Scented vs. Unscented: Making Sense of Cosmetic Labels
Have you ever been stuck next to someone whose cologne or aftershave made you literally sick? Well, anyone who thinks you’re exaggerating should read the EPA’s 1991 report on the most commonly used ingredients in synthetic fragrances. Even perfumes that smell fresher than a spring day and cost hundreds of dollars an ounce may contain up to 500 different synthetic chemicals. According to that EPA study, this industrial witch’s brew of cheap, evil-smelling petrochemicals, solvents, and coal tar derivatives is packed with health perils ranging from skin inflammation, fatigue, headaches, and nausea to potentially fatal asthma attacks, immuno-toxicity, and central nervous system disorders. For those who prefer to minimize their daily dose of toxic industrial waste products, unscented products seem like the logical, healthful alternative. It’s also logical to assume that words like scent-free, unscented, and fragrance-free on a product label signal safety from chemical irritants. But consumers who make this assumption are making the same mistake as Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. In the backwards, baffling world of cosmetic labeling, words can mean exactly what product manufacturers choose them to mean. The fact is, the FDA has never presented any legal definition of these terms in their compliance guidelines. As a result, manufacturers of fragrance-free products can and do use equally dangerous masking ingredients to hide the nasty chemical smell of their raw materials. So, unless you’ve researched every single ingredient on the product label, you have no way of knowing whether you’re choosing a truly scent-free alternative or merely the lesser of two evils. Thanks to today’s burgeoning green revolution, however, you can choose a third alternative that's not only safe for sensitive skin, but also a delight for the senses. In my next post, I'll explain why all-natural plant-based scents and organic extracts are the best of all possible fragrances.