Read the back of virtually any bottle in your bathroom, and we’re betting you’ll find the word “fragrance” or “perfume” listed as one of the ingredients on just about all of them; the blanket term is ubiquitous in most personal care products. The problem? Companies have no legal obligation to disclose the exact combination of ingredients included, as it’s considered proprietary information.
Of the possible 2,947 ingredients listed by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), fragrance mixtures typically contain several hundred chemicals, most of them synthetic. According to a 2018 study, they also emit the same amount of chemical vapors as petroleum emissions from cars. These vapors (also known as volatile organic compounds or VOCs) react with proteins in our body which can result in physical immune responses—including breathing problems, migraines, hormone disruption, skin irritation, and more—which can compound into damaging health effects in the long run.
What makes a fragrance formula clean?
Quality, plant-based essential oils used as fragrance can be extremely beneficial for your skin, but they can also be irritants—and therefore considered toxic—at certain levels. How the essential oil is processed also matters. A number of beauty retailers, like Follain, Credo, and Sephora monitor the levels and quality of essential oils in the beauty products they stock to ensure safety, but it is important for consumers to know the risks when buying direct from independent or conventional essential oil brands.
How to ensure you’re using a clean, non-toxic perfume
Take a closer look the list of ingredients used in your favorite fragrances, along with the sourcing process of any essential oils that are included in their formulas. Are the blends considered natural and organic? Were the listed ingredients farmed responsibly? It can also be helpful to cross reference primary ingredients found in perfumes with a reputable third party, like the Environmental Working Group.
To save you time and effort while you’re in search of a new go-to fragrance, we’ve pulled together a few editor- and shopper-beloved fragrances below. From those that are 100 percent natural and organic to some slightly cleaner than you have now, these coveted picks are breaking boundaries by offering total ingredient transparency.