The Stinky Truth about Fragrance

Kimberly Delaney by Kimberly Delaney | February 12th, 2009 | 1 Comment
topic: Detox, Green Living, Health & Wellness, Healthy Home

Why is it that on Valentine’s Day – the one holiday that is most obviously all about love – we tend to give gifts that tend to be so un-lovely? You’ve no doubt read about the importance of choosing fair trade chocolate for your Valentine. And we hope you’ve also gotten the memo about sending only organic roses. But now it’s time to also put the kibosh on the final cliché Valentine’s present: perfume.

Check the label

Regardless of whether it comes in a beautiful glass bottle and costs you half your month’s salary (if you’re lucky enough to still be getting a salary this month) or it’s part of a box set from your local drugstore, that perfume or cologne most likely contains petroleum-based toxins that aren’t even listed on the ingredients label.

What you will find on the label is “fragrance.” When every other ingredient is unpronounceable, it can be almost a relief – “Oh fragrance!” But the truth is that “fragrance” is not an ingredient. It’s listed there because manufacturers are not required to reveal what goes into that scent. The actual ingredients are protected as a trade secret.

Health concerns

Of the 85,000 or so chemicals found in household products these days, only a small percentage have ever been tested for safety. And, given that manufacturers don’t even need to come clean about the chemicals that go into creating their scents, It’s not surprising that fragrance is the leading cause of irritation and allergies in cosmetics.

One chemical family of particular concern is phthalates, which are used to make scent last longer. Phthalates are strongly suspected of interfering with reproductive development in children. The fact that phthalates are also common in plastic means that kids are already getting more than their share of exposure to this chemical.

Greener scents

If you do decide you want to give a scented gift this year, look for eco-friendly perfumes that list all of their ingredients on the label – even the fragrance ingredients. Most likely these will be scented with plant-based essential oils instead of synthetic chemicals.

Or consider straight natural essential oils instead. Look for labels that say “100% pure essential oil” instead of “fragrant,” “perfume” or “aromatherapy” oil. It’s also a good idea to buy oils that come in dark amber bottles which have a longer shelf life than blue bottles.

Valentine’s gifts that exact too high a toll on the environment and too great a risk to our health just don’t cut it this year. Seek out greener and cleaner gifts for your loved ones.

Kimberly Delaney is the author of Clean Home, Green Home: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Eco-Friendly Homekeeping, published by the Knack imprint of Globe Pequot Press.


  1. Do you have any video of that? I’d care to find out
    more details.

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