Fragrance and parfum in skin care - is it safe? Natural alternatives

Marianne James

Have you ever noticed the word 'parfum' or 'fragrance' in the ingredient list of your skin care products you regularly use and thought nothing of it?  

The concern is that phthalates are commonly used as fixatives in these fragrances and companies are not required to list phthalates in ingredient lists.  Companies simply use "parfum" or 'fragrance' rather than list it separately.  Your skin cream might smell good but there is a down side to synthetic fragrances.


Phthalates are linked to serious health disorders

There are serious safety concerns surrounding this ingredient. Researchers have found links to asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity, low IQ, type II diabetes, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues.  Research shows that products for pregnant women or young children make them particularly vulnerable to these phthalates.  


How do I identify these phthalates in my skin care products?

If your skin care product ingredient list contains the word 'parfum' or 'fragrance' it may mean it contains one of the following chemicals demonstrated to be potentially damaging to your health, especially when you are using a product on a daily basis:  

butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), dibutyl phthalate (DnBP), di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), diethyl phthalate (DEP), di-butyl phthalate (DBP), benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), diisobutyl phthalate (DiBP), diisononyl phthalate (DiNP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), dipentyl phthalate (DPP), di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP), di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), di-isohexyl phthalate, dicyclohexyl phthalate (DcHP), di-isoheptyl phthalate

Because of concerns over DEHP, it was replaced with DiNP.  However, researchers discovered a few years later that exposure to DiNP is correlated to male genital birth defects and impaired reproductive function in adult males.  There are also concerns over BPA (bisphenol A) and BPS (bisphenol S), which while not phthalates, are used widely in plastics.


What can we do to avoid phthalate ingestion or absorption?

These chemicals which act as binders and soften plastic, are everywhere: they’re used in everything from household cleaners to food packaging to fragrance, cosmetics, and personal-care products.

*  Phthalates are widely used to make plastic soft and pliable so that products can be squeezed out of their containers.  Avoid products packaged in plastic containers with a recycling code 3 on them.  

* Purchase products that are in glass rather than plastic wherever possible.  If you do buy in plastic, try whenever possible to buy products in plastic containers that have the recycling code 3, which is PET plastic.  PET plastic has a very minimal ability to react with the contents or to leach anything into the product, compared with other types of plastic.

* Avoid products that state 'parfum' or 'fragrance' in the ingredient list.

* Remove any food packaged in plastic from its wrapping and place in glass - as DEHP often used in plastics leeches over time.


Alternatives to synthetic fragrances

As mass producers of skin care products need their products to last for years and need cost efficient ingredients, they opt for chemicals to add a fragrance to their products.  Pure essential oils and aromatic components of essential oils are widely available however for use in natural cosmetics and make for a safe, natural and therapeutic alternative.  The difference is the shorter shelf life and they are more expensive than synthetic chemicals.  


Aromatic components of plant oils:

For formulation purposes, often only the aromatic component of an essential oil is used in natural products in order to impart a long-lasting, safe aroma to a product. These will often be identified with words like limonene, linanool, geraniol, citral, safranal etc with a notation at the bottom of the ingredient list "components of plant essential oils".  While these are a perfectly safe and acceptable alternative and smell wonderful, you do miss out on the therapeutic properties of the plants they come from.


Pure essential oils:

Some products will include the whole plant essential oil and will list them for example as lavender pure essential oil, geranium pure essential oil etc.  When these essential oils are in their purest form they are classed as 'pure essential oils' and  'therapeutic grade' which means they are 100% pure and not diluted or adulterated in any way.  When looking at ingredient lists, always look for the words 'pure essential oils'.  Pure essential oils should only ever be purchased from an established, specialist supplier who has been in business for many years and who has the expertise in essential oils to establish their authenticity.  Rule of thumb, if your essential oil seems cheap, it is probably not pure.  Pure essential oils are undiluted products extracted from flowers, herbs, leaves, grasses, roots, woods, barks, spices, fruits or gum and most often have powerful therapeutic properties for the skin.  Producing them is labour intensive and this is reflected in the price.  

Here at Flora Organics, we care about your health and only use glass containers for almost all of our products.  Our coconut oil is packaged in BPA free and phthalate free pet plastic (recycling code 1).  We also only use pure essential oils in our 100% natural skin care range to make them smell good and they are carefully selected to be therapeutic for your skin as well - so as always at Flora Organics, you get the whole deal!   

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