We Need to Talk About Fragrance
We’ve gotten used to certain things having that extra added smell. We expect our personal care items, in particular, to smell pretty. Soaps are flowery, moisturizers are fruity… and the list goes on. Items for our houses and apartments are often scented, too. We feel the pressure to maintain the perfect aroma for ourselves and our homes because that’s what we’ve been taught to do — and many of the mainstream products that are most readily available in stores reflect that.
But here’s the thing: added fragrance comes with a slew of health risks, and there aren’t nearly enough people talking about it. Some people go as far as to call fragrance “the new secondhand smoke,” since so many of us are exposed to it even if we don’t know it. That’s pretty serious stuff.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news on this one, but this is need-to-know information, and a topic I feel so strongly about.
Let’s talk about the basics.
Fragrance — or “parfum,” as its noted on many product labels — is a term that can capture many, many ingredients, many of which are toxins and irritants. It may include any combination of more than five thousand stock chemicals, none of which have been tested for safety. Tests of fragrance ingredients have revealed that the average concoction is made up of a whopping fourteen hidden compounds. And guess what? You’ll never know what those compounds are.
Nearly three-quarters of products with “fragrance” contain phthalates. These are chemicals that keep the scent long-lasting, but they can also disrupt the endocrine system, damage the reproductive system, and cause birth defects and respiratory problems. Additionally, phthalates have been linked with increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Why would we continue to use this on ourselves and our families? When we know better, we can do better!
Other common ingredients found in fragrance include acetone, ethanol, benzaldehyde, formaldehyde, limonene, methylene chloride, camphor, ethyl acetate, linalool, and benzyl alcohol, all of which can cause negative health effects. Many of these chemicals are derived from petrochemicals. No thanks!
As a rule, if you can’t pronounce it, you probably want to stay away from it. Synthetic chemicals in fragrances have been linked to cancer, birth defects, nervous system disorders, asthma, and allergies. This is real, you guys.
No one is running the show.
The term “fragrance” is completely unregulated by the FDA. The agency uses it as a catch-all term, and as a result, U.S. law does not require companies and brands to be transparent with consumers, manufacturers, or even the FDA itself about the specific ingredients (chemicals!) that are really included when “fragrance” or “parfum” is on the label. Even products that causes bad reactions — like a diaper lotion that triggers a bad reaction for babies — can stay on the market without a report to the FDA.
And since fragrances are marked as trade secrets, companies aren’t required to share all of the components that make up their fragrances… no matter how damaging they can be.
2019 FDA Transcript (watch the full hearing here):
Q: Can the FDA require a review of baby lotion for safety before it comes to market?
A: No, it cannot.
Q: Can the FDA require the manufacturer not use toxic ingredients, for example, formaldehyde, in its baby lotion?
Q: Is the manufacturer required to register with the FDA before selling its baby lotion?
Q: Once the baby lotion comes to market can the FDA require safety information about the lotion?
Q: If the baby lotion has caused bad reactions in the babies, can the FDA require a recall?
Q: If the manufacturer is aware of the babies’ bad reactions, would the manufacturer be required to report that to the FDA?
It’s a huge mess.
Keep in mind that artificial/synthetic fragrances are regularly found in a crazy long list of the things you use and interact with on a daily basis, which means that this lack of regulation is affecting us practically all the time. Even products that bill themselves as “natural” often include these dangerous chemicals. Mysterious “fragrance” is a common ingredient in…
- Conventional cleaning products
- Personal care products (yes, even those that call themselves “natural!”)
- Cosmetics (again — even the “natural” ones!)
- Diaper Creams
- Air fresheners
- Laundry detergents
- Dryer Sheets
… and the list goes on. Obviously, it’s time to clean house. Literally.
I’m fired up.
(Can you tell?)
Safety testing is not required for conventional personal care products in the U.S. This means that we’re using everything from lotions and soaps to shampoos and hairsprays on our bodies without assurance from a governing body that they’re okay for us to use. We’re using these products on our families, too! That’s to say nothing of candles and laundry detergent and all of the other products we have in our homes. It’s been over 80 years since we have updated the laws surrounding personal care products. It’s time we become informed consumers and vote with our dollars. It’s time we support companies doing it right for our health.
