Many skincare products are known for their unique fragrance or scent. But what ingredients are being used to give them that smell? The truth is we don’t know and don’t even have the legal right to know. We consumers are being kept in the dark when it comes to really knowing what ingredients are used to create scent in mainstream consumer products.
While shopping recently, I found a popular and well-known body lotion with these listed ingredients (please note all the chemicals):
WATER, GLYCERIN, STEARIC ACID, PETROLATUM, ISOPROPYL PALMITATE, AVENA SATIVA (OAT) STRAW EXTRACT,DIHYDROXYPROPYLTRIMONIUM CHLORIDE, HYDROXYETHYL UREA, ACRYLATES/C10-30 ALKYL ACRYLATE CROSSPOLYMER, DIMETHICONE, GLYCERYL STEARATE, CETYL ALCOHOL, LACTIC ACID, FRAGRANCE, MAGNESIUM ALUMINUM SILICATE, POTASSIUM HYDROXIDE, PROPYLENE GLYCOL, ETHYLPARABEN, PROPYLPARABEN, DISODIUM EDTA, PHENOXYETHANOL, TITANIUM DIOXIDE.
The ingredient “Fragrance” (sometimes listed as “Parfume” or “Perfume”) is a code word for “a bunch of other chemicals which will not be disclosed”. After doing some research, I found that companies can choose from 3,160 stock chemicals (man-made synthetics) and use any combination of them in their products. The only thing that they have to include on their ingredient labels is the simple and harmless sounding word: fragrance. And why don’t these companies have to list all the ingredients they are using to scent their products? Well, the FDA allows companies to leave these ingredients off their product labels because they are considered “trade secrets”.
It doesn’t make sense that pharmaceutical companies must utilize a battery of health and safety tests over a period of years to prove their drugs safe before they can be used by people, while the skincare and cosmetic industry can put as many untested chemicals as they want in their products with no monitoring of the health effects on human beings. As you know, everything you put on your skin absorbs into your body. Given this sad state of affairs, I have come to the conclusion that we just have to rely on ourselves, including doing our own safety and health research in order to make informed choices. Fortunately, there are some excellent resources available online to help you do that. Probably the best resource of all is the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database of chemicals and ingredients compiled by the Environmental Working Group.
Also, there is something fishy going on when it comes to products that are labeled “fragrance free.” One might assume that this means the products include no fragrance-related chemicals. But, in many cases, this is not so at all. Fragrance-related ingredients (generally chemicals) ARE added to the product, but their function is to mask or neutralize any unpleasant odors that occur naturally during the manufacturing process. So even though there appears to be no fragrance, you may still be exposed to an undisclosed assortment of fragrance-related chemicals. The only way you could possibly find out is to call the company and hope they will be honest with you.
At Mary Ann’s Naturals, we are concerned about creating healthy products for your skin. In some of our products we use essential oils that are from organically grown plants and extracted through a distillation process (no chemicals are used). If an essential oil is used, it says so on our labels, and we only lightly scent our products with them. Our moisture cream, eye cream, and unscented deodorant do not have essential oils and so if there is any scent at all, it is from the oils themselves (you usually can smell a light scent of the cocoa butter or shea butter).
So, as always, read the labels, do your research, and make good choices that are right for you and your family.