A New Take on Fragrance

It’s the most fragrance-filled time of the year? I would agree. Insert “fragrance-filled” where the word “wonderful” should be in the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and that would describe my experience in my local grocery store.

I could not believe what I was seeing in the beauty care aisle. Candle after candle sorely disappointed me. I had gone to the grocery store on an after-work whim to pick up a quick birthday gift for a co-worker. My idea was something relatively inexpensive, but personal and relaxing. She works a high-stress job and I wanted to give her a gift that said, “time to decompress.” What was supposed to be a short run in and run out turned into 30 minutes in the beauty care aisle trying to Google which companies made candles with essential oils only and not fragrance. Insert exasperated sigh here. Much to my chagrin, let me tell you what I found out—none. That’s right, candle after candle failed my litmus test. Each brand in the so-called “health” store included a blend of both fragrance and essential oils because, as their company websites claimed, such a blend made the best smelling candles.

Fragrance-filled Products and the Internal Impact

I don’t care if your candle is made with phthalate-free, formaldehyde-free fragrance oil. Fragrance is fragrance. It’s not natural, from the earth, and it has been proven to cause hormonal disruptions in the human body.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need anything willingly disrupting my body’s natural way of doing things. What irks me the most is that companies could just have the option of using essential oils only in their formulas. However, essential oils, especially in their pure forms, are more costly than fragrance oils. And even if phthalate-free, formaldehyde-free fragrances are considered safer than the conventional forms, wouldn’t you like to know that the only thing you are breathing in when you light that wick is an essential oil? I know I would. A recently study done by the Journal of Xenbiotics found that in children, “the effects occurring at molecular levels in response to (synthetic) fragrances result in developmental delay, poorer adaptive function (socialization, communication, motor skills), more significant hyperactivity and impulsivity in children, poorer behavior like attention, externalization, emotional control, aggression and depression, and brain degeneracy and propensity to develop Alzheimer’s Disease as for phthalates” (J Xenobiot. 2023 Mar; 13(1): 121–131).

In other words, fragrance under repeated use is not safe and can impact us internally.

I was very conscious when I formulated my own products and purposefully chose to not include fragrance of any type, not even essential oils because surprise, some people are allergic to those as well. Skin sensitivity is a real thing. The same study says that “even therapeutic compounds [essential oils] can cause adverse effects, and xenobiotics, in particular attention here, target multiple organs” depending on their use and depending on the person’s skin sensitivities (J Xenobiot. 2023 Mar; 13(1): 121–131)

Fragrance and Allergic Reactions

People struggle with finding everything from soaps to lotions and creams that do not break out their skin or cause rashes or red, angry blemishes. Trust me, I’ve been there too. It’s not fun and it is not worth it. My go to in such unwanted times is calendula. It’s a powerhouse of an herb when it comes to healing skin and restoring it to its original luster, but even better. I talk about calendula a lot, especially when I first decided to grow some for myself. It’s no surprise then that I included calendula in my Matcha Balm.

Overall, I think for the most part I was disappointed. These companies are parading their products on shelves, allowing people to think that they are getting the most natural formula that they can, without putting out front and center the facts. It’s fine if you describe the ingredients of your product on your FAQ page and get into the nitty-gritty details there. But at least on your package labeling, also go ahead and say what the ingredients are. That way customers are not left wondering or, as in my case, Googling their options.

“For instance, Potera [48] pointed out that “Scented Products Emit a Bouquet of VOCs”, with over a hundred VOCs found in dozens of “green”, “natural”, or “organic” PCHPs, of which more than twenty of them classified as “toxic” or “hazardous”, but none disclosed on products labels, except for one product” (J Xenobiot. 2023 Mar; 13(1): 121–131).

As I’ve written about before, “green” means nothing these days. Do your research. Don’t always trust the package.

Comparing Product Ingredients

Finally, I gave up on scented candles and settled on a 100% beeswax candle, which turns out to have some wonderful benefits all by itself. Beeswax candles are known for their ability to purify the air and have added health benefits. Which is important because “fragrance and some formula constituents are VOCs that, according to the frequency, the quantity of use, and evaporation and diffusion, can impact indoor air quality” (J Xenobiot. 2023 Mar; 13(1): 121–131). 

In skin care beeswax “minimizes transepidermal water loss” and works “as a humectant, locking in hydration; and an emollient to soften and soothe the skin. As a natural substance, its use has been shown to help alleviate symptoms associated with common cutaneous conditions like dermatitis, psoriasis” (Nong Y, Maloh J, Natarelli N, Gunt HB, Tristani E, Sivamani RK. 2023 Aug;22(8):2166-2173). It’s basically why I’ve stuck with it through thick and thin in my products.

It may not be vegan, but lots of vegan products are not as safe as they claim either because of the other ingredients they include, like the chemicals hidden in their colorants.

“Another systematic review by Vardoulakis and colleagues [51] reports the negative influence of several air contaminants, including fragrance chemicals, on indoor air quality and human health. Multiple factors contribute to the decrease indoor air quality pollutants and are associated with adverse health effects, such as respiratory and cardiovascular illness, allergic symptoms, and cancers” (J Xenobiot. 2023 Mar; 13(1): 121–131).

When I eventually made it to the soap aisle, I was in for another letdown. Most of the soaps were formulated with titanium dioxide, a big no-no in my book. Even if the titanium dioxide is not nanoparticles, who would want to bathe in that stuff? I know I wouldn’t.

We use iron oxides in our lipsticks, and they are safe because they are not nanoparticles.

Suffice to say, I walked out the store feeling much better with an 100% beeswax candle, but it is probably the last time I will make a grocery store run for beauty products.

“As a take-home message regarding fragrance chemicals in PCHPs, even if most fragrance chemicals are assigned low risk through risk assessment and safety evaluation, secondary pollutants that negatively affect human health can emerge. In addition, hundreds of undisclosed fragrance-related chemicals in product formulations of PCHPs can trigger or intensify episodic and chronic symptoms of allergies, headaches, and cardiovascular diseases in sensitive organisms. In worse cases, fragrance chemicals interfere with the neuroendocrine-immune axis promoting cancer and developmental problems. Constant surveillance and analysis of fragrance chemicals in PCHPs and their formula components are critical.”

Sources: 

RĂ¡dis-Baptista G. Do Synthetic Fragrances in Personal Care and Household Products Impact Indoor Air Quality and Pose Health Risks? J Xenobiot. 2023 Mar 1;13(1):121-131. doi: 10.3390/jox13010010. PMID: 36976159; PMCID: PMC10051690.

Do Synthetic Fragrances in Personal Care and Household Products Impact Indoor Air Quality and Pose Health Risks? - PMC (nih.gov)

Nong Y, Maloh J, Natarelli N, Gunt HB, Tristani E, Sivamani RK. A review of the use of beeswax in skincare. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2023 Aug;22(8):2166-2173. doi: 10.1111/jocd.15718. Epub 2023 Mar 31. PMID: 36999457.

A review of the use of beeswax in skincare - PubMed (nih.gov)

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