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What the word ‘fragrance’ means

Skin care and cosmetic products are given pleasant fragrances to enhance our experience of them. The fragrance used is mostly a synthetic concoction created in a laboratory and made from a variety of chemicals. Because labeling laws only require the ‘fragrance’ to be listed, the chemicals used to create those fragrances are not shown.

Some of the potentially harmful chemicals that may be contained in a fragrance mix include:

Allergens and sensitisers: Fragrances are considered to be among the top five known allergens and are known to trigger asthma attacks.

Phthalates: Phthalates, especially diethyl phthalate (DEP) are used in many products, including fragrances. Most fragrances don’t list phthalates and this chemical has been linked to hormone disruption, which can affect development and fertility. It is also thought to affect sperm health in men.

Synthetic musks: Present in many fragrance blends (also known as Galaxolide and Tonalide) there is increasing concern that synthetic musks may disrupt hormones as they bind to and stimulate human estrogen receptors and have been shown to affect androgen and progesterone receptors. Linked to the proliferation of estrogen-responsive human breast cancer cells, these musks can also have a negative environmental impact.

So while ‘fragrance free’ may appear to be an attractive option, beware. Even unscented products may have what is called a masking odour (a chemical blend), essentially a fragrance designed to mask any unpleasant odours associated with other ingredients in the product. Read more

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Lindy Schneider is a writer and researcher with a keen interest in health, wellbeing and natural childcare. She is an advocator of a chemical-free lifestyle in the best interests of her family, the community and a sustainable world. She lives in the Yarra Valley with her partner and two young children.

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