Now that you know more about the dangers of fragrance — and now that you see just how many products are made with it — you might just be feeling fired up, too! And you should be! Products are not tested and we don’t even have access to the details about the ingredients used in them. Even terms like “organic” and “natural” are unregulated. Products that you’re buying for yourself and your loved ones because you think they’re lighter on chemicals can still be full of fragrance.
The bottom line is that the FDA has basically no power to protect Americans from the dangers of fragrances (and plenty of other things) in personal care and home products. The only way to motivate them to change is with our money. Big brands like Unilever are starting to take action toward going fragrance-free, but there is more work to be done.
Saying goodbye to products with synthetic fragrance and investing in safer alternatives is our best bet — and it will keep you and your family healthier, too.
Check out these safer candles.
I may be fired up about fragrance, but I still want my home to smell nice! You’ve requested this info and luckily, I’ve tracked down some safer candle options. Safer candles are made with healthier, non-toxic waxes and natural scents from essential oils and botanicals.
Here are a few safer candle brands that check the boxes:
- Big Dipper Wax Works
- Steady and Flight
- Self Care Company
- Good Light Candles
- Happy Little Flame
- Farm & Sea Candles
- Fontana Candle Co.
- Loil Life Candles
- Woodlot Candles
- Ava Anderson Candles
- Coco by Stone Candles
You can also try something totally different for adding a pretty scent to your home! I love essential oil diffusers as an alternative to candles, or this home spray. Essential oils are, well, essential, and they don’t contain the icky chemicals that come hidden in fragrances. Double check the labels on oils before you buy them to make sure they’re the real deal. Safe essential oils should be labeled as organic, wildcrafted, and extracted without solvents.
Essential oil diffusers and oils:
We’ve made other swaps, too.
Sadly, the problems with fragrance don’t stop there. I’ve made other changes to the home and personal care items I buy to protect myself and my family from the lack of regulation in this industry.
When it comes to personal care and cosmetics, I’m super grateful to companies like Beautycounter, Primally Pure, and Branch Basics; who I’m proud to work with, for being so transparent and progressive about fragrances in their products. Beautycounter, for example, has promised never to use synthetic chemical fragrances, which is one more reason to feel safe using their skin care and makeup. As if I needed one more reason! Beautycounter has made it really easy for me to move away from fragrances.
I’ve done my own research on other swaps, too, especially for products around my home.
Here are some of the changes we’ve made:
- Bath Soaks/Salts
- Body Wash
- Body Scrub or make your own
- Cleaning Supplies
- Dryer Sheets for Dryer Balls
- Laundry Detergent (want it to have scent? Add 15-20 drops essential oils)
- Lotions: I have this set in my bathrooms & kitchen & use this body butter after my showers & on my belly bump!
- Hand Soap: Other good alternatives are this or this.
- Make Up
- Shampoos: I use this one, this one, and this one, because I like variety!
- Here are the baby and kid skincare items I plan on using on our baby arriving in June!
I’m not perfect, and it’s taken me years to switch over our home to safer as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be all at once! Start with products that you use daily on your body or in your home!
Does this fire you up, too? What swaps are you hoping to make?
Pin it for later:
We Need to Talk About Fragrance
Household cleaners and soaps are some of the biggest offenders of toxins in homes and they can routinely expose us to chemicals that can affect us to varying degrees ranging from minor skin irritation to hormone disruption or cancer. If you’re cleaning up what you’re putting IN your body, you should care what you put ON your body, and what you put in your environment. Period. There are safe cleaning products out there.
Most every household contains traditional cleaning supplies that are laced with toxic chemicals that are harmful. We’re exposed to them routinely — from the phthalates in synthetic fragrances to the noxious fumes in oven cleaners. Ingredients in common household products have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity. According to the Environmental Working Group, using them just once a week can have a harmful effect.
How Toxic Are Your Cleaning Supplies?
