What is the first thing most of us do when checking out a new beauty product? 

Smell it!

The olfactory system, the system that allows us to smell, is made up of one of the most primal parts of the brain. Like our other senses, smell is a way for us to gather information about the environment around us. 

Our sense of smell influences us daily by:

1. Triggering Memories 

2. Evoking Emotional Reactions

3. Increasing Productivity & Concentration

4. Relieving Stress & Insomnia

5. Calming Nervous System

Our sense of smell is vital to the overall wellbeing of our lives. When we use our sense of smell, we are ingesting into our bodies the chemical properties that make up what we are smelling. These chemicals affect our bodies just like chemicals we ingest in the food we eat and can have an incredibly positive or negative impact on our physical & mental health.

The amount of data from studies on the effects of fragrance oils is overwhelming. I have condensed some of the most pertinent and informative facts from studies made by scientists & doctors so that you can make informed decisions about what you put on & in your body.

What are fragrance (synthetic) oils?

Synthetic fragrance oils are primarily made from petrochemicals and attempt to duplicate the smell of a specific plant. Fragrance oils, perfumes, & musks can include anywhere from 1 dozen to hundreds of those chemicals in just one formulation.

What is in the "fragrance"?

More than 95 percent of the chemicals in synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals. These chemicals include: benzene derivatives, aldehydes, phthalates, and a slew of other known toxins that are capable of causing cancer, birth defects, nervous-system disorders and allergies—some of which are cited on the EPA’s ( Environmental Protection Agency) hazardous waste list.

Where are fragrance oils hiding?

In the U.S., manufacturers can legally hide hundreds of synthetic chemicals in the one word—“fragrance”—without revealing what those ingredients are. The FDA does not require fragrance manufacturers to disclose the ingredients of synthetic fragrances. It’s referred to as a “trade secret” in the industry. But really, it’s simply an enormous loophole that allows for government protection of manufacturers who have a license to use these ingredients with more than 3,000 chemicals that are being absorbed, inhaled, and ingested daily. Many manufacturers will list "proprietary scent" as a way of hiding their use of fragrance oils / musks and to make the consumer feel as if that scent is unique or special.

How harmful are these "fragrances"?

Even after banning methylene chloride (a known carcinogen that also causes autoimmune disease) in 1989, an EPA study two years later listed the chemical as one of the 20 most common chemicals found in fragrance products. In a 2001 study, the EPA reported that synthetic fragrances were shown to cause "possible mutagenic and genotoxic effects."Environmental Working Group (EWG) researchers found more than 75% of products listing the ingredient “fragrance” contain phthalates (THAL-ates) which have been shown to disrupt hormone activity, reduce sperm counts, and cause reproductive malformation, and have been linked to liver and breast cancer, diabetes, and obesity. So much of toxicology research is done one chemical at a time, and since these oils are made from many chemicals and we are never exposed to just one chemical at a time; when you add up the chemicals and a lifetime of exposure, there is a "cocktail" effect of toxicity that adds up to something big.

Women are at higher risk of exposure.

The average American woman uses 12-16 products a day, many containing fragrance oils. Take a moment and do this small exercise to better understand what you may be exposing yourself to daily:

1) count the products you use containing fragrance oils.

2) multiply that number by 12 (the lower end of the spectrum of combined petrochemicals in fragrance oils).

3) then multiply that number by the daily use of those products.

That's A LOT of chemical exposure on a daily basis! Imagine the total exposure over your lifetime.

Bottom line:

Skin, your body’s largest organ, absorbs fragrance chemicals by direct application, by contact with fragranced items, and by exposure to air containing fragrances from candles, room sprays, etc. Exposure to synthetic fragrance is not acute poisoning, but it is chronic; it stays in your system and accumulates in the fatty tissues of living organisms, making this type of poisonous ingestion so insidious.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of information on the negative effects fragrance oils have. The environmental effects are just as numerous and disturbing. Many of these oils are "forever" chemicals; they linger in our water and soil adversely affecting marine and freshwater fish & mammals, entering our food supply and polluting our air.

Reading labels and asking questions about what you put in & on your body is essential. It is vital that you advocate for healthier choices and know what you are exposing yourself and the planet to. 


EPA, TSCA Work Plan Chemical Risk Assessment HHCB; EPA document #746-R1-4001; August 2014; Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention; Flavor & Fragrance Journal; Wiley InterScience; DOI: 10.1002/ffj.1106; 2002Neurotoxins at Home and In The Workplace (Report 99-827) Committee on Science & Technology Sept. 16, 1986; EPA Paper #A312, 1991; EPA; January 2001; Candles and Incense As Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution, National Institute of Health