What does the "fragrance" cosmetic ingredient really mean, anyways?

Does it bother you when you read a label and it says, "fragrance"? It bugs me, for sure. When I read that on a cosmetic label I automatically translate it as, "I'm not going to tell you what this chemical is, but at least it smells nice!"

So what does the "fragrance" cosmetic ingredient really mean, anyways? And why won't they just say what it is?

What is "fragrance" when you see it in the cosmetics ingredient list?

I think that the second of those two questions above points us in the right direction. After all, hibiscus or lavender or organic rose petals would be a selling point, right? Who wouldn't want to list  "Fragrance" is rather obviously a cover up for something much more sinister.

We're not the only ones that think this way. From the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics:

Many products list “fragrance” on the label, but very few name the specific ingredients that make up a “fragrance.” This lack of disclosure prevents consumers from knowing the full list of ingredients in their products. While most fragrance chemicals are not disclosed, we do know that some are linked to serious health problems such as cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies and sensitivities.

You'll find "fragrance" listed in all sorts of cosmetics and skin care products, including:

  • Body wash
  • Cosmetics
  • Deodorant
  • Facial cream
  • Lotion
  • Perfume
  • Scrubs
  • Serums
  • Shampoo
  • Skin toner
  • Soap
  • Sunscreen

That's a lot of stuff! And this "fragrance" could be any one (or more) of thousands of chemicals. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has compiled a list of 3,059 ingredients that have been reported (I wonder how many more are not being reported) as being used under the ingredient listing of fragrance, perfume, parfum, essential oil blend, or aroma. You can view the list here.

Part of the issue has to do with proprietary formulations - trade secrets on ingredients used to get that perfect scent. The amount is generally minimal. And many of the ingredients are not harmful, or at least haven't been found to cause any harm. Heck, grass is on the list - and what's more natural than that? (It might be a bit of a downer if you get hay fever though!)

But the problem is not knowing if you're getting a bit of grass or decahydro-beta-naphthyl acetate. Kind of a big deal, don't you think?

So what does "fragrance" mean? Dunno.

Our suggestion: Avoid it.

Here are some all-natural, "fragrance"-free options for all those products listed above:

What does "fragrance" in cosmetics really mean, anyways?


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