog, nausea, difficulty breathing .
In fact, 34% of people knowingly suffer at least one negative side effect after being exposed to fragrance . Migraines, skin irritation, respiratory problems, difficulty focusing, asthma attacks, and neurological problems are among the most common reactions to fragrance exposure .
While that sounds bad, the long term exposure side effects are actually much worse.
Cancer, autism, and birth defects  scrape the surface of what fragrance exposure can case. In fact, the Breast Cancer Fund lists avoiding fragrance as a top way to help yourself avoid getting breast cancer . And being exposed to chemicals in utero can affect babies for life .
Read Your Product Labels
Maybe you think that because you buy products with pretty labels or contain some natural ingredients that you’re in the clear. I hate to break it to you, but I would venture to say that every product in your bathroom and broom closet contains fragrance. You’re going to have to read the labels to know.
More than 95% of hair products contain fragrance. This includes shampoos, conditioners, and styling products .
The EWG partnered with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to do a study that found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name-brand fragrance products. Not a single chemical was listed on the label .
Anne Steinemann did a study on fragrance. Her group looked at 25 common, brand-name fragranced products: air fresheners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, disinfectants, dish detergents, all-purpose cleaners, soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorants, and shampoos .
In these products, they found 133 volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Each product averaged 17 VOCs.
Out of the 133 VOCs, 24 are classified as toxic or hazardous under federal law. And “green” products weren’t any better than their regular counterparts. Of the 133 VOCs, only 1 of them was listed on any label and only 2 of them were listed on any Safety Data Sheet .
Phthalates are another common fragrance ingredient linked to low testosterone, asthma, reproductive issues, and altered DNA in sperm .
Still not convinced? Just read this list of ingredients found in fragrance by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Which Products Contain Fragrance?
The simple answer is: all of them.
And just because a product isn’t supposed to be scented doesn’t mean that it’s fragrance-free. Make sure you read every label of products going on your body or into your air:
- Skin care products
- Dryer sheets
- Laundry detergent
- Dish detergent
- Cleaning products
- Air fresheners
- Wax melts
This is NOT an exhaustive list. But it should get the point across that fragrance is in EVERYTHING. Companies use synthetic scents because they’re cheaper than healthy alternatives like essential oils.
The Environmental Working Group is a good place to start if you need help wading through the ingredients in your products and finding good alternatives. They have an extensive searchable database that makes it super easy to find your products and see what’s in them.
Still not sure if your ingredients are in the clear? Just say no if there’s something you don’t recognize as 100% safe. Usually if I have to look it up, that’s already a big red flag anyway.
If you love your house smelling fresh but want to ditch the toxic chemicals, there are healthy alternatives to fragrance-filled products. My favorite are essential oils which you can easily diffuse in your space. You can also buy essential oil-scented candles and essential oil-based skin care products.