I thought it was about time I shared the next instalment in my ingredients to avoid series, this time focusing on synthetic fragrances. If you’ve missed the previous posts in this little series, I’ve covered microbeads, SLS & SLES and palm oil, and I’d love to hear about any other ingredients you’d like me to look into as well!
First things first, what are synthetic fragrances?
Often on skincare, haircare and even cleaning products you will find ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on the ingredients list, without any further explanation. This is because the ingredients that go into fragrances are exempt from being listed as they are seen as a ‘trade secret’ (originally intending to protect high end perfume companies). What this means now is that fragrances can contain anything up to 4,000 hidden ingredients and we have no way of knowing what we are applying to our bodies, including a vast array of petrochemicals.
Why is this a problem?
There are a few big reasons why this is problematic, the first being the huge number of products that contain synthetic fragrances that we apply to our bodies every single day, without knowing exactly what is in them. Shampoo & conditioner, moisturiser, cleanser, soap, deodorant, lip balm…the list goes on! Considering these products are often designed to be absorbed into our skin, I personally prefer to know what goes in them!
One known ingredient that goes into many synthetic fragrances is DEP (diethyl phthalate), which is designed to help the fragrance last longer in the product, but it has been linked to a whole host of health problems including damaging the liver and kidneys, hormonal dysfunction, insulin resistance and even bringing on early puberty. It is also listed as an ingredient that is toxic to wildlife and a water pollutant in the US, so if it’s not good enough for the broader environment it shouldn’t be good enough for us either! Other common petrochemicals in synthetic fragrances include benzene derivatives, aldehydes and other phthalates, which are known toxins and can have serious health ramifications.
Another known problem with synthetic fragrances is that they can be skin irritants, causing allergic reactions and dermatitis, with ‘perfume’ presenting as one of the key causes of allergies in UK dermatology clinics. The hard part is, if we don’t know what is making up the synthetic fragrance in any particular product then it makes it very hard to know which products to avoid.
How to spot synthetic fragrances?
So, that brings us to avoiding synthetic fragrances!
It really is just a matter of paying close attention to the ingredients list on everything you purchase, if it says ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume’ or ‘parfum’ without any further information it’s a pretty safe bet that they are using synthetic fragrances, and I’d advise you to pop them back on the shelf. Be careful with products emblazoned with ‘fragrance free’ on the front, as this can sometimes just mean that it has been developed to have no obvious scent, but it still may use synthetic fragrances to cover up the scent of other ingredients, with the net result being no actual scent. So check the ingredients panel on those as well!
What are the alternatives?
Thankfully there are plenty of brands using natural fragrances (generally essential oils) these days, and they will always make this obvious on their packaging, either by listing the essential oils or other natural sources of their fragrances or by highlighting ‘no synthetic fragrances’ – and often by doing both!
So, I’d recommend you keep an eye out for some new brands to try instead (Sukin are always a favourite!). For me, if a brand doesn’t want to share exactly what is in their products then I’m not interested in putting their product on my body, simple as that!