95% of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum. It has been estimated that more than 3000 different chemicals are used in fragrance production. Do these figures shock you? Yes, manufacturers are very clever we see the packaging and the adverts showing flowers and nature, and we assume (as the manufacturer intends us to assume) that the fragrance in the product is derived from nature, but most fragrances are chemically derived. They do not use essential oils because they are too expensive. They do use synthetic chemicals because they are cheap.
The Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Fragrances
Natur al scents are amde from plants, trees or animals, whereas synthetic fragrances are created in a laboratory. Almost two-thirds of the most popular fragrances made today that are used in perfumes and other scented products are synthetic.
The modern lab is their source, and basically, there are three different types. These include:
- Full synthetics, which are composed almost entirely from petroleum by-products
- Semi-synthetics, or natural fragrances that have been modified by artificial means
- Natural isolates, which are aromas which fall somewhere in between natural and synthetic because they are developed by isolating one scent from a more complex aroma base such as that of a red rose.
Is it possible to avoid fragrance?
We are exposed to perfume or fragrance throughout the day. We may not wear perfume ourselves, but our shampoo, soap, shower gel and cosmetics are likely to contain synthetic perfumes, unless we look at the label and shop carefully.
We encounter more smells in our household products cleaners, washing powders, polish, air fresheners, etc. If we go out, we experience these smells on other people and in offices and stores.
Perfume mixes added to products are listed in the ingredients as “parfum” or “fragrance” depending on the part of the world you live in.
Even some products that appear to be unperfumed will contain synthetic perfumes in order to cover an unpleasant odour from one of the active ingredients, or to ensure that the product always smells the same. The exact composition of these may vary over time even for the same product, as the manufacturer adjust the fragrance mix in relation to variations in the smell of the raw ingredients.
Paula’s choice skincare has a thoughtful article on this topic:
“The way most fragrance ingredients impart scent is through a volatile reaction. Unfortunately, this natural reaction almost always causes a sensitizing reaction on skin. In fact, research has established that fragrances in skincare products are among the most common cause of sensitizing and other negative skin reactions. And this is true for all skin types, not just those with sensitive or redness-prone skin.”
Even some essential oils are not entirely natural, as harsh chemicals may be used in their extraction process. Chemical solvents such as hexane and heptane are used to extract the maximum amount of oil from the plant.
The ireadlabelsforyou website syas:
“As a product researcher, I have noticed that the absence of a legal definition often affects the manufacturer’s transparency, accountability, and credibility in a negative way. In other words, often companies still do not disclose their fragrance ingredients. Thus, “free of phthalates and parabens” does not mean the naturally derived fragrance is free of “supporting” ingredients. … these supporting ingredients are antioxidants, preservatives, fixatives, diluents, solvents, and colors.”
Allergies to fragrances are very common. The main organs affected are the skin and the respiratory system, but neurological damage has also been reported. Some people feel that we should have a right to fragrance-free air as well as tobacco-smoke-free air. There are also concerns about the impact of synthetic chemicals on the environment, as they do not necessarily break down easily.
Of course, there is a role for fragrance. The power of aromatherapy oils to heal and lift the spirits is well documented, but the widespread use of synthetic fragrances should be seen as pollution of both our bodies and our environments.
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