Smells - from fresh baked chocolate chip cookies to a baby's dirty diaper, smells and scents create a physical reaction, evoke memories, and ultimately play a huge part in our sensory lives. Right now, you could probably list off five different perfumes and match five friends to each scent. The intense emotional link to the sense of smell is not missed on fragrance producers, makeup companies, skin care lines, or hair product brands. While we all have our favorite perfume, and made our parents' eyes water with the amount of lotions, body washes, and sprays we doused ourselves in during our adolescent years, we probably have never stopped to think about what it is we are actually using on our bodies - and how it affects our health.
We're all grown up now, and obviously much, much, more mature. Let's investigate what the term "fragrance" really means, since it's on virtually all commercial bath and beauty products.
Why is "fragrance free" better for you?
In an article, entitled "You Asked: Is Perfume Bad For Me?" on Time.com, author Markham Heid, explores common side effects of fragrances, and discusses deeper problems with fragrance labeling. One expert quoted, Dr. Heather Patisaul, a North Carolina State University biologist, describes the fragrance predicament:
“Look at your perfume bottle and read the ingredients,” she suggests. “It reads like a chemistry book.” You can get lost among all the benzyls and ethyls. But it’s the ingredient listed simply as “fragrance” or “parfum” that worries public health researchers like Patisaul. “Those terms are a catchall for 10,000 different ingredients,” she says.
According to Dr. Patisaul, it's almost impossible to know the exact ingredients you're using when using a product that contains "fragrance." This is due to trade-secret laws that allow cosmetic, bath and beauty, and perfume companies from giving up the exact formula, and ingredients, in their special scent. Lovely. Even better, Dr. Patisaul suggests, when using products that contain fragrance, the product most likely contains phthalates - petroleum based chemicals commonly found in perfume, body lotions, deodorants, and cosmetics.
Right about now, you're probably rationalizing your excessive use of all that oh-so-sexy glossy goopy lip balm, and thinking, "Alright, so I'm putting a bit of petroleum on my body (and looking good!)...what's the big deal?"
Fave Fragrance Bummer Alert in 3, 2, 1 ... Phthalates, especially diethyl phthalate (DEP), have been linked to hormone and testosterone disruption. This can result in developmental problems and disorders among newborns, and thus is a pretty big concern for women who are pregnant. DEP may also lead to impaired lung function and lowering sperm count - developing adolescent men are at a higher risk. DEP's effect on women has been linked to polycystic ovarian syndrome (hormone imbalances, problems with conception, and irregular periods).
Since cosmetic and perfume companies don't have to disclose their complete list of ingredients, there is no definite way to know exactly what you are spraying, smearing, or dabbing on your body when the product contains "fragrance." While the effects of chemicals like phthalates are still being studied, you can lower your risk by avoiding products with added fragrance.
Organic beauty products, and perfumes, often use essential oils and other natural fragrances to create sweet smelling products. While they may not be able to create a "birthday cake" scent (maybe that's a good thing anyway?) they can definitely get you smelling good, and offer a healthy alternative to the mysterious chemical melting pot of "fragrance."
At Pura Vida Body, we never add any fragrance to our organic coconut coffee body scrub. The organic arabica coffee and organic coconut oil naturally smell amazing. You wont miss any added fragrance while scrubbing, as the molasses scent of fresh brewed coffee and savory sweet coconut fill the air.
When brands keep their ingredients organic and all natural, there's no need to add any fragrance to beef up the smell. It already smells fantastic, naturally.