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Ingredient Intel: Fragrance

With our ongoing Ingredient Intel blog series, our goal is to tackle one ingredient at a time. This way, you can become an expert on that ingredient, determine how you feel about using it, and be on the lookout for products that contain it. From there, you can create your own ongoing list of ingredients (which are always helpful to have in your phone) and make it easier to determine if you are okay with purchasing a product when out shopping.

We are starting off our ingredient intel series with an ingredient that is in nearly every product. And it is one that gets us incredibly riled up. So let’s jump right in….


The term fragrance is defined as a combination of chemicals that gives each perfume or cologne (including those in other products) its distinct scent. On an ingredient label, you will find it referred to as “Fragrance” or “Parfum”. It is typically listed as the last, or one of the last few ingredients on a label. Most commonly, it is synthetically derived. Let’s break down the reasons why Fragrance is a problematic ingredient:

Companies do not have to disclose what is in their fragrance.  Since it is considered a trade-secret, companies are not required to list their secret formula on the label. While I can understand that it takes a lot of time and effort to develop a scent formula, this means that there is absolutely no transparency for the consumer. If you read our last post, you know that we are big proponents of people making informed decisions about the products they use (See: Shouldn't Products Have Warning Labels?), but if a label is not transparent, how are you supposed to do that? This also means that companies can sneak in virtually anything they want under the “Fragrance” moniker. Since ingredients are not disclosed, there is nothing stopping a company from including toxic chemicals as part of their Fragrance formula. As the EWG puts it: By taking advantage of this loophole, the cosmetics industry has kept the public in the dark about the ingredients in fragrance, even those that present potential health risks or build up in people’s bodies (link to source).

Fragrance can be made up of several thousand chemicals. Take rose for example. You can add a rose scent to your product with the addition of rose essential oil (which is extracted from rose petals using various methods). However, when a synthetic rose fragrance is incorporated into a product formula, it can be up to 10,000 different ingredients. If you ask me, I’d rather go the natural rose route. This of course isn’t just for rose. When a product has the word "fragrance" or "parfum" listed on the label, that one word can mean the scent is derived from several thousand ingredients. 

There are risks involved with Fragrance.  Even though Fragrance is typically listed as one of the last few ingredients of a product and makes up a small percentage of it’s overall formula, its components can be harmful at even the smallest levels. Fragrances are known to contain allergens, sensitizers and phthalates. Phthalates, are associated with cancer, endocrine disruption and developmental and reproductive toxicity. The EWG analyzed laboratory tests of 17 name brand Fragrances in their report on Hidden Chemicals in Perfume and Cologne. In those fragrances, they found an average of 10 chemicals that are known to be sensitizers and trigger allergic reactions such such as asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis, as well as an average of 4 types of hormone disruptors in each product. You can find the full report here if you want to learn more.

As you can already see, there is a lot to that one ingredient. But there is some good news! You don’t have to sacrifice your health to use products that smell good. Fragrance made from essential oils or plant-derived ingredients don’t have the same risks, and the products in our store all smell amazing without containing harmful toxins.

Now that you’ve had a crash course in Fragrance, how do you feel? Are you motivated to do more research or do you feel ready to look for Fragrance on a product label? As always, if you have any questions or feedback, contact us at

*The information we provide is intended to motivate our customers to make their own decisions regarding the products they use. We are not scientists, chemists or healthcare professionals. Any statements or claims about benefits of ingredients have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. As health and ingredient research continuously evolves, we do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness or timeliness of any information presented on this website.

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