November 16, 2011

Ingredient Spotlight: Fragrance

Fragrance has been on my hit list for awhile. And believe me, for good reason. It's taken me some time to get around to writing this post, mostly because of the incredible amount  of evidence against fragrance in terms of neurotoxicity, immune system toxicity and reproductive system toxicity. While the sheer amount of information is overwhelming, it is that much more important to expose. All the more reason to dive right in.

First, let's set the record straight. I am referring to synthetic fragrance, not natural fragrance. Natural fragrance is composed of safe essential oils and extracts. I adore natural fragrance. I couldn't live without things like maple sugar cookie scented lotion. Essential oils you should embrace for their delectable scents and aromatherapy qualities. However, on an ingredient label steer clear of the word fragrance, or parfum, which indicate the presence of synthetic fragrance.

Fragrance is a two-pronged beast. The first branch is a result of the fact that the word itself means nondisclosure. Due to trade secret law, companies are not required to list the ingredients that make up their fragrance. This way Justin Beiber's cologne Someday can't be knocked-off, and can never be reproduced exactly (which is probably a good thing, come to think of it...) This also means companies can hide hazardous ingredients in their products without ever having to disclose them.

The second branch of this beast is the fact that fragrance is inherently composed of dangerous ingredients. One set of ingredients always hiding behind the word "fragrance" are phthalates (pronounced "thalates"). Phthalates deserve an entire post of their own, but briefly, they behave as fragrance fixers. They ensure that the perfume you spritz on your wrists at 5pm is still going strong at midnight. Not a bad quality, except for the recent scientific research on them. In 2008 Dr. Swan, an epidemiologist at the University of Rochester Medical School, found that male reproductive birth defects resulted from high levels of phthalates in their mother's bloodstream. Other studies have indicated impaired testosterone synthesis, birth defects, pathologic testicular changes, decreased sperm production, and altered hormone levels due to exposure to phthalates. In 2002, the FDA issued a Public Health Notification warning health care providers to use phthalate-free medical devices while treating specific vulnerable patient groups, such as critically ill infants. It has also been found to be a potential cardiotoxin. The list goes on and on.

Aside from phthalates, fragrance has serious issues as well. Some of the more mild side effects of fragrance include asthma, allergies, headaches, migraines, dizziness, rash, hyper-pigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting and skin irritation. A search on the US National Library of Medicine on fragrance retrieves 1572 scientific publications on the danger of fragrance, ranging between contact dermatitis to cancer. Even mainstream media is warning the public about the dangers of fragrance.

Fragrance is also an endrocrine disruptor (xenoestrogen). This is otherwise known as a hormone disruptor. This can mean anything between impaired fertility, irregular menstruation, to birth defects, painful cramps, cancerous tumors, and developmental disorders. Alright, have I scared you enough?

The bad news is that fragrance is in nearly all mass produced personal care products. You will be shocked to find it in products you own that don't have a scent, like mascara, unscented lotion, foundation, etc. because it is used as a masking fragrance. This means it is designed to hide the smell of all the chemicals in your products. The good news: product lines with beautiful ingredients always replace synthetic fragrance with natural essential oils and extracts. So you don't have to give up your favorite scents. And further good news: they smell better. Ever used jasmine body creme made from genuine jasmine essential oils? Compare it to a synthetic version and you'll notice essential oils smell like the actual flowers blossoming on the vine. They smell real. Give up your synthetic fragrances and your nose will realize they smelled fake all along.

Need some suggestions to nudge you in the right direction? Vapour has a perfume stick made with real essences and extracts. Bubble and Bee has delectable lotions, shower gels and soaps in scents that range from maple sugar and raspberry vanilla to pumpkin spice. Lotus Wei sells aroma-therapeutic mists for inspiring joy or calming the mind. Do a little shopping at 100% Pure and Whole Foods and you'll be overwhelmed with choices.

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Image courtesy of: 

1. Getty royalty free images

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