When I go shopping for beauty products, one of the first things I do is open the lid and smell. The scent of the product really makes a difference in whether or not I choose to buy. Anyone else with me?
But scent can actually be a red flag in products. In fact, if you haven’t started getting suspicious about how your beauty products get the smell that they do, you might want to start.
Almost every beauty, personal care, or home product has the term “fragrance” or “parfum” in the label. Obviously scented ones are haircare, soap, lotion, and detergent. Not so obvious? Mascara, powder, sunscreen, and dryer sheets. Check the personal care products in your bathroom if you don’t believe me. Go ahead; I’ll wait.
What’s so bad about fragrance as an ingredient?
It’s actually pretty scary. Because it’s not just one ingredient – it’s usually made up of many ingredients. And legally, beauty and personal care companies don’t have to tell you what they are.
Under the Fair Packaging and Labelling Act of 1966, companies have to tell you what’s in their product. Often even harmful or questionable ingredients can be found right on the label. But according to the FDA, “this law is not allowed to be used to force a company to tell ‘trade secrets’.” Meaning fragrances, so that big name companies won’t get others copying their scent.
Which means what exactly?
Scents often trigger allergic reactions, either via skin contact or airborne. My husband has serious allergies to fragrances and can have an asthmatic reaction to strong fragrances. I hardly have any allergies, but I can have a similar reaction to strongly-scented products.
But since companies have no obligation to share the ingredients in their fragrance, you won’t know what’s causing your rash or breathing problems. (P.S. The FDA also says that it “does not have the same legal authority to require allergen labeling for cosmetics as for food.” If you think you’re protected by the government, wondering, why on earth would they let that stay on the shelves? – think again.)
Or maybe a company is using a questionable or dangerous ingredient, like a carcinogen. Since they have the protection of including it in the fragrance label, you won’t know everything you’re putting on your skin or in your hair.
So, then, fragrance-free products? Or unscented?
Sorry, friend. Since there is no government-regulated standard for these words, companies can use them to mean pretty much anything they want. Words like:
Fragrance-free (they can still contain chemicals to mask icky scents from other chemicals)
Unscented (can still contain fragrance or parfum)
For Kids or For Babies (nope – not even products marketed to children are necessarily safe. Consider that Johnson & Johnson recently revealed that their “tear-free” shampoos formerly contained formaldehyde, to numb rather than take away the chemicals causing that burning feeling in the eyes.)
That concept is horrifying to me. Companies we trust for years to correctly label their products and only sell ones that are safe for the public might actually be utilizing loopholes to make products with harmful ingredients seem safe.
What do we do now?
First, try to avoid products that include, “fragrance” or “parfum” in the ingredients list. That is, unless those words are followed by another ingredients list in parenthesis. Or look for products that list essential oils or other forms of fragrance rather than the word “fragrance” itself.
Some companies will say, “naturally derived fragrance,” or something to that effect. That’s a toss up. Sometimes I grab those, but often I prefer companies that are transparent with their ingredients. If you’re not hiding anything, why not just list them out?
Finally, I hate to say it, but this is hard to do. Under our current (lack of) government regulation in this area, there are a lot of loopholes, and fragrance is just one of them. It’s difficult to find products that don’t contain fragrance as an ingredient. But the more we demand clean products and change in this industry, the more the government will need to listen. A new legislation is in the works to make change happen. Also major companies like Sephora are working for more transparency in this industry.
What about you? Which products do you need to ditch? I’m still working on finding a shampoo and conditioner without fragrance that I love.