Smelling good may come at the cost of your health.
Our sense of smell is incredible, with most people being able to detect over a trillion different scents. Most scents evoke memories – good and bad – and can influence us heavily, for example, when buying certain products.
Due to our sensitive noses, it’s understandable we all want to smell good and opt for scented deodorants and perfumes.
But while a spritz of some sweet-smelling stuff here and there may seem innocent, it can actually have a serious effect on your wellbeing, especially with allergies and asthma on the rise. So before you reach for that perfume bottle, ensure you’re well versed in the ugly flip side of smelling good…
1. Most perfumes are synthetic
While the description of your fave fragrance might include words like rose, vanilla, or citrus and thereby evoke the expectation it is made from real flowers or fruits, most perfumes – even the exxy ones – are 100 per cent synthetic, meaning the scents were created artificially in a laboratory from ambiguous chemicals that imitate a certain smell for a fraction of the cost of natural essential oils.
According to a research paper published in Positive Health Online, 95 per cent of the chemicals in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, i.e. the smelly stuff you fuel your car with. This may explain why Victoria’s Secret’s Bombshell perfume was found to act as a mosquito repellent recently.
2. Ingredients don’t have to be listed
As unbelievable as it sounds, you will probably never know what exactly is in your fave perfume bottle, even if you cared enough to read the list of ingredients as it is most definitely incomplete or misleading. Pretty much every fragrance contains a variety of chemicals to create its scents, none of which have to be disclosed to consumers thanks to a big fat loophole in the consumer law which requires companies to list cosmetics ingredients on the product labels but explicitly exempts fragrance as they are seen as a trade secret.
In 2014, laboratory tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found 38 secret chemicals in 17 well-known perfume brands – a concerning number as there are no studies or safety reports on most of the chemicals. In other words, we just don’t know what happens when our skin absorbs or we inhale the chemicals in our fave fragrances.
3. Fragrances can make you sick
The most common effects of the chemicals contained in perfume are asthma, allergic reactions, headaches, or contact dermatitis, but there are health problems linked to perfume that are far worse. According to biologist Dr Heather Patisaul, most perfumes contain petroleum-based chemicals called phthalates as they keep all ingredients evenly distributed.
However, studies have shown phthalates disrupt our hormones, which can lead to unwanted hair growth and acne, irregular periods, or even worse, polycystic ovarian syndrome. Phthalates are especially dangerous for pregnant women and have been linked to developmental disorders, “especially among newborn boys,” Patisaul explains.
4. You can be affected even when you’re not wearing perfume
Unfortunately, phthalates and other potentially harmful chemicals aren’t only found in perfumes, but any scented product, such as body lotions, lip balms, deodorant, and even cleaning products and air fresheners.
So while you might be making a step in the healthy direction by avoiding perfume, fragrances and their harmful effects are all around. Especially in office buildings that share air vents and air conditioning, the fragrance concoction resulting from everyone’s perfume can trigger health problems for everyone.
While it’s almost impossible to stay away from all synthetic fragrances, a good alternative to wearing perfume is natural essential oils. Essential oils are extracted from plants without the addition of chemicals and therefore pose a lower risk of negative health effects. In fact, many essential oils have healing qualities and are used to treat certain skin conditions and diseases.
As they are highly concentrated, adding only one drop of essential oil to unscented cosmetics, such as moisturizer, can give you the scent you desire without the nasty side effects of synthetic fragrances.
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