Fragrance is literally everywhere. Just walk into your kitchen, laundry or bathroom and read the labels on your soaps, lotions, haircare and cleaning products. Did you find “fragrance” written anywhere? Have you ever thought about what’s exactly is in this mystery ingredient?  

Many companies don’t list what goes into their products containing “fragrance," and it seems so for an interesting reason.

What Exactly is Fragrance? 

Fragrance manufacturers use about 3,100 various ingredients in different combinations to formulate scents that attempt to replicate scents found in nature. 

A report by the National Academy of Sciences found 90% of ingredients used to create fragrance are synthetics derived from petroleum.  The majority of these haven't been tested for human safety in personal care items.

Additionally, the Environmental Working Group noted the average fragrance contains 14 chemicals that aren’t listed on the label. Many are more than casually linked to hormone disruption, allergic reactions and more. 

Even if a chemical is being phased out of use, it takes years for the government to do so, many times needing assistance from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Why is this Allowed? 

How is this possible, you may wonder. The facts are that fragrance is considered an FDA regulation loophole in personal care products.  

 Fragrance is categorized as a "trade secret" under the Fair Package and Labeling Act of 1966 which allows companies not to disclose their formula so it’s not as easily copied by competitors. 

Unfortunately for us consumers, this also gives brands an opportunity to use cost-effective yet toxic chemicals in their products to make scents that are chemically unrecognizable as found in nature. 

Many companies do voluntarily comply with safety standards, but as we mentioned above, US laws require cosmetic ingredients to be free of certain ingredients before heading to our local store sheves. While many people complain of sensitivity to perfumes, laundry detergents, and etc., a 2017 Aussie study found concerns based on data.

Fragrance chemicals can cause symptoms such as:  

  • reduced lung function, respiratory irritation, increased asthma
  • allergic reactions
  • birth defects
  • mucosal symptoms
  • migraine headaches
  • skin problems including eczema, rashes and hives
  • cognitive problems
  • gastrointestinal problems

What Can I Do?

Like most things, its up to us to protect ourselves.  

1. The easiest thing to do is always read labels on the products you purchase. Avoid anything that lists “Fragrance” with no other explanation.  

2. Some brands DO list the exact ingredients contained in fragrance. This will be in parentheses next to the word fragrance.   2a. Enter the listed fragrance ingredients into the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database and check hazard levels. Decide accordingly to use or not.  

3. Of course the best option is to only buy or make products that contain quality essential oils and herbs. 

What do you use in your home and for family to avoid fragrance?