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The Trouble with Fragrance

Do you know what's hiding under the term "fragrance" listed on the ingredients label of your favorite products?

It is human nature to enjoy things that smell nice. While some of our favorite scents come from natural sources like flowers or fresh morning air, much of what we interpret as having a pleasant scent is a synthetic, man-made, manufactured chemical cocktail created in a lab.

Before I learned the facts about fragrance, I loved walking down the laundry detergent aisle at the grocery store and breathing in the scent of "fresh laundry". I would soak my laundry in fabric softener, lather up with a fragrant body wash, and spritzed on my favorite perfume.

Fragrance goes by many names, such as, "parfum", "essential oil blend", "scent", and "aroma". According to the FDA, there are even products labeled as "unscented" or "free and clear" that contain fragrance because the manufacturer adds it to mask the naturally occurring odors of other ingredients without giving it a noticeable scent.

The marketplace is filled with products containing fragrance:

  • carpet fresheners

  • dish soap

  • dryer sheets

  • fabric softeners

  • household cleaners

  • laundry detergents

  • room fresheners

  • and many more

It is also in many personal care products, and the average American woman uses more than a dozen fragrance-containing products every day.

  • cologne

  • deodorant

  • feminine hygiene products

  • hair care products

  • lotion

  • make-up

  • nail polish & nail polish remover

  • perfume

  • shaving cream

  • soaps and body wash

What is fragrance, and why is it harmful?

When you see "fragrance" on a product label, that single word could represent anywhere from a dozen to a hundred different ingredients. Most of which are derived from petrochemicals.

According to the Environment Working Group's website:

"When you see "fragrance" on a personal care product's label, read it as "hidden chemicals." A major loophole in FDA's federal law lets manufacturers of products like shampoo, lotion, and body wash include nearly any ingredient in their products under the name "fragrance" without actually listing the chemical."

The actual composition of fragrance is protected as a "trade secret", so the individual ingredients are not required to be disclosed. Perhaps the biggest secret is the more than 10,000 known chemicals are used to create fragrance, of which more than 3,000 are linked to serious health effects. These include solvents, stabilizers, masking agents, UV-absorbers, propellants, viscosity controllers, preservatives, and dyes.

Just a few examples of toxic chemicals commonly found in fragrance include:

  • Phthalates

  • Formaldehyde

  • Parabens

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

These toxic chemicals are linked to:

  • Anxiety

  • Allergies

  • Asthma

  • Autism

  • Auto-immune disorders

  • Birth defects

  • Cancer

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Central nervous system damage

  • Congenital disabilities

  • Depression

  • Diabetes

  • Dizziness

  • Endocrine disruption

  • Fatigue

  • Gastrointestinal problems

  • Headaches

  • Liver, lung & kidney damage

  • Migraines

  • Nausea & vomiting

  • Reproductive & genital defects

  • Skin allergens & irritation

  • Sperm damage & decreased fertility

  • and other chronic health problems

Ways to protect yourself

Your skin is your largest organ, and what you put on it goes into your bloodstream. Be diligent about reading product labels and avoid products that give nothing further than "fragrance" or "parfum". Here are a few more tips:

  1. Avoid air fresheners.

  2. Choose fragrance-free products, even if it is a "natural" product.

  3. Look for natural scents that are plant-based or 100% pure essential oils.

  4. Make your beauty and cleaning products.


Fragrance is everywhere and hard to avoid, but living a fragrance-free life is not impossible. I hope you found this post informative, and are inspired to live a healthier, fragrance-free life.

Made with love in Redmond, Oregon


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