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  • Writer's pictureKate Markovitz

The F Word: The Dirtiest Word in Cosmetics

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

Before I reveal, do you know the dirtiest word in cosmetics today? I hope so because it's an ingredient (or chemical concoction of ingredients) you'll certainly want to avoid!

If you shop for personal care products in stores, you'll be hard-pressed to find products that DO NOT contain the term "fragrance" or "parfum" in the ingredient list.

In fact, a 2016 study found that 99.1% of participants of a random US sample were exposed to fragranced products at least once a week from their own use, others' use, or both. In addition, they reported a myriad of health effects when exposed to fragrance ranging from migraines to asthma to GI upset to cardiovascular problems.[1]

Think about it.. have you ever walked into a hotel or gotten in an Uber and been hit in the face with a scent only to have a severe headache later? That's not a coincidence.

The lack of regulation, transparency, and serious health concerns (including cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies, and more) makes Fragance the dirtiest word in the personal care/cosmetics industry... let's investigate further...

What is Fragrance?

According to the US Food & Drug Administrations (FDA) which currently oversees cosmetic/personal care regulations, a fragrance is a combination of chemicals that gives a perfume or cologne its distinct scent.

But here is the thing. There are over 3,000 individual ingredients/chemicals/compounds that are used to "build" fragrance on today's market and unfortunately, there is evidence linking to very serious health effects and you won't find the individual chemicals listed.

Where is Fragrance found?

Majority of personal care products on the market use fragrance, including (but of course not limited to) perfumes, makeup, skincare of all types (cleansers, toners, serums, moisturizers), body washes and lotions, shampoo/conditioner, deodorant, soaps, sunscreens, shaving cream, etc.

It will show up on the label as fragrance, perfume, parfum, essential oil blend, or aroma.

That one word "fragrance" can be a cocktail of over 100 toxic ingredients and "natural fragrances" can be just as problematic as synthetic ingredients.

Why should you avoid Fragrance?

Let me be clear, it's not an issue that we want to smell nice or our want our products/clothes to smell well... it IS a problem that companies are not disclosing all the ingredients in their fragrance so you know exactly what's going on your skin and it IS a problem that some companies are formulating with a concoction of chemicals that are known to be linked to cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies, sensitivities, and more.

Here is a link to Fragrance on EWG in which it is a "known human immune system toxicant or allergen."

Additionally, check out this list here if you want to look up specific ingredients and their concerns.

Some examples: BHA (endocrine disruptor, carcinogen), formaldehyde (carcinogen, immune system sensitizer - banned in Japan and Sweden, EU and Canada restrict its use, US is behind), 1,4 dioxane (by-product of making chemicals less harsh, carcinogen, cause birth defects), phthalates (irritants, potential endocrine disruptor, linked to reproductive and nervous system toxicity).

Regulation & Transparency Issues

The current industry standard is to keep fragrance ingredients a secret... that's right, it's KNOWN that these ingredients are not shared, called the "fragrance loophole," and are protected under federal law's classification of trade secrets. They are legally allowed to remain undisclosed. [2]

In addition, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) set the voluntary standards for chemicals used in fragrance and is a self-regulating industry.

Closing the Loophole

Beyond just removing fragrance of Beautycounter products, "the leader in clean" has been a prominent business voice for the passage of SB 574, The Safer Fragrance Bill in California, which requires manufacturers to disclose any fragrance ingredient in personal-care products that are linked to harmful health consequences.

How to Avoid

The good news? This is EASY to detect. Simply flip a product over and look for the words "fragrance," "parfum," "perfume," "essential oil blend," "aroma" or anything that is not disclosed.

I proudly choose Beautycounter which has synthetic flavor and fragrance on The Never List, an 1,800+ list of ingredients that are never allowed in the formulas.

Need Help?

Looking to clean up your beauty or skincare products to safer scents? Email beauty(at)holistickate(dot)com. I'm happy to help you! I also send a Clean Beauty Newsletter every Tuesday. Sign up here.

Additional Resources:

[1] Steinemann A. Fragranced consumer products: exposures and effects from emissions.Air Qual Atmos Health. 2016;9(8):861-866. doi:10.1007/s11869-016-0442-z

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