Friends, I’m going to get up on my fragrance-free soapbox here for a minute if you don’t mind. But first, do not miss this important point: product developers are clever, consumers are busy, and greenwashing is everywhere.
Greenwashing in Skincare, Cosmetics, and Cleaners
Companies get away with greenwashing all the time. Greenwashing, a form of deceptive marketing used to persuade the public that a company’s products, aims, and policies are environmentally friendly, is illegal. Yet there are so many loopholes.
Organizations like Greenpeace are out to stop the practice of greenwashing. In 2009, they launched a campaign to help consumers make better choices. The best way for you to make an informed decision is to simply do the research into companies you support with your voting dollars.
Skincare products without fragrance are harder to find but with a bit of determination, you will succeed. Favor fragrance-free products that are vetted by a reliable third-party, and learn to look beyond the hype. Trust me, you can do it. I am a sucker for a beautiful label, but I have found that pictures of bamboo and vague words such as “natural” are meaningless.
Fragrance Ingredients and Toxic Chemicals
Let me state clearly if you want a product without FRAGRANCE, you will need to look for “fragrance-free” NOT “unscented.”
“Fragrance” is an umbrella term that companies use to hide synthetic chemicals that you are trying to avoid. Using the term “unscented” is beyond deceptive, it’s an outright lie! This trick originally provided perfume manufacturers the ability to conceal trade secrets. These loopholes were created only to protect their formula so that another company couldn’t duplicate their particular scent.
Fragrance is not just one thing; it’s a combination of many chemicals. So while the label might read “fragrance,” the product could be comprised of hundreds or thousands of different compounds. It stands to reason that this is why so often, people who experience allergic reactions to fragrances are unable to identify any one particular scent that triggers a reaction because there are so many.
Parfum manufacturers know this “fragrance loophole” in federal labeling law means that the ingredients added to provide a pleasant scent, or to mask a bad one, need only be listed under the generic term “fragrance.”
Fragrance-free products are free of artificial and natural scents, including essential oils, chemical or masking fragrance, musks, and other chemicals. Whereas, unscented products may contain chemicals that neutralize or mask the odors of other ingredients.
Hence many of us end up purchasing products that aren’t what we think they are.
Unintentionally Buying Products with Fragrance
Case in point: my husband purchased some trash bags that I could smell. I asked him if he knew that he bought bags with fragrance and he showed me the box clearly marked “unscented.” He had tried, but because of this clever trick on the label, his purchase was not a success.
The frustrating thing is, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I can smell these bags and it smells like perfume. I can also feel a particular sensation when I breathe too close to those bags. The explanation for this is simple, yet complex. They are treated with a “masking” fragrance.
In fact, unless you have an ultra-sensitive sense of smell, or multiple chemical sensitivities you may not be able to detect the poison that is laced throughout these products. Of course, you can search the ingredients list of cosmetic products, cleaners, and personal hygiene products looking for the offenders, but it can be difficult to decipher.
If you are like many consumers, you might not smell anything at all because your sense of smell is already inundated with all the fragrances in the products you use every day. But just because you can’t smell it, doesn’t mean it’s not causing you and the people around you harm. Most people become desensitized to the fragrance they wear every day. Now you know why some people wear “too much” of their favorite scent.
That is also a problem, along with plug-in and spray the room type fresheners, cleaners laden with fragrance to make people believe they have achieved “clean” when what they have done is polluted their space. Yes, polluted, because these chemicals ARE toxic.
Phthalates in fragrance
Masking fragrances are full of toxic phthalates, which in simple terms helps plastic be plastic. “These endocrine-disrupting “plasticizer” chemicals are everywhere in modern society. EWG helped get several of them banned in children’s toys, but they are still widely used chemicals that pollute almost everyone’s bodies.” 1
Phthalates are typically found in personal care and household items as one of the fragrance ingredients used as carriers to help make the scent last longer. The same thing that makes them work as a carrier also works against us, making it easy for phthalates to enter the human body once applied to the skin.
Some of these products are regulated as cosmetics by FDA. If a product is intended to be applied to a person’s body, it’s a cosmetic under the law.
While some fragrance ingredients belong to various product categories and are regulated differently, depending on how the product is intended to be used.
Research has shown time and again that phthalates are carcinogens. Phthalates are linked to testicular cancer among others. “Masking fragrance” has a stronger effect on people with multiple chemical sensitivities (like me) than on normal people (like you) who are constantly swimming in fragrance.
These fragrance chemicals can lead to allergies, asthma, headaches, burning in the throat, nausea. These are just a few of the side effects many people get from products, including the “unscented” ones. It should be illegal, but due to companies who prey on consumers who are unaware, we have to suffer.
