| 11.05.2018

Toxic Fragrance In Cosmetics - Lesson 2


Mother’s Day is just around the corner. With the go to gift of choice - perfume. After all, everyone loves fragrance, don’t they? Even if you do, after you get a whiff of this post, you may think twice. 

One of the innate functions of our olfactory system is to lead us away from imminent danger. Those of us who have fragrance allergies are potentially the lucky ones. It means our inbuilt early warning system is in working order.  

Our reaction to smell is immediate and rapid. Our noses are so incredibly sensitive that just a few tiny molecules can reach our bloodstream and send smell chemical signals to our brain in a split second.  

It’s no accident when we’re pregnant our olfactory senses are heightened or that people who are unwell can develop hypersensitivity to smell. A reaction may range from headaches to migraines, dizziness, nausea and vomiting to breathing difficulties and obstructed airways. No wonder some people may think you stink! 

Historically, the art of perfumery was confined to royalty and the upper echelons of society to mask the odour of unwashed bodies and clothing. Today, the guise of secrecy and intrigue still surrounds perfume. We all desire to smell alluring and unique, especially to the opposite sex.  

Our obsession with smell has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry at the likely cost of our health with the end user and the environment paying a hefty, unseen price. The perfumes and fragrances of modern day are far removed from their origin. 

These days, fragrance is a dirty word. Fragrances are ubiquitous and not just in perfumes. They’re sneaky little synthetic molecules found everywhere from underwear to garbage liners to new cars. To shampoos, laundry detergents, bath products, soaps, candles, air fresheners and cleaning sprays.  

When you see the word "fragrance” listed on a cosmetic label - not just perfume but anything from deodorants, moisturisers, shampoos, body lotions, body washes, lipstick - in fact any product that smells or has flavouring added, it could contain any number of 3,000 unlisted chemicals.

Fragrances are chemical cocktails that contain any number of undisclosed ingredients in untested combinations and unknown quantities. We are exposed to fragrance in any number of ways and bombarded on a daily basis and not just from the products we choose.

They're pumped through the airways in department and retail stores and hotels. The little cardboard cutouts swinging from the rear-view mirror of our cars and froufrou dollies perched on the cistern are not so innocuous after all. Why, you can even plug contraptions into the wall to pump out noxious fumes on demand. All these smells combined together and encapsulated in enclosed unventilated environments with no available data on the long term impact to the humans.

When you see the word "fragrance” listed on a cosmetic label  - it could contain any number of 3,000 unlisted chemicals.

Just because something isn’t listed on a label doesn’t mean a product is "safe”. In fact, it’s the opposite. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics commissioned independent lab tests on 17 top selling fragrances and found an average of 14 chemicals in each. 

The term "fragrance” that was originally implemented to keep perfume formulations a trade secret has instead become synonymous for "a toxic dumping ground to hide ingredients that manufacturers don’t want to disclose and don’t want you to know about”. Compounds that have been associated with allergic reactions to hormone disruption and potential carcinogens that accumulate in the human tissue include: Phthalates, parabens, solvents, plasticisers, chemical sunscreens, stabilisers, preservatives and dyes.

Fragrance is the number one cause of allergic dermatitis. One fragrance alone can contain hundreds of different components, any one of which may trigger an allergic reaction. In addition, fragrance often contains highly toxic aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene or benzene derivatives. This only serves to strengthen the need to use the best natural skin care ingredients. Non toxic and organic skin care can prevent many of the maladies listed here from affecting you and your loved ones. If the manufacturer hides skincare ingredients, then there is most likely a reason why and you can almost guarantee that its not good. 

The term "fragrance” means a toxic dumping ground to hide ingredients that manufacturers don’t want to disclose and don’t want you to know about”.


These won’t be listed on any label but you need to know about them: 
  1. Diethyl Phthalate (DEP) – Is a plasticiser utilised in fragrance to make the scent last and stay adhered to your skin. It’s a known and powerful endocrine disruptor that has been linked to reproductive deformities in male infants. In human epidemiological studies, it has also been linked to sperm damage. You can read more about that here.
  2. Oxybenzone – Is added to perfumes to prevent oxidation and the colour from changing if exposed to UV sunlight. It’s a chemical sunscreen that is a known endocrine disruptor and skin irritant. 
  3. Synthetic Musks (HHCB, AHTN) – These are found in abundance in perfumes and laundry detergents. They don’t break down. They don’t go away. They bioaccumulate in the environment in our waterways which means the whole eco-system is affected. Once musks get into an animal, they are stored in the fatty tissue and there they stay. What scientists are now discovering is that although these synthetic musks don’t exist in nature, the body responds to them as if they are its own hormones.
  4. Formaldehyde and Ultrafine Particles (UFP’s) – Are created and generated by fragrance components reacting with ozone found indoors and are then inhaled as secondary air pollution.

 So just how much are we are absorbing and what is a safe level of exposure?


That question is not easily or readily answerable. So, the safest stance is to minimise exposure and demand transparency so that you can make an informed choice. Basically, anything that is scented is adding to our accumulative exposure. So, the maxim, "the dose make the poison” does not account for much other than flippancy and ignorance.  

In one of the biggest disclosure initiatives to date, as of 2019, Proctor and Gamble one of the largest manufacturers of personal care and household cleaning products will begin to list their fragrance components on some of their product lines. This is not a decision that would have been made lightly and raises a red flag that we are amid a growing stench of potential litigation.


My aim is not to be sensationalist or fear mongering. It’s about your right to make informed choices, supporting wellness and serving the environment. If you want to stay as safe as possible when using cosmetics, try to opt for naturally and organic skin care containing unadulterated essential oils for that burst of fragrance.

Are you a perfume lover or hater? How do you deal with fragrance allergies? Leave a comment and you'll be in the running to win a copy of my upcoming book Truth in Beauty. You can pre-order your signed copy today. 


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