What you Smell is Impacting Your Health
Have you wondered what the ‘big deal’ is about the essential oils industry? I mean, why are so many people now using diffusers instead of ‘plug-ins’? For years I loved using synthetic fragrances — I sprayed, misted, and squirted them all over my home. However, the more I learned about synthetic fragrances, the more I couldn’t ignore some of the effects they were having on my health. Eventually I opened up to trying essential oils, eventually became an essential oils ‘user’, and have never looked back! I now love to share information with others about how essential oils can help people reduce their toxic load but still keep a home that has a clean, welcoming aroma. If you are considering how to reduce your toxic load as it relates to synthetic fragrances, read on for 4 things you should consider about the fragrance industry and how it may be impacting your overall health and some great tools to make healthy changes!
What are synthetic fragrances, anyway? The ingredients used in synthetic fragrances are man-made. Synthetic aromatic raw materials have either been chemically created (mostly from petroleum), or started as naturals and have had their chemical structure modified. A synthetic fragrance may have no natural ingredients in it or a combination of some. Be aware that the term ‘natural fragrance’ represents a broad range regarding how processed (and damaging) a natural material was modified to create the final product. The chemicals included in these products include benzene derivatives, aldehydes, phthalates, and many other known toxins that are capable of causing cancer, birth defects, nervous-system disorders and allergies (some of which are cited on the EPA’s hazardous waste list!).
Why are harmful chemicals allowed to be used in home fragrances? Long story short, the fragrance industry is largely self-regulated. Manufacturers are able to ‘hide’ hundreds of synthetic chemicals in the word “fragrance” without revealing what those ingredients are to consumers. The fragrance industry claims that they review the safety of fragrance chemicals by using a panel of independent experts who review all the data and publish their findings. They also self-impose restrictions (and occasionally bans) on certain fragrance ingredients intended to keep fragrances ‘safe’. Despite these measures, many consumers question if these supposed safeguards are ‘enough’ to keep people safe given the known effects of many chemicals used in many fragrance products on the market. Of highest concern is a legal loophole that perpetuates the toxicity of the fragrance industry. The laws we have today emerged when companies lobbied decades ago to protect the recipes of their fragrances (then made from truly natural flowers and oils) but now serves to protect manufacturers who use over 3,000 chemicals in products used daily as we go about using products to maintain our daily lives.
How can I reduce my exposure to harmful chemicals contained in fragranced household personal care and cleaning products? Many of us are aware of the chemicals contained in most mass-produced foods and, therefore, work to eat organic, avoid foods with added hormones or those made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and do our best to read nutritional labels. These same skills are what you can apply to the way you consume cleaning supplies and personal care products. This is especially important with chemicals such as phthalates which have been shown to disrupt hormone activity, reduce sperm counts, cause reproductive malformation, and have been linked to liver and breast cancer, diabetes, and obesity as well as fetal exposure being connected with autism, ADHD, and neurological disorders. To reduce your exposure to these chemicals and thereby reduce your toxic load, you can read the labels of personal care and household cleaning products and research what the chemicals listed actually are and how they might impact your health.
What are some ‘next steps’ I can take to chip away at my toxic load from fragrances? The ingredients in “fragrance” are absorbed into the bloodstream through inhalation, ingestion, or absorption through the skin. As best practice, I advise people to avoid ALL products with the ingredient “fragrance” on the label—including perfumes and colognes, baby lotions and wipes, air fresheners and candles, dryer sheets and detergents, and so on. Even if the front screams “fragrance free,” products can still contain fragrance ingredients as a masking agent to cover unpleasant chemical smells, so be sure to read the labels and do the research! The following resources are some of my favorites to help:
- Use the Think Dirty app to scan the barcodes of your household products to determine their potential toxicity level (warning: this is addicting and a little intimidating at first!)
- Start small by ditching the most toxic products in your household first (note: air fresheners are the WORST!). It can be overwhelming to think about revamping your entire cleaning and beauty routine in order to stay healthy, but small changes can make a big difference!
- Attend a workshop and get personal support. I offer monthly workshops that help people learn how to use safe (but wonderfully-smelling!) essential oils that are NOT rendered dangerous through chemical modification.