Fragrance: A Matter of Public Health
This is not a personal preference, this is a matter of public health. If you ever spend an entire day with a headache because someone drenches their body in fragrant soaps or “unscented body wash” you can relate. Or if like many, a business you visited has multiple plug-in type “air-fresheners,” that were so toxic you were sick for the rest of the day, you will understand why this is a matter of public health. Please understand, even if you do not experience these noticeable symptoms, your health is being affected by these toxic chemicals.
Of course, we know that people who use these toxic ingredients in the form of synthetic fragrance probably don’t know or do it on purpose. The health effects are still negative and can include:
- breast cancer
- male breast development (from endocrine disruptors)
- respiratory diseases
- trigger asthma
- migraines and headaches
- nervous system
- birth defects
How Can I Be Fragrance-Free
The first step is to start making informed buying decisions. You can check the environmental working group (EWG) for a rating on any personal care products while you are shopping. Product labels may not have detailed information, however, EWG’s skin deep app will help you unravel the mystery. Using the app, scan the product barcode to get detailed information about every ingredient from the database.
Use this form on the EPA website to search for products, just check the box “fragrance-free” and begin your search. My husband says it’s not easy to find, but there is a seal you can look for — the “safer-choice” seal. It’s two leaves with little people inside a house. I have spent countless hours researching ingredients, irritant types, and alternative products.
Fragrance Chemicals Embedded in Clothing
Switching from a scented or even “unscented” (remember it has a masking fragrance) laundry detergent doesn’t mean those scents will be undetectable right away. The fragrance in laundry detergent and dryer sheets will be infused into the fibers of your clothing.
In addition, deodorant, perfume (parfum), lotions, and other products that you have used on your body that come into contact with your clothing, will stay in the fabric for several cycles of washing.
If you are affected by fragrance in clothing and need to remove it, adding baking soda and fragrance-free detergent to your laundry will help get rid of some of the fragrance. This may take multiple runs through your washer. Soaking the clothes overnight in baking soda and water or white vinegar and water can help.
Guests in your home may be using perfume or even lotion with fragrance. Even well-meaning friends who avoid applying perfumes may have washed their clothing with laundry detergent with strong chemicals and fragrances which can make a person with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities feel sick. This is another reason why I use an air purifier to remove any lingering toxic chemicals in my home.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics works to reduce exposure to harmful ingredients in personal care products, including those hidden in fragrance. You can get involved by visiting their site SafeCosmetics.org.
Cleaning without fragrance
Make homemade cleaners with baking soda, vinegar, and lemon; or use natural unscented cleaners, or water-only steam-cleaners to clean your home. One alternative that many people use instead of chemical fragrance is essential oils. Essential oils may be problematic for people with severe sensitivity.
For those who can tolerate them, essential oils can be used to make DIY deodorant, cleaning products, skincare formulas, and as a natural fragrance so that you are able to avoid toxic chemicals. It is important to note, however, that it is possible to be allergic to essential oils.
Some “natural” cleaning companies have a mixture of essential oils and synthetic fragrances, such as Mrs. Myers. Learn to spot these tactics and don’t buy into it.
Manufacturers want you to believe that fragrance = clean. Please do not fall for the lies.
Clean has no odor
Removing offensive odors does not require perfume! It is possible to remove stinky smells in gym clothes, shoes, pet bedding, etc. without leaving behind a chemical fragrance. I use an odor eliminator by Enviroklenz. I’ve been using products from this company since I treated my home for mold many years ago.
OdorKlenz products are made from safe and effective earth minerals which are designed to remove the most stubborn odors from your sports gear. As OdorKlenz SPORT products come into contact with the offending odors on your athletic gear or circulating in your gym bag or locker, the product’s chemistry attaches to and reacts with the pollutants or destroys/neutralizes the pollutant. OdorKlenz products contain no masking agents or perfumes that leave behind residual scents, making it ideal for eliminating sweat and body odors on all activewear and sports gear.
Fragrance, the new second-hand smoke
My sister wore perfume. Anytime I got into a car with her I would feel nauseated and have a headache for hours afterward. I have friends who get sick when exposed to any and all fragrances. Where I live it is not uncommon to walk outside and be overpowered by fragrances from my neighbors using dryer sheets simultaneously in our apartment complex.
Just like the population used to be bombarded with second-hand smoke because smokers could light up anywhere, the chemically sensitive have nowhere to go to get away from these toxins. Some doctors’ offices, especially allergy and asthma specialists are asking patients not to wear perfume to visits for the comfort of others.
Indoor air pollution is real. If you own a business, please consider your patrons’ health and stop using plug-in air fresheners. Naturally remove stubborn odors and fragrances, switch to an odor eliminator and let everyone breathe a collective breath of fresh air.