How to Avoid Synthetic Fragrances in Your Cosmetics

by Sarah Ban

We all want to smell fresh (and so clean clean!). In ancient times, people used natural oils as perfumes, but these days fragrances are often made of a variety of chemicals. Most are synthetic, or lab-created, and can cause allergic reactions in some people. But avoiding synthetic fragrances is possible—it just requires some knowledge and diligence. Read on to discover more about the nature of synthetic fragrances and how you can remove them from your beauty regimen.

The Dangers of Synthetic Fragrances

There are different types of synthetic fragrances. Full synthetics are made almost completely from petroleum byproducts. Semi-synthetics may contain a combination of synthetic and natural materials.

Objectively speaking, synthetic fragrances do have a few pros, including the fact that they last longer than natural fragrances and are often cheaper to produce and, thus, to purchase. Synthetic fragrances can also be better for the environment, as in the case of sandalwood. Demand for this ingredient led to massive deforestation in India, but synthetic manufacturing of the scent has allowed the forests to flourish once again.

However, there are also dangers to synthetic fragrances. They can cause allergic reactions in certain people, including rashes and skin irritation. Some fragrances can even cause dizziness and headaches.

Studies conducted on synthetic fragrances have further shown that some of the ingredients in fragrances can be potentially hazardous or even toxic.  Phthalates are a common fragrance ingredient that may be cause for concern. Diethyl phthalate, the one used in fragrances, has been linked to hormone disruption and developmental disorders, particularly in newborn males. It’s not yet known how much phthalate exposure is especially harmful, but for consumers wishing to be on the safer side, synthetic fragrances should certainly be avoided.

Moreover, because synthetic fragrances last a long time, they can remain on the skin and body and in the atmosphere for many days or weeks. One of the major issues with synthetic fragrances is that they are virtually everywhere. Laundry detergents, soaps, hand sanitizers, body lotions, deodorants, shampoos and conditioners, dishwashing liquid, air fresheners and fabric softeners are among the many, many products that contain synthetic fragrances.

Another issue is that there is no law that pushes companies to disclose the chemicals used in their fragrances. This is due to the fact that a “trade-secret” rule allows fragrance producers to get away with keeping their ingredients to themselves in order to avoid theft by competing companies. This has ultimately become a loophole that allows companies to keep consumers in the dark about the chemicals used in their fragrances.

How to Avoid Synthetic Fragrances

1. Always read the label, and avoid anything that contains “fragrance” in the ingredients list (unless the company clearly indicates the fragrance is from natural sources like high-quality essential oils and other plant-derived materials). You will usually find it at the end or near the end of the list.

2. Shop brands that feature plant-based essential oils or 100% natural fragrances to scent their products. At LATHER, all of our products are free of synthetic fragrances and instead rely on essential oils like peppermint, clove and thyme, and other plant materials, to provide a natural and refreshing scent.

3. Get creative with essential oils. For example, you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to water, put it in a spray bottle and spray it around the house to use as a natural air freshener. You can also dilute a few drops of essential oil with olive oil or another plant-based carrier oil to use as a natural dab-on perfume.

4. Go back to basics. Clean with vinegar and baking soda to avoid the many synthetically scented cleaning products on the market. For example, you can use a quarter cup of baking soda in place of scented fabric softeners. Adding white vinegar during the wash cycle can help eliminate odors and soften fabrics as well.

The Scent of Security

Synthetic fragrances have pros and cons, but if you want to avoid potential health issues and allergens, it’s best to go the natural route—as long as it’s safe (some essential oils can cause allergic reactions or irritation). Luckily, natural fragrances are not so difficult to find anymore. Going natural with fragrance will give you that peace of mind, knowing you haven’t exposed yourself to any potentially toxic ingredients. And you don’t have to sacrifice smelling good since natural fragrances can smell just as good as synthetic ones.