Fragrance is increasingly being avoided as one of the top ten ingredients in clean cosmetics due to its negative health implications. Commonly referred to as the 'next secondhand smoke', there is growing concern of the potential dangers posed by traditional fragrances.
In this article, we explore how chemists are redefining the boundaries of the fragrance term, what potentially hazardous ingredients to look out for, how regulation of fragrance is managed, and what consumers can do to avoid being misled. Ultimately, 'clean fragrance' is subjective and depends on what the individual consumer considers 'clean'. There is no simple, straightforward answer. By equipping ourselves with the right knowledge, we can make educated decisions about what fragrances we use and why.
In an effort to meet consumer demand for products containing fewer fragrances, chemists have resorted to deceptive marketing, isolating essential oil compounds, and only removing known hormone-disrupting irritants, such as phthalates, from formulas. However, there remains the challenge of identifying the exact chemical compound within fragrances that could be causing adverse reactions. As a trade secret, the full list of ingredients within a fragrance is legally protected from disclosure, making it difficult to pinpoint individual chemical compounds.
A widely-held misconception about fragrances is that they are natural. In reality, the term "fragrance" refers to a collection of synthetic chemicals designed to reproduce scents found in nature. This is done to trick the brain into thinking it is smelling a familiar scent. Additionally, the label "natural spray" on a fragrance bottle refers to the atomizer and not the ingredients. To bypass the requirement to list fragrance as an ingredient, companies have found an alternative way to obscure the distinction between natural and synthetic: isolating single scent compounds from essential oils.
For example, when smelling lavender essential oil, the main scent compound is linalool. As such, it is more cost effective to isolate and replicate this compound instead of using the whole natural essential oil. Yet, through this process, the compound is no longer considered natural, as it is now synthetic. This deception can be seen when compounds aren't completely listed on the ingredient list.
Phthalates, a well-known hormone endocrine disruptor, have been the focus of attention in relation to fragrances. DEP, DBP, and DEHP are the most commonly known phthalates, and are used primarily as plastic softeners in children's toys and lubricants in cosmetics. As a solvent and fixative, DEP is the most concentrated phthalate used in fragrance to enhance scent strength. Unfortunately, this is just one of thousands of trade-secreted chemicals in fragrance products that may pose a risk to our health.
As a clean beauty consumer, it is all too common to know that the public health implications of traditional beauty products often take a backseat to profits, with many potentially harmful ingredients being hidden behind the term 'fragrance', even if they are naturally derived. It is important to understand the potential risks of these synthetic chemicals, and to make informed decisions when selecting beauty products.
A more effective formulation of fragrance can be achieved through the use of safe synthetic ingredients. Fragrance that follows comprehensive and rigorous safety standards, such as those set by RIFM, IFRA, and PROP 65, is considered clean when formulated without phthalates, animal derivatives, antimicrobials, formaldehyde, and other questionable molecules. The fragrances in our soy wax candles are formulated to adhere to these standards, ensuring they are skin-friendly and safe for inhalation.
When shopping for beauty products, it is vital to consider the potential risks of synthetic chemicals in the product and to make conscious decisions when selecting items with fragrances. While traditional fragrances can be harmful, 'clean fragrance' is not necessarily free from synthetic, man-made ingredients. Ultimately, it comes down to what the individual considers 'clean'. With the growing awareness of the potential dangers posed by traditional fragrances, it is important to be mindful when purchasing products with fragrance.