When I started to research cosmetics safety I learned that all of my favorite perfumes and colognes were made with synthetic ingredients and, among those ingredients, were multiple questionable chemicals that environmental and public health organizations had been concerned about for years. I was finally able to understand why spraying myself with perfume or visiting the perfume isle of a department store would always leave me suffering from headaches and feeling nauseous. This led to my on-going search for safer, non-toxic perfumes.
When it comes to choosing a perfume there are a few things to carefully consider:
1. Trade Secrets
Perfume manufacturers are not required by the FDA to disclose the entire list of ingredients on their labels, as they are considered “trade secrets.” This means that consumers cannot truly know if a perfume contains ingredients that may trigger sensitivities or allergies. This also means that the chemicals included in the formulations as “trade secrets” may not have been properly assessed for their toxic properties. The code of practices and safety guidelines to regulate fragrances’ ingredients are developed by the IFRA (International Fragrance Association).
According to Samuel Epstein, Professor Emeritus of Environmental & Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, “Of the 5,000 ingredients used in the fragrance industry, only 1,300 have so far been evaluated by the industry’s International Research Institute for Fragrance Materials. The institute is a ‘non-profit’ organization, created by IFRA in 1966 to conduct research and testing of fragrance ingredients.”
2. Phthalates, (such as Diethyl Phthalate, DEP)
Phthalates are usually included in fragrance formulations as solubilizers (an agent that something is dissolved in). The main concern when it comes to phthalates is that they can disrupt endocrine function and induce reproductive and developmental toxicity in laboratory animals. A study showed that pregnant women who used four or more personal care products had a higher concentration of phthalates in their bodies (up to four times higher) than pregnant women who used only two or three personal care products.
3. Possible Skin Reactions and/or Respiratory Reactions
Fragrance allergies are the number one cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis in the U.S., and studies have suggested that there is a trend of increasing sensitization to fragrances worldwide. Unfortunately, unless an appropriate disclosure is in place to where companies’ trade secrets are protected but consumers are also protected by higher regulatory standards, consumers are not going to be able to pinpoint which ingredients may be triggering skin reactions and will not be able to avoid them. Respiratory reactions are also often triggered by perfumes. This has been studied in the case of advertisement strips (the ones commonly found in womens’ magazines), which have been found to trigger asthma, wheezing, and chest tightness in asthma patients.
The Volunteer Reporting Program (VRP) relies on companies to report their own evaluations of their products to the FDA and compare their evaluations to the current baseline of available safety data. The FDA estimates that only around 35% of cosmetics companies that are actually eligible to register for the Volunteer Reporting program will complete their registration.
Finding the right non-toxic perfume for you:
Speaking from the perspective of someone who can’t wear synthetic fragrances without feeling sick, sticking to fragrance-free products or synthetic-free fragrances is a better option. However, you should never wear any type of fragrance in a non-properly ventilated environment, as a study has shown that essential oils can react with oxidants present in the air and form formaldehyde.
Below are some of the perfumes/colognes I have tried that have never caused me to feel sick. They are all made by luxury, green beauty companies that source their ingredients from organic growers.
Honore Des Pres
Their unique scents are designed by a French perfumer, Olivia Giacobetti. All their perfume ingredients are certified by ECOCERT and each blend is completely free of coloring agents, phthalates and synthetics. Fun fact: One of their perfumes, Vamp a NY, is Jessica Alba’s personal favorite, (as mentioned in her book “The Honest Life”).
This company was founded by a medical doctor who left the E.R. to pursue her passion for personal care and skin care formulations. Their perfumes are made by hand in tiny batches using essential oils, CO2 extracts and absolutes in a base of either organic alcohol or organic oils. Their scents are intense, herbaceous and spicy, but never overpowering. The scent Teale is my favorite perfume.
La Bella Figura Beauty
Handmade in Chicago, their scents are unique, exotic and recall travels all over the world. They are formulated with wildcrafted herbs, flowers, resins, woods and spices. They use fractionated coconut oil as their carrier oil.
Strange Invisible Perfumes
Each original fragrance is formulated with certified organic, wildcrafted, biodynamic and hydrodistilled essences. Hydrodistillation is a gentle immersion method that captures the complete aromatic profile of a plant, including the fine aroma chemicals that cannot be captured with steam distillation.
Lurk’s scents are hand blended and poured using only pure essential oils in a base of organic jojoba and are free of alcohol and water. They do not use chemical preservatives, stabilizers or additives.
Have you ever experienced side effects from a fragrance?
Photo Credits: Lilly Wallace
First image taken at The Detox Market in West Hollywood, CA.