It’s not what you think. Unless you want to add that word before my F word, which is totally appropriate. F*** FRAGRANCE.
Learning about fragrance was what really spun me into the-world-is-ending pit of despair. I felt like I had been duped, lied to, brainwashed. It’s what led to me running like a maniac around my apartment, scanning ingredients and throwing things violently into the trash can. Start by watching Stink! if you want to go down the same pit of despair.
Fragrance was an enemy that had somehow infiltrated everything. And yet, I knew nothing about it. Do you?
Did you know that if a product lists the word “fragrance” in it’s ingredients, the elements that make up the “fragrance” are considered a protected trade secret? This means that companies do not have to disclose what the fragrance is made of. This means that no one knows if that perfume you’re spraying is actually safe for you to use on your skin. It literally could be made from toilet bowl cleaner, for all you know.
Ever use a new lotion and break out in a rash? Clean the bathroom and end up with a splitting headache? I have a hard time believing allergies are to blame. It seems more like whatever mysterious chemical compounds are used to create the “fragrance” in your lavender lotion and lemon cleaning spray are to blame.
“No state, federal or global authority is regulating the safety of fragrance chemicals
even knows which fragrance chemicals appear in which products”
-Janet Nudelman, policy director for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners¹
You know that inhaling someone else’s cigarette smoke can cause lung disease and cancer.² You probably didn’t know that one of the chemicals in cigarette smoke that causes cancer is called styrene.³
And I’m betting you definitely didn’t know that styrene is also used in cleaning products and perfumes?⁴
If companies don’t have to disclose what “fragrance” is made of, how do we know styrene is an ingredient? Because of the International Fragrance Association (“IFRA”). They’re a trade group whose members represent 90% of the global fragrance industry.⁵ IFRA sends out an anonymous survey to it’s members around the world to compile a global fragrance ingredient list. And these members reported back that yes, styrene is used in their products.⁶
Do you want to spray something on your body, near your nose and throat that causes cancer?
Some people tend to say that your actual exposure to toxic chemicals is low and that therefore your risk is low. But why would I want one tiny particle of these chemicals in ME, if I don’t have to? Especially because even a “low” risk is still a risk. I don’t want to take that chance with my lungs, skin, or any part of my body.
Low exposure and low risk takes into account your exposure to one chemical. But are we really only using one product with one chemical, for one day? Who knows how styrene will interact with the other chemicals in the product, let alone with other chemicals from everything else you use? And who knows how those interactions will affect your body over the course of one year, two years, a decade?
Take a step back and think about all of the products that you use on a daily basis. I’ll take you through a day in my life, back when I was blissfully ignorant, circa January 2020. Here are the products I used.
- Shaving cream
- Body lotion
- Face lotion
- Leave-in hair product
- Undereye concealer
- Liquid foundation
- Eyebrow pomade
- Setting powder
- Setting spray
- Nail polish
- Makeup remover
That’s 23 products used every day. Well, maybe not the eyeliner or perfume. But I’ve been using a lot of these products since my teens. I’m 32. That is a long time to be slathering unknown substances on my skin and accidentally breathing them in while I’m at it. A lot of chemical interactions that are unknown. Is my exposure still low? Is my risk still low? I don’t think so.
So, what do you do?
First, check the ingredients of all the products in your bathroom, shower, kitchen (*cough*Lysol*cough*), and even in your candles. You can make this process more fun (and more scary!) by downloading the Environmental Working Group’s app, Healthy Living. Just start scanning things like you’re getting married and creating a wedding registry. Except this will end with you owning less things.
Anyways, I bet 99% of your products will name “fragrance” as an ingredient. Take all of those products, empty them and dump them in the trash or recycling. You can wash your hair with vinegar until you get a new product. You can use coconut oil as moisturizer. You can get some Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap and make ALL OF YOUR OWN CLEANING PRODUCTS. Including shampoo and soap.
Before you do buy new products, do some research. Use the EWG app to help you make smarter decisions. Curse the moment you ever thought about what your perfume was made of. Yearn for the days of ignorance. But alas, you, like me, cannot unlearn, cannot un-see.
Time to be a better guest on Earth. That means being better to yourself too.
² U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking — 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014 [accessed 2017 Feb 21].