When I was younger, I never for a minute thought my crazy headaches might be the result of anything other than teenage hormones, but looking back now I realize they were more than likely caused by the synthetic fragrances that surrounded me—in the Timotei shampoo my sister and I fought over, in our mountain-spring-scented laundry detergent, in the Estée Lauder perfume my mum doused herself in every morning, and even in my beloved Soft & Dri deodorant. It may have seemed like politically correct mumbo jumbo when scent-free rules were introduced into workplaces and hospitals, but these days I’m glad to be breathing fragrance-free air when I get my teeth cleaned or renew my passport.
So what’s the deal with synthetic fragrances? We really don’t know! And here’s why: The words “perfume” and “fragrance” are protected under trade secret law. That means manufacturers aren’t required to reveal their ingredients. In its “Not So Sexy” report in 2010, Environmental Defence found that fragrances contain multiple phthalates that can trigger allergic reactions or disrupt hormones, as well as many substances that have not been assessed for safety by the beauty industry. Of the 17 fragrances tested in the study, each contained an average of 10 sensitizing chemicals that can trigger allergic effects such as headaches, wheezing, asthma, and contact dermatitis; the study also found an average of 4 different hormone-disrupting chemicals per product.
It’s important to note that plenty of “natural” products contain synthetic scents. Check ingredient listings: If scents are listed as derived from essential oils, you’re on track to rid your bathroom—and laundry room—shelves of phthalates.
Better yet: Use Ecoholic expert Adria Vasil’s DIY perfume recipe and create your own signature scent:
Grate 2 tablespoons of beeswax (use an old candle or, if you're vegan, soy wax). Melt beeswax in a double boiler along with 3 tablespoons of jojoba oil. Once the mixture is fully melted and blended, remove from heat and stir in 45 drops of a certified organic essential oil of your liking and quickly pour into a small, shallow glass container or cute antique tin. Once it's set, dab and go.