Toxic chemicals in conventional household cleaners vary in their severity – from immediate hazards such as skin or respiratory issues, chemical burns or watery eyes to long term major problems such as cancer, fertility issues, ADHD, compromised immune system and more.
It can be overwhelming to to start to realize how many toxic chemicals are in our home, and I’m not saying we can avoid exposure to toxic chemicals altogether, but it is possible to reduce it, and significantly decrease our risk of illness. Some chemicals build up and can cause enough harm in our bodies over time, that can trigger harmful effects. So knowledge is power.
How Do I Find Out What are Truly Safe Cleaning Products?
Here’s the thing: there’s so much we cannot control, but for the things we can, and use daily, why wouldn’t we do a little research and make safer swaps for our families? At the very least, we should be aware of what is in them! I use two resources in our home to identify how toxic our products are. One is EWG.ORG/SKINDEEP and the other is the Think Dirty APP. Both are apps that you can use to scan barcodes in your home, and see how toxic your current products are. Pretty cool, right?
It can be slightly terrifying when you start scanning your products, but remember: make small changes and do the best you can. I’m not advocating you throw out every product in your home right now, but rather once you are informed you can try to make the best choices you can going forward.
What are the Harmful Chemicals in Household Cleaning Products to Avoid?
Here are a few to look out for:
1. Phthalates: Often found in many household products with a fragrance, such as air fresheners, dish soap, even toilet paper. Because of proprietary laws, companies don’t have to disclose what is in their scents, so you won’t find phthalates on a label. If you see the word “fragrance” on a label, there’s a good chance phthalates are present.
2. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”: Often found in dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet and upholstery cleaners.
3. Triclosan: Found mostly in liquid dishwashing detergents and hand soaps labeled “antibacterial.”
4. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”: Fabric softener liquids and sheets, most household cleaners labeled “antibacterial.”
5. 2-Butoxyethanol: Often found in window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners.
6. Ammonia: Find them in polishing agents for bathroom fixtures, sinks and jewelry; also in glass cleaner.
7. Chlorine: You’ll find this in toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, household tap water.
8. Sodium Hydroxide: An ingredient often in oven cleaners and drain openers.
A Note on “All Natural Cleaners”
This might surprise you, but many “all-natural” cleaners found in grocery and health food stores still have harmful chemicals and may even score worse than conventional cleaning products. This is where those handy apps above come in handy. Again, do your own research!
What Safe Cleaning Products are in my Home:
I avoiding conventional household products as much as possible and have found great alternative, safe swaps for cleaning products, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, and air fresheners. Here are some options for you:
- You can make your own DIY household cleaners: LCK Food Editor Kelli uses a mixture of Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap, Water, and Essential Oils for almost all cleaning tasks. For heavy duty jobs she also will add in baking soda.
- All-Purpose Cleaning Products: I use Branch Basics for my Bathroom, All-Purpose Counter Cleaner, Glass, and hand soap!
- Laundry Detergent: Again, I use Branch Basics. I also use their Oxygen Boost for my Whites. I’ve also heard Molly’s Suds is a good brand, but haven’t personally tried it!
- Dryer Sheets: I use Dryer Balls (see this post).
- Air Freshener: I use this home spray by The Laundress or safer candles by Phlur.
For me, Branch Basics is literally magic. Their multi-purpose concentrate makes cleaning simple, affordable and sustainable. The products are refillable and they’re significantly less expensive than similar single-use products. You dilute The Concentrate with water, and then it’s ready for any cleaning job around the house, even dirty laundry!
A word from the Branch Basics team:
“We’re not fans of shipping water. Our multi-purpose concentrated cleaner makes cleaning simple, sustainable, safe and affordable. Just dilute with water in our spray and foamer bottles (complete with marked fill lines) and you’re all set to effectively tackle every room in the house and your laundry too! Our kits come with everything you need to get started or you can purchase the concentrate in whatever size it best for you.”
Discount for you:
Why I Switched Our Cleaning Supplies
Living a healthy lifestyle is more than just eating healthy. It can be overwhelming to think about swapping out your conventional products for clean beauty products, but scroll down for a list of simple swaps I’ve made in my home that have helped us make the change easy.
