Perfumes often have such sweet, uplifting names...Happy, Heavenly, even Curious. That's why it may come as a surprise that most mass-marketed fragrances are formulated with toxic chemicals—ingredients that give these fragrances staying power or mimic a natural scent. But these ingredients are also linked to a host of health troubles, from asthma to hormone disruption. Here’s what you need to avoid and safe ways to add fragrance to your life.
Avoid “fragrance” as a labeled ingredient
This generic term is used by cosmetic and perfume companies and they are not required to disclose what ingredients actually make up their fragrances. Many mass-marketed perfumes include synthetic chemicals that are known allergens and sensitizers (chemicals that can cause allergic reactions, including asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis).
Avoid phthalates and parabens
These chemicals are often added to perfume products to increase their staying power on your skin and in the bottle. But they’ve been linked to hormone disruption, breast cancer and reproductive toxicity—especially in teens, since they’re some of the largest consumers of fragranced personal care products.
Avoid synthetic musk (including Nitro-Musk, Galaxolide and Tonalide)
Musk is a common scent found in perfumes. Fragrance companies may say it’s a sexy animal scent, but its side effects are decidedly not sexy. Synthetic musk is a toxin that accumulates in our body, especially in fatty tissue and breast milk, and acts as a hormone disrupter.
Use natural essential oils
Natural essential oils are pure oils distilled from plants—flowers, leaves or seeds. These oils have distinct aromas like woody, spicy, green, herbal or floral. Here’s what you’ll smell with some of the common scent families.
Woody or spicy aroma: stimulating, clearing, grounding
Look for: clove, frankincense, cedar, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver
Try: Pacifica's Sandalwood Perfume Roll-On, a warm, velvety woodsy scent
Green or herbal aroma: brisk, clean
Look for: citrus, bergamot, eucalyptus, rosemary, chamomile, basil
Try: Love & Toast's Gin Blossom Perfume, a fresh, crisp citrusy scent
Floral aroma: sweet, serene, feminine
Look for: lavender, rose, ylang ylang, neroli
Try: Jurlique's Essence of Rose Roll-On Fragrance, a pure rose scent made from Gallic roses
Make your own
It’s also easy to make your own fragrance creations. For tips on scent combinations that work well, check out this guide to the aromatic blending of essential oils. Remember, some essential oils are skin irritants due to the high concentration of active compounds, so make sure to dilute them with a carrier oil or alcohol.
15-20 drops of essential oil (in whatever combination of scents you like)
2 tablespoons unflavored vodka (100 proof is best) or pure grain alcohol
Pour alcohol in a glass bottle first, then add essential oil. Let it age for at least 2 days, and up to 1 month. Finally, dilute with 1 tablespoon distilled water.
15 drops of essential oil
2-3 tablespoons of jojoba oil, almond oil or unscented body lotion.
Blend and store your fragrance in a dark glass bottle.
Explore the essential oils and natural fragrances at a Pharmaca near you!