Clean Living

Fragrance – The New Second Hand Smoke

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I've mentioned fragrance before in my affordable green beauty post, but there are lots of other everyday products that contain fragrance.

Think about all the fragrances you're surrounded by on a daily basis: perfume, soap, candles, plugins, room sprays, cleaning products, laundry detergent and softener, feminine care products, markers, and the list goes on. Everywhere we go we are bombarded by these artificial scents or told that our belongings and homes should always have strong “clean” scents.

It's actually quite surprising that more and more products are coming out with fragrances considering that a 2014 study found that of patients whose migraines were triggered by ‘odours’, nearly 76 per cent named perfume as the cause. I'm guessing they are just doing an amazing job at marketing.

I was recently shopping for fabric softener (because the white vinegar just wasn't cutting it anymore) and had a really hard time finding one without any fragrance.

It is nice that things smell clean and pretty, but does everything have to have a strong scent? After all, fresh, clean air doesn't smell like anything.

Toxic Fragrance

The dangers of fragrance and the fact that they bother many have recently become such an issue that “secondhand fragrance” is now a thing and some places have created “fragrance-free zones”. I used to work at a school for students with special needs, and we were not allowed to wear or use any scented products, because of the effect they had on the children.

Search up fragrance on the Environmental Working Group's website and you'll find lots of links to studies and articles on its negative impacts.

I've seen the quote “When you see the word fragrance, think chemical shit storm” floating around and it just sums up the issues with fragrance so well.

Fragrance can be any combination of thousands of synthetic chemicals which do not have to be disclosed or tested for safety. “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.” More specifically, 3,163 ingredients hide behind the word “fragrance”. And of those, 1 in 20 earned a high hazard score in their database. High hazard chemicals are those which have been shown to have a negative impact on health, such as carcinogens, allergens, and endocrine disruptors.

The Environmental Working Group also found that up to 72% of products with fragrance as an ingredient contained phthalates, which are known endocrine disruptors (aka they interfere with hormones and can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders).

More concerning, as much as 95% of the chemicals used in developing fragrances are derived from petrochemicals, which according to the EPA are linked to cancer, birth defects, nervous system disorders, asthma, and allergies.

Swap to healthier options

This doesn't mean you have to ditch all scented products for life. You'll just have to make some changes to avoid fragrances.

Luckily, there are lots of companies who are bucking the trend and using safer ingredients to scent their products.

You want to find products that use plant-based ingredients to scent their products, like essential oils. And if you're not sure, look up the product on the Think Dirty App and you'll see right away if it's safe or not. Don't fall for the word “natural” on the label because natural doesn't mean anything.

I'll list a few safe swaps here, but you can also find more in the shop section of the blog.

Body care – 100% Pure, Flourish

Candles – Skylar

Cleaning products – Branch Basics

Perfume – Petite Histoire (my favorite),  Tsi-la, My Daughter Fragrances, Pour le Monde, Skylar

For scenting the home, diffuse essential oils instead of air fresheners.

I don't think anything else needs to be scented, but if you're looking for something else in particular let me know.

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24 Comments

  1. Such an interesting article. Both my grandma and father have allergies to a lot of fragrances. I do too, but not to their extreme. They can’t even go into Bath and Body Works!

  2. When I was in college I did a paper in chemistry about be perfumes used in everyday products and I’ve never been able to use them since. They are horrible for our health and the environment. Now I opt for either unscented items or make my own with essential oils.

    1. They really are terrible. I have gotten used to not always smelling like something and I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

  3. Such an eye opening article! And, I totally agree with some places being “fragrance-free!” One time, while I was pregnant, I was stuck next to an older lady on an airplane with the STRONGEST perfume ever, and I struggled not throwing up on her the entire 2 hour flight. By the end of the flight, I was so close to passing out I needed help down the loading ramp thing! I guess you just never know how someone will react to your fragrance, so in confined areas go easy, haha!

    1. Wow that sounds like a terrible experience. It’s bad enough even when not pregnant lol. Strong scents in confined places is just not a good idea.

  4. Great post. Many people are sensitive to scents and you’re right, they are everywhere. It takes some forethought and planning but using more of the scent free products is better for everyone.

  5. It’s about time attention was paid to the noxious effects of many of the perfumes out there. I always thought it was the whale oil or whatever that set off my sinuses but it could be chemicals too. Thanks for suggesting some great alternatives!

  6. A lot of people are sensitive to fragrance – including me! It’s always nice to hear when someone is considerate of that. 🙂

    1. I used to love perfumes and candles but since I ditched them now I’m sensitive to strong scents and can’t go near a Bath and Body Works or Abercrombie.

  7. I tell my husband to get rid of his cologne all the time! I have been using safe, all natural scents for a long time now to stay away from all the synthetic toxic chemicals in standard perfumes!

  8. It’s really important to be conscious of how fragrance impacts others. I don’t have any particular sensitivities but I know folks who do!

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