Clean Beauty Products to Swap Right Now
We can do our best to reduce our toxic load, but without driving ourselves too, too crazy. Am I right? Believe me, it’s easy to do that. We now read labels and rid our home of toxic chemicals (as best as we can, not perfect).
Clean Beauty Brands We Use in Our Home:
Dove Body Wash —> Beautycounter Body Wash in Citrus Mimosa
Have you read the ingredients in your body wash? Mike was actually the first one out of the two of us to give it a glance. He was horrified! The new body was we are using is extremely gentle and non-drying with a creamy texture! It has rich and nourishing marula and mongongo oils, which are ingredients that help soften and protect skin while sealing in moisture. Mike loves the smell, too!
Secret Deodorant —> Primally Pure Deodorant
A natural deodorant that works, and I’ve tried them ALL! No aluminum for me, please and thank you! Primally Pure deodorant will keep you smelling fresh all day long while also pampering your pits with good-for-you ingredients (like tallow from grass-fed cows and organic + fair trade coconut oil) that are pure and natural enough to eat!
Primally Pure deodorant is not an antiperspirant – sweat is a HEALTHY and NORMAL part of being human! And since this product doesn’t contain any of the toxic chemicals found in conventional deodorants, it won’t interfere with your body’s natural and necessary detoxification process (also known as sweating). IMPORTANT INFO: Adjusting to 100% natural deodorant may take some time – be patient! 🙂 The good news? Primally Pure deodorant has a cumulative effect – the longer you use it, the better it works!
Conventional Cleaning Products —> Branch Basics
On occasion I’ll whip out the heavy duty stuff if it’s URGENT, but for everyday cleaning, this REALLY does the job! Branch Basics multi-purpose concentrated cleaner makes cleaning simple, sustainable, safe and affordable. Just dilute with water and you’re all set to effectively tackle every room in the house and your laundry too! Branch basics is my preferred, I don’t know how it works so well, but it really does! I also heard Norwex cloths are great.
*15% off with code LEXI15
Admittedly, this was one of the last swaps I’ve made. This product is nontoxic, biodegradable, and allergen-free. It’s also free of petroleum, phosphate, phthalates, and artificial color!
*15% off Branch Basics with code LEXI15
Chemical Sunscreen —> Mineral Sunscreen
Many of the sunscreens you’re probably most familiar with are known as chemical sunblocks. These products actually absorb into your skin, ultimately absorbing UV rays so they can be converted into heat and released from your body. Active ingredients in these sunscreens typically include avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone. Think about it for a sec — if these chemical sunscreens are to work properly, those chemicals need to be fully absorbed into your body. Do you want your skin absorbing anything that you can’t even pronounce? No, thanks.
Conventional Eye Make-Up Remover —> Beautycounter Eye-Make Up Remover
I used to use coconut oil, but sometimes that clogs up my pores. Before that, I used whatever junk I could find in the drugstore. I am LOVING Beautycounter’s new eye make-up remover. Just a quick shake activates this innovative dual-phase formula to completely erase long-wear and waterproof makeup. Made without mineral oil or silicones, it uses the power of coconut and macadamia oils to break down pigments and cornflower extract to soothe delicate skin. Safe for sensitive eyes and contact lens wearers, too!
Air Freshener —> The Laundress House Spray
A light scent to spruce up the house when I’m not diffusing essential oils (see below). It doesn’t last super long, but adds a touch of freshness when needed. It’s made with a nontoxic formula is family, food, and pet safe. It has natural antibacterial properties and adds scent while removing odor!
Conventional Make-Up —> Beautycounter Make-Up
I’ve switched over most of my make-up to Beautycounter at this point, and aside from them being high-performing safer products, they have helped clear my skin so much in the past year!
