What Does the “Fragrance” Ingredient Actually Mean?
Fragrance is the only ingredient listed on a product label that is allowed to not say what it really is.
Most people want to use products with this ingredient to make them smell good.
Fragrance can be defined as the chemicals in a product to give it a certain scent. It can be natural or artificial, made up of phthalates or aldehydes. This ingredient can be in all different kinds of products, from cosmetics and cleaning products to tissues and candles.
Every single ingredient used in cosmetics or any other personal care product must be listed on the label, whereas the ingredient, “fragrance,” is considered a trade secret.
Kelly Hsiao, founder of Block Island Organics said, “While the FDA requires the disclosure of ingredients on a product’s label because of the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, fragrance is an exception since it does not need to be listed individually.”
This lack of transparency means the dozens — maybe even hundreds — of chemicals used to create scents are restricted from the people who want to know what exactly is in the products they are buying.
There are potentially some serious health risks associated with fragrance being an ingredient. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, fragrance is the number one cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis, and its prevalence is on the rise.
One study, “A Whiff of Danger: Synthetic Musks May Encourage Toxic Bioaccumulation” by Cynthia Washam, found many potentially harmful chemicals hiding in fragrances, including synthetic musks that build up in our bodies and may enhance the impacts of other toxic chemicals.
Some of these musks are known to potentially disrupt hormones. Synthetic musks can also hurt the environment and contaminate rivers and wildlife. There are phthalates that are meant to help the scent last longer. Health risks for phthalates can be cancer and hormone disruption, which can affect development, reproduction and child health.
There are also volatile organic compounds that are classified as toxic or hazardous under the US EPA. Neurotoxicants are also a part of the ingredient, which are chemicals that are toxic to the brain.
Products that claim to be “unscented” or “fragrance-free” aren’t always safe either. According to Dr. Joseph Schwarc, Director of McGill’s Office for Science & Society, unscented products are formulated to have no smell. Nonetheless, these items can contain ingredients that have a smell, but the smell has been neutralized by other components.
A fragrance-free product cannot contain any ingredients that have been added to impart a smell. The product may, however, contain ingredients that have a scent but are not added because of their scent. Sometimes they can serve a different purpose.
For example, if a cream is made with an oil that has a smell, it could still be labeled as fragrance-free because the purpose of the oil is to act as an emollient, not as a scent. It could not be labeled unscented, though.
However, if a product is formulated with lavender, for example, but some chemical is added to mask the smell, the product can be labeled as “unscented.” Products that have essential oils as the fragrance or are naturally fragranced can also trigger skin and respiratory allergies.
Overall, you may want to read the ingredients label carefully next time and choose products wisely. Some aspects of fragrance formulas may have the potential to cause allergic reactions or irritations because people can be sensitive to it. This risk is why it is better to opt for a different product if you are sensitive to fragrances or if you want to avoid products containing artificial chemicals.
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