Smell Ya Later: Perfume & Toxic Chemicals

“I love to stink!” said nobody, ever.  Let’s face it, we live in a relatively vain and materialistic society where we are drawn to products that make us smell good — perfume, lotion, body wash.  And not just women.  Men use cologne, body spray, etc.  The thing is, that floral perfume or fruity body wash that you’re using probably doesn’t even contain the flower pictured on the front of the bottle.  A fantastic article by Courtney Humphries of Wired reads,  “By volume, perfumes today are mostly synthetic chemicals that tend to be cheaper and more manipulable than natural materials…To mimic an aromatic substance like an essential oil using a man-made molecule, chemists first analyze it through gas chromatography and mass spectrometry in an attempt to figure out its chemical components. Using this information, they can sometimes identify which molecules are responsible for the odor and then re-create them synthetically…It’s common for companies to use these analytics to reproduce a well-loved smell in nature, like pear or lilac flower.”  Perfume ads usually show a beautiful woman in a flowing dress running through a field of wildflowers.  Probably because you wouldn’t sell as much perfume if you showed 10 chemists in white coats pipetting in a lab.  model-chemist comparison

Another issue of concern with fragrances is that, like make-up and other personal products, fragrance manufacturers are not required to label the ingredients on the packaging and so most perfumes and other ‘smelly’ products include several chemicals that the consumer is just not privy to.  The Environmental Working Group cites, “In the ranks of undisclosed ingredients are chemicals with troubling hazardous properties or with a propensity to accumulate in human tissues. These include diethyl phthalate, a chemical found in 97 percent of Americans (Silva 2004) and linked to sperm damage in human epidemiological studies (Swan 2008), and musk ketone, a synthetic fragrance ingredient that concentrates in human fat tissue and breast milk (Hutter 2009; Reiner 2007).”

You may be thinking, ‘Psssh, it’s fine.  It’s only a tiny bit of chemicals.’  Just remember that your skin in your body’s largest organ.  And  think back to every perfume, scented lotion, deodorant and body wash you’ve used every day of your life.  That tiny bit is actually regular exposure to lots of chemicals that can stay in your system for a long time.

fragrance ingredients

Wait…daisies aren’t actually in this perfume?!

Do a little experiment tonight and look at the ingredient list on the back of your shampoo, lotion, or perfume.  Almost always, one of the ingredients is “fragrance/parfum” with no more explanation than that because it isn’t legally mandated.  So it could be anything from all-natural lemon essential oil to butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane.  Companies like Burt’s Bees often list fragrance as an ingredient but note that it is a natural fragrance instead of chemical.

I said goodbye to my Chanel Chance and Versace Bright Crystals bottles months ago, but I quickly found that there are great non-toxic alternatives for smelling yummy.  Natural food stores like Whole Foods and Roots sell natural perfumes and you can buy them online once you find a brand and scent you like.  My favorite scent is from a little shop called Bath Time in Cape May, New Jersey.  They have an apothecary-style set up in a the back of the store where they will mix any combination of essential oils for you and put it into a rollerball stick.  My coconut and açaí berry essential oil stick makes me feel happy every time I put it on — happy because I smell like tropical vacation and I’m not spritzing myself with toxic chemicals.

 

Note:
If you are interested in taking action to eliminate toxic chemicals from the products you use, you can:

1: Educate Yourself:  The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Environmental Working Group are great sources for additional information on this topic.

2: Stop buying those products and supporting those companies’ bottom lines!

3: Lobby for change: You can write to your Congressional representatives asking them to pass legislation to regulate labeling OR write to companies asking them to remove toxic ingredients from beauty products.   No need to re-create the wheel; you can sign onto petitions already written with just a few clicks: EWG – Tell Congress to Reform Our Broken Cosmetics Regulations and CSC – Tell L’Oreal: Cosmetics With Cancer Chemicals are Not So Glamorous!

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