Synthetic fragrances are what make our lotions, soaps, cleaners and other products smell good, but many of them are toxic. Science has shown some intriguing and worrying links between these chemicals and ever-increasing medical problems and conditions that we seem to be experiencing as a society. Even though the regulatory bodies that are meant to protect us have remained either silent or unhelpful, we are not helpless. We can take steps to protect ourselves as consumers of commercial products by taking the common sense precaution of minimizing our exposure to toxic chemicals – including fragrances.
The way to avoid these products is to look at the labels on all your products: if you see the word “fragrance” in the ingredients, steer clear of it. For some products it’s even easier: if your laundry detergent smells like a “fresh mountain breeze,” or your hand soap smells like “cherry in bloom,” then you can be sure it’s synthetic!
Often the terms “fragrance oil” and “essential oil” are, confusingly, used interchangeably. But there is actually a big difference between an ingredient marked “essential oil” and one marked “fragrance” or “fragrance oil.” Both types of oil can be used for similar purposes, but they are made up of different properties and priced differently as well.
Essential oils and fragrance oils differ in that the former is natural and the latter is synthetic. More often than not, it’s better to use natural products, even though the synthetic products may be cheaper to produce and easier to get. The reason is that synthetics almost always contain harsh chemicals that can pose unique health risks. Pure essential oils are high quality and healthier – especially when used properly, but synthetic ingredients have no “proper” therapeutic use. Synthetic fragrances are a perfect example of the idea that most of the time cheaper/easier doesn’t always mean better. By using products that have fragrances made from natural essential oils, you get a better product with real benefits.
What are Fragrance Oils?
Fragrance oils are manufactured scents. They can be created with both artificial and natural substances. Fragrance oils are designed to mimic the scent of natural products or create the concept of a smell. All fragrance oils are composed of a variety of various chemicals, some natural and some synthetic. Sometimes they are created to smell like something that occurs in nature, like strawberries, flowers, lavender or pine. Sometimes a fragrance can be formulated to smell like a concept, like “summer rain”, winter fresh or Christmas pine.
Some fragrance oils can have diluted essential oils contained in the formula, whereas others are completely artificial or made with analogs of essential oils. Most of the time fragrance oils are diluted to thin the various compounds they contain to make them cheaper. Whether a fragrance oil is safe on your skin will depend on what it’s comprised of. Though the fragrance oils contained in lotions and other skin care solutions generally must comply with local safety regulations, they may still contain harmful ingredients.
Dangers of Artificial Fragrances
Are all your favourite scents harmful to your health? If you use products that contain synthetic fragrance then the answer is probably yes. From home cleaning products to personal hygiene, there are many dangerous chemicals that we are exposed to every day without even realising it. How is that so? Aren’t there regulations in place to protect us from dangerous products?
There are many laws that exist to protect the public from harmful chemicals in products. But there are also laws in place designed to protect chemical fragrance industry. These laws allow companies to hide many of the ingredients they use, including the specific dangerous chemical compounds, by simply using the umbrella word “fragrance” on a label. Even if they say “natural fragrance” on the label, it means very little because there are almost no restrictions on what can be called “natural.” The result is that you will find synthetic fragrances in places you may not think they would appear. They are in everything from soaps, deodorants, air fresheners, hand sanitisers, creams, oils, and more.
Fragrances are supposed to be regulated by different bodies such as the RIFM (Research Institute for Fragrance Materials and the IFRA (International Fragrance Association), the Food & Drug Administration in the United States, and NICNAS (National Industrial Chemicals Notification & Assessment Scheme) in Australia. But these organisations ultimately fall far short of regulating all the products and ingredients in commercial products that are needed in order to keep us safe. Even though their main purpose is to ensure that the fragrance materials used are safe, the fact is that their safety panels have not even looked at most of the secret fragrance chemicals that we are exposed to!
Synthetic fragrance oils can carry a number of toxins including harmful chemicals like benzyl acetate, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, propylene glycol, parabens and sulfates. This is just a short list. There are 20 known chemicals that are routinely found in everyday products – most of them are derivatives of petroleum. Some of these chemicals were banned in the United States, Europe and Australia, however there can be no legal action taken against companies who include them in their products due to “trade secret” laws that protect the exact recipe from being disclosed publicly. One of the worst chemicals, methylene chloride is a known cancer-causing agent that is absorbed through the skin and resides in body fat.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are naturally occurring substances harvested from different parts of plants. You can extract essential oils from blossoms, fruit, leaves, stems, bark, wood or resin. This process is complex and expensive, which is why many companies opt to go the artificial route. Steam distillation or solvent extraction can produce hydrosols (often used as toners) and essential oils. Fragrance from essential oils may not be as convenient to produce, but they are safer than most artificial fragrances. A typical essential oil contains dozens to hundreds of different natural chemicals that have many different practical applications in addition to making up their rich natural scents. For example, therapeutic grade lavender essential oil has wide-ranging properties from cell regeneration to anti-septic to promoting sleep.
Products that Contain Natural Essential Oils
Chemistry has produced many amazing products that are convenient and make our lives better. However, chemically produced fragrances generally are not the best choice. What if you want something safe and natural?
Natural essential oils are used in ways that positively affect your physical, emotional and mental health. They enter the body through the skin and the olfactory system (nose and sense of smell). Essential oils can have many applications like enhance mood, relieve pain, reduce inflammation or kill germs.
Recently, more and more people are choosing less harmful and more natural products. Between avoiding health problems, keeping harmful chemicals out of the environment, or just having higher quality products, the benefits of natural ingredients are increasingly obvious to consumers. From the food we eat to the beauty products we use, people realise the benefits of safe, natural ingredients. Sometimes we may not realise just how dramatically superior a natural fragrance can be. When you peel an orange or walk through a rose garden, the unique scent of that plant is vibrant and obvious, and that is what essential oils are made from – that and nothing else. All the products at JP Holistic Therapy are thoughtfully, individually made with therapeutic grade essential oils, giving you the best and safest possible product experience.
James L Poole
I am a holistic health therapist: Emmett Technique practitioner, aromatherapist, nutritional therapist, and Reiki healer. This is my blog about natural healing.