What’s REALLY in your Perfume?

The word Fragrance sounds so lovely! It elicits visions of a beautiful meadow of flowers or the sweet smell of ripe fruit. And yes, fragrance derived from nature is a delight. BUT in modern times the word ‘fragrance’ in the ingredient list of your household and personal care products is anything but natural.

“This gorgeous, lovely word, ‘fragrance’ has become this bucket for the beauty industry, where beauty companies can hide pretty much any ingredient – including phthalates, parabens, known endocrine disruptors, anything toxic they don’t want to list on the label. What started as perfumers wanting to preserve their secret formulas has become this chemical dumping ground.” Gwyneth Paltrow

There are literally thousands of potentially harmful chemicals that can be found in synthetic ‘fragrance’, but below I will share with you some of the most toxic ingredients to AVOID when purchasing a perfume! 


Pronounced with a silent 'ph', phthalates are a common industrial chemical used for 'plasticising' or increasing a products flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. They are most frequently found in plastics, solvents and SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCES.

The EWG (Environmental Working Group) states that "Phthalates are endocrine disruptors linked to problems of the reproductive system, including decreased sperm motility and concentration in men and genital abnormalities in baby boys. More recently they've also been linked to asthma and allergies."


So how do you avoid Phthalates in your next perfume purchase? Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is often used as part of the "fragrance" component of the perfume. This is NOT natural essential oils, but a cocktail of synthetic chemicals. Since DEP won't be listed separately, but rather hidden within this generic term 'fragrance', you should avoid any product with it on the ingredients list, unless it specifically states that it is derived from a natural source.


Parabens are an artificial preservative added to many cosmetics and perfumes to increase their shelf life. According to the EWG, "the concern with these chemicals is that scientific studies suggest that parabens can disrupt hormones in the body and harm fertility and reproductive organs, affect birth outcomes, and increase the risk of cancer. They can also cause skin irritation."

So what should you look out for in the ingredient list? Parabens go by the following names: Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Ethylparaben, Polyparaben and Isobutylparaben.

But, once again, as perfume companies do not have to disclose the ingredients hidden within their catch all 'fragrance', parabens are most likely hiding in this 'secret formula'. So always best to avoid any product with FRAGRANCE listed. 


When discussing Benzyl Alcohol as a potentially dangerous ingredient in perfume, we are not referring to the naturally occurring compound found in plants and essential oils, but rather the synthetic version produced in a chemical lab.

Benzyl alcohol is a colourless liquid with a pleasant aromatic scent. It is used as a preservative, as a fragrance ingredient and as a solvent to dissolve other ingredients to make a smooth formulation.

HOWEVER, for those with sensitive skin, Benzyl Alcohol is known to cause blistering, itching and burning of the skin or hives as well as eye irritation.

Something else to consider is that like some other preservatives, it can break down to create aldehydes when combined with other chemicals, and one of those aldehydes can be formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.

Although the exposure level is small, the point is that IT CAN BE AVOIDED by choosing products without 'fragrance'!


Musk is a fragrance note in almost all perfumes. It helps to bring together the various scent notes and create a cohesive fragrance. Musk in nature has origins from animals, many of which have been banned due to animal hunting. Also, in its natural form, musk cannot be included in vegan formulations.

Modern musk scents are produced synthetically. The most common types of musk used in consumer products are nitro-musks (e.g., musk ketone and musk xylene) and polycyclic musks (e.g., galaxolide and tonalide). It will most likely come under the general banner of 'fragrance' or you may see it listed as musk ketone, Galaxolide, Tonalide or HHCB. More simply though, a perfume will often list 'musk' in its scent profile.

While some people may experience skin irritation from synthetic musk, it is its accumulation in the body that is of concern. It tends to be stored in fat tissue within the body. Synthetic musks mimic oestrogen in the body, potentially leading to disruption of the endocrine system and to premmature puberty, irregular menstrual cycles, endometriosis, difficulty conceiving, birth defects, breast and ovarian cancers, as well as obesity, type II diabetes, bone growth and blood clotting problems, depression and loss of muscle mass in men (Fucic et al, 2012).

WOW! That is quite a list. If you love the scent of Musk but would rather pass on the potential side effects listed above, look for a natural fragrance that uses botanical inspired musks such as ambrette seed or angelica root or with a musk character such as ylang ylang or rose. 


Finally, let's talk about a lesser known toxic ingredient, Limonene. Limonene is a solvent and fragrance ingredient naturally occurring in the rind of citrus fruit. HOWEVER, when stored or exposed to sunlight or air, the oxidisation biproducts (including formaldehyde - which is a WHOLE other blog on it's own!!!) can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation such as eczema and asthma.

This is why limonene is of particular concern in products that are 'spritzed' such as perfume or burnt such as scented candles.

Like most toxic ingredients, limonene will most likely be lurking in the 'fragrance' component of your product. But a big give away is an overt lemon or citrus note.

When you get through that list is can feel like quite an assault. That’s why we are so passionate at the Natural Perfume Collective about providing you with a safe alternative that doesn’t compromise on the indulgent experience of wearing Perfume. 100% Natural Perfume derived from natures pure and perfect fragrances is so much more of a joyous experience that a spritz of chemicals.

 If there are any ingredients that you are concerned about in your perfume, comment below and we'll help you out!


 ©  Fucic et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2012






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