InHealthy Baby, Non-toxic Home, Safe Skincare

Fragrance Chemicals: The New Secondhand Smoke

Fragrance Chemicals: The New Secondhand Smoke
Fragrance Chemicals: The New Secondhand Smoke

Did you ever dream we'd come to a place in our “progressive” society where fragrance chemicals are rivaling cigarette smoke?  Well folks, we're there.

The only difference between secondhand smoke and fragrance chemicals is that they're not always secondhand! Parents unintentionally create firsthand exposure when bathing their children, applying lotion or hair care products, and dressing them in clothing coated in fragrance chemicals from toxic dryer sheets.

Marilee Nelson aptly describes this upsetting issue in her insightful article:

Today’s synthetic fragrances are a far cry from the healing balms treasured so much by the ancient world that some were worth more than gold.   Instead of being medicinal, today’s fragranced products are associated with diabetes, obesity, autism, ADD/ADHD and hormone disruption.. Sadly not only the one wearing the fragrance is affected, but also the indoor air quality and those sharing the space are impacted. From pure to perverse, it is twisted irony that the word  fragrance has now gained infamy as the new secondhand smoke when the etymology of the word perfume comes from the Latin phrase, “per” meaning “through” and “fumus” meaning “smoke”.

Soaking Up Scents, Literally

Johnson and Johnson's recent ad in a popular parenting magazine spells out the problem more clearly than we ever could.

She's soaking up new sounds and scents. Because your baby is the biggest sponge of all.

Yes, your baby literally IS a sponge, so she's soaking up those “scents” and they're most likely adding to her body burden.  But Johnson and Johnson isn't the only problem here.  So are many other skin care brands who claim to be “natural” and “non-toxic” while continuing to add a combination of up to 3,000 chemicals that are allowed to be hidden under the single term “fragrance” (it's a trade secret, don't you know?!).

Growing children are very susceptible to endocrine-disrupting, cancer-causing chemicals.  And yet, that little pink bottle is the first thing you'll receive at the hospital after giving birth!

Johnson and Johnson's Ad in Pregnancy and Newborn April 2015

Natural Scents vs Synthetic Scents

Most products today are made with fragrance oils which may be 100% synthetic, or a combination of essential oils and synthetic aroma chemicals.  So stay away from skin care products with “fragrance” or “parfum” on the label. The safest option is to choose products scented naturally with essential oils.  Melinda Olson, nurse, herbalist, and founder of Earth Mama, explains why:

Essential oils distill a plant’s vital energy into a highly concentrated form, and the benefits of the plant are concentrated as well. Fragrance oils are a combination of synthetic ingredients that have no relationship to the plant they are pretending to be, and as an added olfactory insult they can contain some pretty toxic ingredients too! If organic essential oils are a rose, fragrance oils are the cheap plastic imitation with the toxic glue “dew drop” and that artificially scented rose doesn’t smell so sweet.

Keep in mind that because essential oils are super concentrated, any toxic pesticides sprayed on the plants can be present after processing as well.  That's why it's always best to choose certified organic essential oils whenever possible (and it also ensures that no harsh solvents have been used in the process).

What About Unscented Products?

If you think the solution is to go with fragrance-free, think again.  A product labeled as “unscented” may still be made with fragrances. It’s just that the purpose of the fragrance is to mask the natural odor of other ingredients, instead of giving off a detectable scent.

This means that those irritating chemicals can still be present and able to cause problems for those sensitive to them.

fragrance-free ≠ non-toxic

How to Choose Safer Products

Let's be honest: we have to live in the real world, so 100% of your haircare and skincare products most likely won't be be scented with organic essential oils. So learn to read labels very carefully, go with trustworthy manufacturers, and double-check products against the Skin Deep Database and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics list of synthetic musks and dangerous phthalates to help you navigate around those toxic fragrance pitfalls.

Don't forget about cleaning products that may be off-gassing into your home, like dishwashing detergents, bleach, all purpose cleaners and dryer sheets.  Most cleaning products cannot be certified organic, so go with one of the companies who have joined the No Secrets Pledge with Women's Voice for the Earth.

And last but not least, learn how to create safe scents for your home while removing toxic fragrance chemicals from secondhand clothes and used electronics.

Be sure to check out our brand new Safe Shampoo and Conditioner Guide too!

29 Safest Brands of Shampoo and Conditioner


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