Sustainable Living Challenge

Week 17: Stop and Smell the…Chemicals?

Have you ever walked into a room only to have your nose assaulted with the overwhelming smells of lavender or fruit from an air freshener or cleaning products?  Well, I hate to break it to you, but those aren’t natural fragrances you’re smelling.  And all of those synthetic fragrances are getting into our water, impacting our health, and affecting our environment.

What Are Synthetic Fragrances Made From?

The ingredients in synthetics fragrances are rarely revealed because they are considered “trade secrets”.  In fact, if you read the ingredients label on your favorite air-freshener (like Febreze), you will probably see “fragrance”, but you are unlikely to get any additional information.  Synthetic fragrances are cited more and more often as the cause of asthma, allergies, migraine headaches and other health conditions.  So there has to be something in them…right?

Synthetic fragrances are commonly made from Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), which are considered a pollutant.  On average, products using synthetic fragrances emit about 17 VOC’s, some of which react with ozone to form hazardous chemicals like formaldehyde.  Synthetic fragrance ingredients can also include petrochemicals.  As the name implies, these chemicals are derived from petroleum, a fossil fuel.  So overall, synthetic fragrances are essentially a giant cocktail of harmful chemicals.

A Surprising Lack of Regulation

One would think that products contain such a lovely mixture of toxic chemicals would be regulated…right?  Wrong.  Here in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates fragrances.  However, there are still no consistent safety standards for synthetic fragrances.  Individual ingredients that are used to make fragrances are also not required to be listed on ingredient labels.  At the moment, the EPA is becoming more vocal about the problems associated with synthetic fragrances, but they have done little to enforce the regulation of these chemicals.  Overall, the fragrance industry is simply self-regulated…which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Fake Scents Are Poisoning Our Planet

There are growing concerns that synthetic fragrances are affecting respiratory health and may even contain hormone disrupters.  So they can’t be great for the planet either.  Most of the chemicals contained in synthetic fragrances are not filtered out in water treatment facilities, which means they eventually end up in our oceans.  Scientists are now researching how this will affect our marine life.  In one experiment, scientists discovered that synthetic scents negatively affected the function of gills in mussels.  These chemicals also bioaccumulate, meaning that any wildlife that consumes shellfish and fish that already have high levels of these chemicals will also be exposed.

Making Improvements

At the moment, the EPA is working towards improved regulation of synthetic fragrances.  The have come up with new criteria, which is called the Safer Choice Criteria for Fragrances.  This criteria has created a system for certifying products as safe options for cleaning and personal care products.  In conjunction with this certification, the EPA has also created a Safer Choice label, which labels a product as free from harmful synthetic fragrances.  Check out page 2 of this report so see what the label looks like.  While the labeling process is still not enforced, we are still building a standard for safer products.  In the meantime, here’s how you can avoid synthetic fragrances.

Hippie Homeowner Habits

Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that synthetic fragrances are worth avoiding, if not for the environment’s sake for you own health.  The next time you buy cosmetics or toiletries make sure to check the label.  If you see “fragrance” or “parfum” on the ingredient list, leave it behind.  Check out your local natural foods store for better options that use natural fragrances or no fragrances at all.  This week, I’ve been trying out eco-friendly sunscreen from Alba Botanica, and I was happy to discover that they use only natural fragrances in their sunscreen!  Their other products do contain synthetic fragrances, but it’s a start!  Other great companies that use natural fragrances include NYR Organic and Dr. Bronner (one of my personal favorites!).  Dr. Bronner products are even available at some regular grocery stores like Wegman’s!

Going the Extra Mile

If you’re not ready to give up all of the scents in your life, look into essential oils.  You can always buy a diffuser that uses essential oils to make your home smell great and even improve your health!  Some good diffusers to check out include SpaRoom, InnoGear, and AromaSphere.  You can also go the DIY route and make your own air freshener!  Essential oils have a wide variety of uses and are a great substitute for all of those toxic chemicals.

You can take things a step further by writing your local congresswoman/ man and imploring them to increase the regulation of synthetic fragrance.  Anything that contains toxic chemicals should be regulated, and we need to encourage our government to do something about it!

In Summary

While synthetic fragrance may make our world smell nice, their pleasant odor is masking some dirty secrets.  It’s time to keep those extra chemicals out our lives and switch to natural fragrances!

  1. Check the ingredients labels on your next toiletry and cosmetics purchases.  If you see “fragrance” or “parfum” listed as an ingredient, leave it behind!
  2. Switch to products like Dr. Bronner’s that only use natural fragrances or no fragrances at all.
  3. Explore incorporating essential oils into your life as a healthy alternative.
  4. Write your local congresswoman/ man to encourage our government to regulate synthetic fragrances.

Thanks for reading!  Have your own story to share about synthetic fragrances?  Leave a comment below!  And if you like what I write, consider buying me a cup of coffee by clicking the blue button below!