- Bare Minerals Tinted Moisturizer —> Beautycounter Dew Skin with SPF
- Benefit Hoola Bronzer —> Bronzer in Dune
- Drug Store Maybelline Mascara —> Volumizing Mascara
- Tarte Eye Shadows —> Beautycounter Eye Shadow (Favorite Palette)
- Bare Minerals Blush —> Beautycounter Blush in Nectar
- Random Brands of Founation —> Beautycounter Foundation in Honey (Summer) and Sand (when paler)
- Mac Lipsticks —> Color Intense Lipsticks
- Glossier Boy Brow —> Beautycounter Brow Gel
- Random Make Up Removers —> Eye Make Up Remover and Make Up Remover Wipes
And that’s just the start to the list!
Gold Bond Body Lotion —> Primally Pure Body Butter and Primally Pure Body Oil
What we put ON our body is so important. Our skin is our biggest organ! Primally Pure’s natural body butter only contains ingredients that are safe enough to eat – high quality ingredients that work to restore the skin (your body’s largest organ) to a healthy and nourished state!
*10% off with code LEXI
Tampons —> Lunette (I prefer this over the Diva Cup)
A period cup is a non toxic (made from silicone), eco-friendly, affordable, and sustainable alternative to tampons and pads. You fold the cup up a certain way and insert the cup inside of your vagina (as you would a tampon), and it collects your uterus lining. You simply rinse it out every 12 hours and re-insert it, making it extremely sustainable and stress-free!
Crest Whitening Toothpaste —> Desert Essence Whitening Tea Tree Toothpaste
This was actually one of the first big swaps I made. I ditched the crap in the Crest toothpaste for this fabulous one! It works great. Brush your way to a brighter smile and fresher breath with this exclusive blend of Bamboo Stem Fiber and Baking Soda that helps fight stains. Sea Salt and Zinc Citrate help reduce plaque, while pure Wintergreen and Australian Tea Tree Oils freshen breath with a burst of minty flavor.
Dry Shampoo —> Primally Pure’s Texture Dry Shampoo
Instead of an aerosol can, often used for dry shampoo that uses butane and fragrance, this dry shampoo comes in a shaker bottle, is easy to apply, and it REALLY WORKS! There is an option for dark hair or light, so it doesn’t make your hair that ashy gray color. Simply shake a bit onto your scalp/roots of your hair, rub it into the hair, and you’re good to go with fresh looking, and feeling hair!
*10% off with code LEXI
Instead of burning candles that are a combination of toxic ingredients, I’ve started diffusing essential oils in a diffuser! The house smells great. Favorite combo: Lavender and Eucalyptus! Buy candles? Opt for safer alternatives, like those that use a cotton or paper wick, and are either unscented or scented with essential oils, and look for ones that don’t contain any paraffin! Note: I don’t have a particular essential oil company that I love, I just try them all out!
*Code LEXI for 20% off your first Phlur Order
Bug Spray —> Primally Pure’s New Nature Spray
I’ve always hated the thought of spraying chemical bug spray ALL over my body. Primally Pure’s NEW all-natural insect repellent is made with nourishing + non-toxic ingredients. It’s free of DEET and full of organic ingredients that bugs can’t stand!
Plastic —> Glass
I am really trying to reduce the use of plastic in our home. A few major swaps I’ve made are:
- Plastic Tupperware —> Glass Tupperware
- Plastic Straws —> Metal Straws
- Plastic Storage Containers —> Glass Mason Jars
Conventional Perfume —> Safer Ferfume
This took me forever to say goodbye to my Coco Chanel! I finally found a safer perfume I like! I use PHLUR’s Hanami. No BHT, harmful fragrance, Parabens, phthalates.
*Code LEXI for 20% off your first Phlur Order
Safer Clean Beauty Products deals for YOU!
- Primally Pure: 10% off with code LEXI.
- Branch Basics: 15% off with code LEXI15.
- Phlur: LEXI 20% off your first order with code.
- Beautycounter: Band of Beauty Membership (think Amazon Prime). 10% Product Credit, free shipping over $100, + a gift upon sign up. For $29/year — no auto renew, nothing weird! Add it while shopping here.
Disclosure: There may be affiliate links in this post! By clicking on them, or purchasing recommended items I may receive a small compensation, at no cost to you! However, I only recommend products I absolutely love and use in my own home! Thank you for supporting Lexi’s Clean Kitchen when you shop! See my disclosure policy for more info!