Smell is powerful. It can trigger memories, both good and bad, it can connect us with one another, it can keep us away, it can alert us to danger, it can make our mouths start watering.
That’s why fragrance is such a big player in the beauty world. However, much of what we smell in the products we use each day, comes from synthetic fragrances, which the American Academy of Dermatology considers as the biggest cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis – aka –skin irritation.
And that’s not the only problem. Synthetic fragrance can also lead to:
- Headaches & Migraines
- Upset Stomach
- Itchy Skin
- Sneezing & Uncontrollable coughing
- Watery Eyes
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database list “fragrance” as high or moderate on their scale of concerns, mainly because that term carries a whole lot of unknowns.
Here’s an excerpt:
About FRAGRANCE: The word "fragrance" or "parfum" on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.
The problem is FDA regulation allows just the simple term “fragrance” to be included on ingredient listings, even though that one word can include a host of other ingredients including parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde and petroleum by-products. The reasoning looks to protect proprietary recipes from being ripped off by competitors, but the result is ingredient listings that conceal potentially irritating additives.
For those without specific allergies this may not be a big issue, but particularly for those with allergies/sensitivities, it can make it virtually impossible to find suitable skin, body and personal care products.
What’s even worse, products labeled “unscented” may still include certain fragrances added to mask the natural scent of the formulation. So what can you do to steer clear from synthetic fragrances?
Source Vitál Apothecary Tip: Look for “fragrance free” when trying to avoid allergies associated with scent. But remember, fragrance free may not mean there is no smell. The truth is everyone is different and even products claiming to be “unscented”, “fragrance free” and “allergy tested” can still be irritating to some.
It’s also important to note that “fragrance” may only indicate synthetic scents added to either mask, deodorize or perfume a product. For example, pure essential oils will add their aromas to products without technically being considered as a fragrance.
At Source Vitál, our Unscented products do not contain any essential oils, aromatherapy or synthetic fragrance. They are simple blends that are suitable to most people who struggle with sensitivity to scent and allergens.
Synthetic vs. Natural Fragrance
As mentioned above, not all fragrance is bad. Natural scents that come from plant botanicals, not only smell great but they also provide benefits for the skin, body and mind. Essentially, this is aromatherapy. But in the beauty, cosmetic and personal care industries, fragrance is usually synonymous with a blend of synthetic ingredients.
Like the ADA, it is our belief that many of the irritations people associate with cosmetics comes from the scent. We never use synthetic fragrances in any of our formulations. All you get is the natural aromas from the 100% pure essential oils, vegetal oils and whole plant botanicals. Our smell is light, clean and refreshing – never harsh! One of the first things we hear from new visitors in our showroom is, “it smells so good in here!”
So if you want to avoid irritating synthetic fragrances what should you look for?
#1 Strong Aromas
Think of someone wearing a lot of perfume or cologne. You can smell them before you see them and even after they leave the room, the scent lingers behind. Potent smells like this are a big clue that it’s from a synthetic source.
Synthetics are so pervasive in today’s society that we’ve been brainwashed into what certain things smell like. Think of the smell of coconut, strawberry or melon scented candles, lotions and body washes. Do they smell similar to a fresh strawberry, coconut or melon, yes, but it’s more of an inspiration, a much stronger, more excessive version than the real thing.
#2 Read Ingredient Listings
The number one telltale sign is the word “fragrance”. Some companies have started to list fragrance followed by a parenthesis listing the ingredients that were used. This is a way to lend some transparency to the process. However “fragrance” is a likely indicator that synthetics are used to create the aroma. Also beware of “perfume” included in the ingredient listing.
Natural fragrances instead will come from the essential oils of flowers, trees and plants. They should include an International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, or INCI name, often followed by the common name. For example, Lavender’s INCI name is lavendula angustifolia, Rose is rosa centifolia, Aloe Vera is aloe barbadensis.
Phthalates are chemicals often found in plastics, solvents, synthetic fragrances, air fresheners and nail polish. Some studies have indicated phthalates as endocrine disrupters that can cause reproductive issues like low sperm count. They’ve also been linked to asthma and other allergies.
The phthalates used most in synthetic fragrance are diethyl phthalate, diethyl hexyl phthalate and bibutyl phthalate. These may also appear on ingredient listings as DEP, DEHP and DBP.
When you start to move away from unnatural fragrances you will be amazed at how your nose changes. Most people tend to develop a more acute sense of smell, easily picking out artificial fragrances.
Scents you used to love like laundry detergent, dryer sheets and home fragrances may even become intolerable. But that’s ok, there are thousands of natural alternatives just waiting to be sniffed out!
What are some of your favorite natural aromas? Tell us in the comments section below.