Clean Swaps: Fragrances

Featured Scents

Clean Beauty Reserve Rain | Clean Beauty Classic

It’s Wednesday and on Wednesday we talk about easy, clean swaps we can do that will make our lives better and our environment healthier. The first post in the series talked about bath and body products and what to swap out the chemical-based products for. Last week was all about laundry swaps, and this week we’ll focus on fragrances.

Fragrance by definition is a cocktail of ingredients (both natural and artificial) that produce a scent. While there’s nothing quite as classic as a lingering cloud of Chanel No 5 perfume, it’s worth understanding the ingredients that go into making a signature scent that you spray on your skin day after day.

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What’s So Bad About Perfumes and Fragrances?

Toxic ingredients are found all around us but if we can avoid spraying them onto our bodies in an effort to smell nice, isn’t that something you would want to avoid?

Back in 1991 the EPA tested popular fragrances for toxic chemicals and the list they can back with was VAST. That was 28 years ago and through more recent studies it’s clear the fragrance industry has not shifted too far away since then.

I do want to be clear about one thing though – there is a difference between synthetic and toxic ingredients. Synthetic does not mean toxic and often synthetic (or artificial) ingredients are used to replace natural ingredients that are actually harmful.

So something that has an artificial ingredient listed does not necessarily mean you should avoid it like the coronavirus.

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What Are The Top Toxic Ingredients To Look Out For?

I’m actually going to pull this list from another source because I found it to be comprehensive and educational.

Original source for the below information seen here.

+ Styrene: National Toxicology Program and the National Academy of Science, have declared styrene to be an anticipated human carcinogen” in 2011. 2, 3

+ Phthalates: Studies have found that phthalates are endocrine disruptors that can decrease IQ by 6 points in children whose mothers were exposed to them during pregnancy. The use of phthalates have also been linked to sperm damage in studies. Also, phthalates are also considered “obesogens” which means they can suppress the metabolism and contribute to obesity. 4

+ Musk ketone: A skin irritant and hormone disruptor. 5

+ Benzaldehyde: This substance is a known narcotic, lung and eye irritant. It causes nausea, abdominal pain, and kidney damage.

+ Benzyl acetate: Known carcinogen, which causes eye and lung irritation as well as coughing.

+ Camphor: Can cause dizziness, confusion, nausea, muscle twitching, convulsions.

+ Ethyl acetate: Can cause eye and respiratory irritation.

+ Limonene: Known carcinogenic.

+ Linalool: Can cause respiratory disturbances in animal studies, depression, and central nervous system disorders.

+ Methylene chloride: This substance has actually been banned by the FDA due to severe toxic effects; however, the ban is not enforced as it still may be found in labels listing “fragrance”.

I know that’s a lot of information, but when you look and see how robust the list is – who would have thought that 10 ingredients even went into a perfume? – it made me at least stop to consider what was in a daily or special occasion scent.

But the tricky thing with perfumes and colognes is that they’re not always required to disclose every ingredient that makes up their formula. So even if you think you’re successfully avoiding the big 10 from the list above because you don’t see it on your favorite perfume, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not present.

A 2010 article published by EWG disclosed information that showed some of the fragrance that contained “secret ingredients” and hidden chemicals.

It didn’t surprise me too much that American Eagle’s Seventy Seven scent was one of the biggest offenders with 24 secret chemicals. An Armani scent made the list as well as some specific celebrity scents. (Feel free to read the whole study here.)

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So How Do We Know What’s Safe To Use?

I think a lot of this stems from doing a bit of research about a company before buying. Obviously the first step is to look for companies with “clean” claims. Because this is a trending subject, remember there’s no specific benchmarks for clean companies yet and claiming “clean” or “natural” doesn’t mean too much. But start there.

If you’re used to shopping at large beauty retailers like Sephora look for scents that have their “Clean by Sephora” label which is held up to a bit higher standard. Follain is a great marketplace as well with a strict benchmark for the products they promote and sell.

What Brands Do I Recommend?

The beauty of being able to write about clean swaps is I get to do the research for myself and come up with some top contenders to recommend.

Clean Beauty Collective was a brand that I found pretty fast after researching this topic and I went through their website top to bottom reading everything I could about the brand and their products.

They are extremely transparent about their process, the ingredients they say no to, what constitutes clean scents, and what they’re doing to help shift the industry away from toxins and chemicals.

I reached out to the company to see if I could try out their scents for myself and they very kindly sent over two perfumes: the Clean Classic scent – light and fresh – and their Reserve Rain scent – a watery musk.

Both are lovely and a bigger selling point – neither one gives me a headache from the ingredients used. They also come at a really good price point for a quality, last for years fragrance.

So if you’re looking to make a big shift for your health and wellness, don’t forget about your fragrances. They can contain some pretty scary ingredients, all for the sake of beauty, so it might be best to avoid them altogether and switch to something equally lovely and safe for everyone.