When we first started our quest for a toxin-free life, carefully reading the ingredients on the packaging of our care products was a top priority (and that hasn't really changed). We were looking for harmful, endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can negatively impact our health. We found that many of the products we used contained the terms "perfume" or "aroma" in the ingredients list. But what exactly that entailed was not immediately clear to us. To our surprise, after quite a few hours of research, we discovered that behind the word 'perfume' or 'aroma' there are sometimes hundreds of chemicals hidden. We therefore wondered: what about fragrances? in our cosmetics?
What are fragrances (fragrances) actually?
A fragrance, often better known in English as a fragrance , is any substance used to create a particular fragrance. The International Fragrance Association defines fragrance as follows:
Fragrance functional component
Any basic substance necessary for the functionality and/or, stability of a fragrance ingredient or mixture (eg antioxidant, preservative, diluents, solvent...).
Note: Fragrances can also be used to make 'fragranceless' products. The fragrances are then used to mask - dirty - naturally occurring odors. It is therefore not the case that fragrances only occur in products that smell 'nice'.
What does 'perfume' or 'aroma' mean on a label?
Take a random care product from your bathroom and see if it has the word 'perfume' or 'aroma' written on it. Chances are you will find one of the terms on the ingredient list. The confusing thing is that the term 'perfume' or 'aroma' often hides dozens to hundreds of chemicals. When you read 'perfume' or 'aroma' on a label of a care product, you should therefore NOT see this as a single ingredient, but as a COLLECTION NAME for chemicals that have been added to the product to give it a certain scent.
Hidden fragrances in personal care products
Huh, but all ingredients in a care product should be on the label, right? So why does it only say 'perfume' and not a list of the individual fragrances?
What exactly must be stated on a label of a care product is regulated in the EU in the Cosmetics Regulation (regulation No. 1223/2009). Indeed, according to Article 19(1) of this regulation, a list of ingredients must be indicated on the packaging of a cosmetic product. But an exception is made for fragrances:
Perfume and aroma compositions and raw materials thereof are indicated by the terms 'perfume' or 'aroma'.
This means that you will not find many fragrances in a care product in the ingredients list on the packaging. Only a few specific fragrances (26 to be exact) need to be listed individually on the label. The rest hides behind the word 'perfume'. For the perfume industry (good to know that this is a billion-dollar industry), of course, quite pleasant. There's no one watching her. The perfume industry does try to keep itself in check by regulating itself through the IFRA: an organization founded in Geneva in 1973 to represent the collective interests of the perfume industry. The IFRA makes its own safety rules for fragrances, which all members are expected to respect. IFRA also conducts its own research through the linked Research Institute for Fragrance Materials - for example on the safety of fragrances. These studies are often carried out by large companies in the perfume industry. Well, how much confidence you should have in a self-regulatory body for a billion dollar industry… we leave that entirely up to you ;)
Well, when you consider that the 2022 edition of the IFRA Transparency list contains 3619 fragrances , that EU list of 26 substances is somewhat minimalistic. While not all fragrances on the IFRA list are naturally harmful to our health, some have already been proven to be linked to health problems, such as allergies, cancer, fertility problems and birth defects. Unfortunately, there is not yet a general ban on such chemicals.
We find it problematic that manufacturers are not required to disclose the specific fragrances they use. After all, it remains a mystery to the consumer what exactly is in that 'perfume' or 'aroma'.
Are fragrances in personal care products harmful to your health?
Not all fragrances that you find in your care products are harmful. At the same time, more and more research shows that many (popular) cosmetic products do indeed contain (many) harmful chemicals. Fragrances unfortunately play a major role in this. For example, research by the BCPP (Breast Cancer Prevention Partners) found in the cosmetic products they tested, that fragrances made up the vast majority of chemicals associated with harmful chronic health effects. Think of phthalates, parabens and musk compounds, for example.
Although it is not yet clear from what level of exposure health problems could occur, scientists are increasingly concerned about the 'cocktail of chemicals' to which we are exposed. In other words, while 1 low dose of chemicals in that deodorant of yours may not do much harm, the cumulative effect of long-term exposure to chemicals in personal care products is a cause for concern.
Care products without harmful fragrances
The current laws and regulations are not sufficient to protect consumers against harmful (hidden) fragrances. Even reading the full ingredients list won't give you a complete picture of the chemicals that are in your cosmetic products. Our advice is therefore to take matters into your own hands and reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals as much as possible. In other words: LESS TOXIC PLEASE!
A few specific tips:
- Reduce the number of skincare products you use.
- Look for cosmetic companies that do provide a complete list of ingredients (including all fragrances) and check whether they contain harmful chemicals. Not sure where to start with such a check? A good start is to see if the ingredients are on the Red List of the organization Safe Cosmetics.
- Make your own care products.
- Choose products that don't have the word "perfume" on the ingredient list.
- Keep an eye on our Less Toxic Please shop for cosmetics without toxic fragrances.
Disclaimer (Do Your Own Research): We are happy to share with you our experiences and knowledge that we have gained in our quest for a toxin-free life. At the same time, we want to emphasize that you are solely responsible for your health (that goes without saying, right?). The information we share here is for general educational purposes and is not personal medical advice. Everyone is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.