Synthetic Fragrances

Photo by Fulvio Ciccolo on Unsplash

Hidden in Plain Sight 

Synthetic fragrances are literally all around us, present in everyday household products, cosmetics, perfumes as well as food and beverages. 

Studies indicate that many substances included in synthetic fragrances are the cause of skin allergies, respiratory problems, migraines, reproductive and developmental disorders, birth defects and even cancer.

Some of these substances are the so-called phthalates, very commonly used in perfumes as fragrance fixatives, and the popular synthetic musks found in products ranging from soaps, lotions to perfumes or cleaning products.1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8

What's in a fragrance?

Over 3000 fragrance chemicals (both natural and synthetic) are listed by IFRA (International Fragrance Association) as substances used in fragrance manufacturing 9. IFRA’s research arm, the RIFM (Research Institute for Fragrance Materials), is responsible for conducting research studies and tests to assess the safety of these chemicals 10, 11.

Based on the outcome of these studies, IFRA regularly publishes and updates guidelines on the accepted thresholds of the various fragrance chemicals in cosmetic products.

IFRA has already banned or restricted the use of some types of synthetic musks and phthalates proven to be endocrine disruptors or carcinogens but there is still a long list of substances yet to be researched and assessed in depth.12, 13, 14

Natural or Synthetic?

At the same time that does not mean that natural fragrances, such as plant-derived essential oils, are by default always safe. Many constituents found in natural essential oils can similarly cause skin irritation and allergies.

There are however two major reasons why we believe natural essential oils to be a safer choice. 

#1 Transparency

Fragrance formulations made up entirely from natural essential oils are fully transparent.

You will find every single essential oil used in the fragrance formulation listed on the label. If you already know that you are allergic to a specific essential oil, you can easily avoid using products containing it.

On the other hand, there is a complete lack of transparency in the ingredients that make up a synthetic fragrance. You may have come across products listing “fragrance” or “perfume”  as an ingredient on their labels. An outdated policy treating fragrances as trade secrets allows companies to withhold information about the ingredients they used in their fragrance formulations 14.

These fragrances may be a combination of just a few and up to hundreds of substances! So if you find “perfume” or “fragrance” being listed  in the ingredients of a product then you know that the manufacturer is not disclosing all of the ingredients to you. 

This exemption makes it impossible for the consumer to make an informed decision about a product. If allergies arise because of a fragrance, it means that there is no way of finding out what may have caused the allergy so that the consumer can avoid it in other products.

Apart from hampering the ability of the consumers to judge a product’s safety, the policy is no longer meaningful considering that fragrances can nowadays be easily reverse engineered with remarkable precision. 

#2 Sustainability

Natural essential oils are extracted from plants and fruits via methods such as steam distillation or cold-pressing and are entirely biodegradable. 

On the contrary most synthetic fragrances are based on petrochemicals. Not only do they originate from non-renewable fossil fuels but as a result of them being petroleum-based they are poorly biodegradable.

They find their way back into the environment and contaminate the soil, water and air 15, 16. Apart from harming the environment, their longevity means that they also bio-accumulate into our bodies, with some fragrance substances such as synthetic musks having been detected in body fat, breast milk and blood. 17, 18

Some dispute the sustainable aspect of using natural essential oils by claiming that high demand can lead to over-harvesting and as a result threaten some plant and tree species to extinction. Examples of such endangered trees are frankinescence, Indian sandalwood and Brazilian rosewood trees. Laws have already come into place to protect some of these endangered species and extract their oils sustainably.

We do not use essential oils from endangered species in any of our products. 

Our verdict

We scent our products solely with natural essential oils.

This goes in line with our ethos and mission to create natural skincare products by taking advantage of the properties of plant oils and extracts that nature provides in abundance. 

Straight from nature. Transparent. Sustainable. 

Photo by Visual Stories || Micheile on Unsplash

We are also continually working on creating new formulations to add to our unscented product range. So far, you will find the following essential-oil free products in our range: 

References 

1 Synthetic Musks Factsheet, WWF Detox Campaign 

Synthetic Musks, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

Phthalates: why you need to know about the chemicals in cosmetics , The Guardian 

Phthalates (THAL-ates) The Everywhere Chemical, Zero Breast Cancer 

Lee, Dong-Wook et al. “Prenatal and postnatal exposure to di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate and neurodevelopmental outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Environmental research vol. 167 (2018): 558-566. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2018.08.023 

Di (2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), United States Environmental Protection Agency

Steinemann A. (2018). Fragranced consumer products: effects on asthmaticsAir quality, atmosphere, & health11(1), 3–9. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-017-0536-2 

 Steinemann A. (2016). Fragranced consumer products: exposures and effects from emissions. Air quality, atmosphere, & health9(8), 861–866. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-016-0442-z

IFRA Transparency List , International Fragrance Association

10 The RIFM Science Program

11 Bickers et. all 2002, The safety assessment of fragrance materials 

12 3,163 ingredients hide behind the word "fragrance", EWG (Envoronmental Working Group)

13 Fact Sheet: The Fragrance Industry’s Policy Failures and Trade Secret Myth, WVE (Women's Voices for the Earth)

14 Unpacking the Fragrance Industry: Policy Failures, the Trade Secret Myth and Public HealthWVE (Women's Voices for the Earth)

15 Zhang, Xiaolei et al. “Fate and transport of fragrance materials in principal environmental sinks.” Chemosphere vol. 93,6 (2013): 857-69. doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2013.05.055 

16 Homem, Vera et al. “Long lasting perfume--a review of synthetic musks in WWTPs.” Journal of environmental management vol. 149 (2015): 168-92. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2014.10.008 

17 Washam, Cynthia. “A Whiff of Danger: Synthetic Musks May Encourage Toxic Bioaccumulation.” Environmental Health Perspectives vol. 113,1 (2005): A50. 

18 Taylor, Kathryn M et al. “Human exposure to nitro musks and the evaluation of their potential toxicity: an overview.” Environmental health : a global access science source vol. 13,1 14. 11 Mar. 2014, doi:10.1186/1476-069X-13-14