Humans have been obsessed with fragrance for a very long time. Recorded evidence showed the Egyptians using ointments and balms made from crushed plant material such as resins, bark and flowers. These preserved scents were honored in ceremony and reserved for the very rich. Exotic and aromatic botanicals were sought wide and far and became a valuable trading commodity.

Things began to change in the late 19th century and perfume makers began to replace some natural ingredients with synthetic alternatives, largely for profit gains but synthetic alternatives also offered new seductive aromas en mass. The scents also lasted longer due to synthetic fixatives and other chemicals.

Today The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has listed 3,059 substances used in fragrance compounds. Many of these ingredients have evidence linking them to adverse health effects including cancer, reproductive toxicity, allergies and skin sensitivities. [1] The problem is fragrance producers do not have to disclose ingredients to researchers, regulators and consumers. A fragrance is considered a ‘trade secret’ and exact ingredients do not have to be listed on a product, therefore consumers receive incomplete information regarding the ingredient list on most personal care products.

33% of Australians now report health issues when exposed to excessive fragrance not only in perfume but also air fresheners, cosmetics and cleaning supplies. [2] These adverse health effects may include, coughing, headaches, migraines, nausea or trouble breathing. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘fragrance free’, even products labelled as unscented may have fragrance added to mask the smell of other ingredients. [3]

Fragrance: A word representing a secret mixture of up to hundreds of ingredients- may contain sensitizers, allergens, respiratory irritants, carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, neurotoxic chemicals or environmental toxicants’ –Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, 2018

How to make the Switch

Read the ingredient list on your personal and household supplies. Words parfum and fragrance usually mean that they are synthetic compounds. Natural fragrance is usually derived from essential oils and manufacturers will usually state the scientific botanical name on the packaging. Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it is totally safe. Some essential oils are contra-indicated in pregnancy and for children under two. Always check with a healthcare professional if you are unsure and do a patch test on your skin if you are sensitive.

 

If you adore a personal scent, then opt for a natural perfume in a carrier oil that is safe for the skin such as fractionated coconut oil or jojoba. A good Nose or perfumer will start with a top note, middle note and finish with end notes. Essential oils also carry well in alcohol and can be sprayed as a mist. Hydrosols or floral waters are more subtle and lighter than perfumes and are produced by steam-distilling plant material such as rose petals. They are refreshing and can give a sense of calm when sprayed as a mist.

 

References:

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Fragrance [internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 June 4]. Available from: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/fragrance/

Steinemann A. Health and societal effects from exposure to fragranced consumer products [internet]. Preventative Medicine Reports; 2017 [cited 2019 June 2] Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335516301449

Breast Cancer Prevention Partners 2018, Right to know, exposing toxic fragrance chemicals in beauty, personal care and cleaning products [internet]. BCPP. September 2018 [cited 2019 June 4]. Available from: https://d124kohvtzl951.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/26092837/BCPP_Right-To-Know-Report_Secret-Toxic-Fragrance-Ingredients_9_26_2018.pdf