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Synthetic fragrance, the new second hand smoke

Artificial fragrance in a bottle

Fragrance is called “the new second-hand smoke.” Like cigarettes, fragrance is harmful to the health of users and bystanders, its toxic effect lingering for hours after initial use.


Over the past fifty years, 80 to 90 percent of fragrance ingredients have been synthesized from petroleum and some of the commonly found harmful chemicals in fragranced products include acetone, phenol, toluene, benzyl acetate, and limonene.”

Only 800 of the approximately 4,000 chemicals used as fragrances have been tested for toxicity, either alone or in combination with others. These chemicals are so bad that “the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has grouped fragrances with insecticides, heavy metals, and solvents as categories of chemicals that should be given high priority for neurotoxicity testing.” (There’s Lead In Your Lipstick, Gill Deacon).

Full of toxic petroleum- and coal-derived synthetic chemicals, 'fragrance' is a catchall term for whatever secret ingredients manufacturers want to add.

Natural vs. Synthetic Fragrances

Synthetic Frangrances
Did you know that over 60% of what you put on your skin, the largest organ on your body, gets absorbed into your blood stream? And unlike your kidneys and liver that act as your body’s filter, the skin is all on its own. 95% of the chemicals in most commercial fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum and natural gas, known as petrochemicals. On average, 80% of fragrance formulations are comprised of these chemicals and in some cases, 100% of a formula can be synthetic.

Skin absorbs these man-made chemicals in a few ways: by direct application, by contact with fragranced items, and by exposure to air containing fragrances and that can accumulate in your body organs. They can trigger allergic reactions, migraines, asthma attacks, nausea, eczema, and a whole host of other sensitivities. There are recommendations for pregnant women to refrain from wearing artificial scents.

To protect trade secrets, companies are permitted by the FDA to withhold fragrance ingredients, so consumers can’t rely on labels to know what hazards may lurk inside their bottle of perfume. That gives companies the freedom to load some fragrances with secret chemicals, sensitizers, potential hormone disruptors and chemicals not assessed for safety. Some of the most talked about ingredients of concern in fragrances are:

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• Parabens- a commonly used synthetic preservatives in many fragrances, they can interfere with the production and release of hormones.

• Phthalates- this popular fragrance preservative is usually highly concentrated in most commercial perfumes. A known carcinogen, health effects may include damage to liver/kidneys, birth defects, decreased sperm counts and early breast development in girls and boys.

• Synthetic Musks- studies have shown that several types of synthetic musks not only may disrupt hormones, but traces have been found in: fat tissue, breast milk, body fat, umbilical cord blood, both fresh and marine water samples, air, wastewater and sludge.

So why synthetics? Many artificial perfumes do contain natural, essential oils but typically it is a small percentage. While naturals are very expensive and rare vs. synthetics, there are certain notes that you just can’t extract from nature. This means that the fragrance synthetic library is huge and less limited than the naturals giving perfume companies more options to create products. Man-made fragrances also have stronger staying power than naturals due to the chemical preservatives, which can overpower many.

Instead of products full of synthetic fragrance try using essential oils.

Essential Oils

Essential oils (I only use and highly recommend Young Living because of their Seed to Seal promise of purity) are a safe alternative to products made with synthetic fragrance.

Natural Fragrances
Natural fragrances are not overpowering and will stay within a few feet of your body. Basically, when you leave the room, so will your fragrance.

Without harsh chemicals, natural fragrances are also more eco-friendly than our synthetic counterparts whose chemicals can be an environmental problem. You are getting nature’s gifts in its purest form. People with chemical sensitivities won’t be as bothered like they are with synthetics and the color of the fragrance is provided by the color of nature.