Why are synthetic fragrances "bad"? What are the differences between synthetic fragrances, natural fragrances, and fragrance free skincare? Should I be using synthetic fragrance free skincare? With so many questions surrounding these mystery scents, we figured it was time to break down why synthetic fragrances stink (and what you should use instead).
The Impact Of Scents
POV: it’s the early 2000’s. You’re in the mall with your BFF when you approach a very specific store known for their scented personal care products and candles (yeah, you know the one). The smells bombard your nose before you’re within 100 feet of it! You go in and sample each different scent. After 10 minutes, your head starts hurting- but your bestie is still shopping. Eventually, your head is pounding, becoming unbearable. You drag your friend out without buying anything.
As consumers, do we ever consider the negative effects of using such strong smelling products in our homes? And what about personal care products? What’s the harm in using scented products on your skin and in your hair? We're diving deep to give you all the smelly details.
The Psychology of Scents
Scents have a direct effect on the brain. When a scent enters your nose, it reaches a part of your brain called the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system is where your brain processes emotions, memories, and feelings.
This is why specific smells can trigger memories and cause changes in emotional states. If I say “warm vanilla sugar” or “pine trees,” there’s a good chance your brain will automatically bring memories associated with each scent to the forefront of your mind.
One example of the psychology of scent involves an old marketing trick used by many real estate investors. During an open house, it’s common practice to have cookies baking in the oven. The hope is that the smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies will create the feeling of being home, and help motivate a potential buyer to sign the contract.
How Big Corporations Use Fragrance To Increase Profits
Major corporate companies have taken advantage of this knowledge to use it as a means to attract customers and motivate them to buy their products.
One example of the psychology of smells would be how a major retailer of personal care products (as mentioned in our opening paragraph) developed products with strong scents that are based on food.
With scent combinations like Warm Vanilla and Brown Sugar, Cucumber and Melon, and Georgia Peach, these scents trigger the imagery and taste of sweet foods. It will also trigger any memory associated with these foods.
It is also documented that the store Abercrombie and Fitch would direct their staff to spray their signature cologne in their stores to increase the appeal of their clothes.
Companies that develop products for household use have done an incredible job with marketing to make you believe that you need to spray your house down with chemical fragrances to mask the mess in your life. They’ve also convinced consumers to not only rely on the scents from their laundry detergent; they developed “scent beads” for you to add to your wash to keep your clothes, sheets, and blankets smelling “fresh” for weeks.
With synthetic fragrances in so many daily use products, it begs the question: Are synthetic fragrances safe? What these companies and advertisers don’t tell you is that for over half the population these products can cause acute and chronic reactions.
The Trouble with Synthetic Fragrance in Personal Care Products
Aside from triggering memories and emotions, synthetic scents can have a negative effect on your health. The mall store scenario is just an example of how strong synthetic fragrances can trigger an adverse reaction. Some people can’t even walk inside one of these stores without experiencing breathing difficulties or an asthma attack. This scenario is very common for over half the population! Check out the really fascinating study performed that demonstrates the side effects that people experience with synthetically scented products.
Immediate adverse reactions to exposure of synthetic fragrances can include:
Asthma attack or difficulty breathing
- Skin rashes
- Nasal congestion
Chronic reactions due to synthetic fragrances can be difficult for some people to understand because many chronic diseases with an unknown source can be made worse by regular exposure to synthetic fragrances. There is even an entire disease diagnosis called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome (MCS) for people who are extremely sensitive to all fragrances, natural or synthetic.
Synthetic, Natural, and Fragrance Free… What’s the Difference?
Synthetic fragrances are man-made scents (like the ones used in the popular mall store). Synthetic fragrances that mimic scents in nature tend to be much stronger and longer lasting than their natural counterparts. They are also much cheaper to produce compared to natural fragrances. Some of the chemicals in synthetic fragrances include:
- Benzene derivatives - a known carcinogenic compound
- Phlatlates - have been connected to breast and liver cancer and they are found in plastics
- Synthetic musks - accumulate in the body and can disrupt the hormone system
- Parabens - a preservative that can contribute to hormone imbalances
For many people, seeing what synthetic fragrances are made up of is enough to go synthetic fragrance free.
Natural fragrance is composed of chemicals derived from natural sources such as flowers, spices, and resins. Essential oils are one of the most common forms of natural fragrances used in personal care products. People can still experience some adverse effects from essential oil based products if they have more reactive skin or lung sensitivities.
Fragrance free products have no fragrance to them. Fragrance free products are best for people who have very reactive lungs and skin, including children and those with conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
Synthetic fragrances have a tendency to cause the most adverse effects when compared to products scented with natural fragrances or fragrance free products.
Another factor that makes fragrances in personal care products problematic? The FDA considers fragrances and perfumes to be a “trade secret”. Thanks to the FDA’s Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1966, companies do not have to disclose what fragrances are in their products in order to protect their recipes. This lack of transparency means that your shampoo, lotion, or perfume can be made up of many different chemicals and you, the consumer, will never know what they are. According to this study, the average product’s fragrance is made up of at least 14 secret chemicals. As a company that values transparency surrounding ingredients and cares about the well being of people, Ora's lists every ingredient on the package and will always be synthetic fragrance free.
About the Author: Dorothy Miguel is a licensed massage therapist, certified Chinese herbalist, and Chinese medicine specialist. She graduated from Myotherapy College of Utah in 2010, then got her bachelor's and master's degrees from the Academy for Five Element Medicine. She is the owner of Happy Cat Pain & Stress Relief in Tallahassee, FL. As a mom of two kids with special needs, she is passionate about helping busy moms recharge their internal batteries and become more resilient to stress.
About Ora’s Amazing Herbal
Ora’s Amazing Herbal creates natural, herbal infused skincare for the whole family. We strive to empower women through self care, one minute at a time (because let’s be honest, as moms- often a minute is all we have)! Our current line includes salves, powders, body oils, body butters, face oil serums, powder facial cleansers, beard & hair oils, lip balms, and herbal steams. We also have a natural baby care line which includes gentle newborn and baby salves, powders, and baby oil. We use high quality, non-gmo, fair trade oils and organic herbs to create skin care that is both pure and effective. Our products are crafted in small batches in New Jersey and are free from talc, grain, lanolin,chemical preservatives, synthetic dyes & fragrances, parabens, and animal testing. We also have a huge focus on sustainability, eco-friendly packaging, and kindness to the world around us. If you’d like to learn more, please check out our website- OrasAmazingHerbal.com.