Fragrance Isn’t So Positive Anymore

It’s everywhere. Depending on season and conditions, fragrance can tell us what’s in bloom or what part of town we’re in. The problem is, fragrance and scent are more than just powerful triggers of memory. When they’re synthetically derived, they’re also the source of short-term irritation and long-term health problems. In fact, throughout the skincare and scented products industries, synthetic and artificial fragrances have become the new secondhand smoke, not just affecting the person using them, but everyone around them, and in certain cases, everyone following behind them.

Two vials of essential oils lay aesthetically among sprigs of rosemary and slices of orange, lime and lemon.

Not a Perfect World

In the world of soap and skincare, “fragrance” no longer applies to any scent or aroma. It applies specifically to synthetically derived ones. According to the National Academy of Sciences, around 95% of chemical ingredients used in synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum, or crude oil. Among those ingredients are benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and phthalates (shown to disrupt hormonal activity and linked to liver and breast cancer).

refinery at night

What It Used To Mean

Fragrance didn’t used to be like this. For differing cultures over thousands of years, fragrance and its ingredients have been associated with medicinal applications and healing. That’s still true where essential oils and aromatherapy are the focus.

But in the world of pervasive synthetic scents – the world of dryer sheets, air fresheners, scented candles, and odor-controlling garbage bags – more and more the associations are with negative health possibilities: migraines, allergies, skin rashes, breathing problems, and chronic fatigue. And those are just the immediate issues. Long-term effects are hard to nail down, but the possibilities aren’t good: cancer, diabetes and obesity. Fetal exposure has been linked to autism, ADHD, and neurological disorders. Continued exposure to children when they’re young – through synthetics scents that have found their ways into bed linens, pajamas and everyday clothes – has been linked to developmental problems in breathing and disease resistance.

But We Can Find Out What to Avoid, Right?

The short answer is, “no.” That is, unless you decide to avoid all commercially produced scented products, including perfume and soap, you won’t find complete ingredients on a product label. That’s because American manufacturers aren’t required to reveal complete ingredients, even the ingredients known to be toxic. Recipes are regarded as proprietary, and in the world of scented products, the rights of companies to avoid theft of recipes take precedence over the rights of consumers to avoid exposing themselves to potentially damaging ingredients. There is legislation brewing at both the state and federal levels to change that situation and require full transparency. However, the opposition is strong, well-funded, and very corporate.

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