At some point or another, we’ve all used any variety of perfumes, eau de toilettes, fragrances and essential oils. They come in fancy colored glass bottles, fine mists sprays, tiny vials, and even roll-on applicators. They range from $1 all the way up to hundreds of dollars. They all smell nice, but what are they really made of?
The truth – just because your $150 perfume smells like orchids doesn’t mean it is made of orchids.
A Brief History
The art of making herb- and spice-infused oils to mask body odor started thousands of years ago in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Then a Persian chemist discovered distillation, taking oil directly from the flower (essential oil). This art of making scents then spread throughout Europe where the French improved on the process. They discovered advanced methods of scent creation, and even till now France remains at the epicenter of perfumery. The word “perfume” comes from Latin “per fumum,” which literally means “through smoke.”
Perfume, Eau de Perfume, Eau de Toilette, and Body Splash
Perfume as we know it today contains a concentration of aromas which may come from an often undisclosed blend of essential oils or synthetic odorants (smells not found in nature). These aromatic compounds are typically mixed with an ethanol (alcohol) and water to create a sprayable perfume.
The concentration of the aromatic ingredients determines whether the finished product will be a perfume (20-30% aroma), eau de perfume (11-19% aroma), au de toilette (6-10% aroma), or body splash/eau de cologne (3-5% aroma).
The higher the concentration, the longer the smell will last when applied. Perfumes last 6-8 hours or more; eau de perfumes last 4-6 hours; au de toilettes last 2-4 hours; and body splashes last 2-3 hours.
Where do the smells come from?
Aromatic ingredients found in nature can come from flower blossoms, fruit, tree bark, twigs, seeds, leaves, plant roots, moss, seaweed, natural resins, and wood. Some scents, particularly musks, may come from animals, but are becoming more rare as synthetic musks replace them.
Synthetically created scents (artificial fragrance) are not unusual in the world of perfume. Take “white musk” for instance or “orchid.” These scents are not naturally found, and neither are marine type scents. You’ll find artificial fragrance in MOST perfumes found in your favorite department store; in body care products such as shampoo, body wash, and soaps; and in detergents and room sprays.
What is artificial fragrance made from?
What if I told you 95% of artificial fragrances are made from chemicals found in natural gas and petroleum? The petrochemicals commonly used to create these fragrances are benzene, toluene, xylenes, and methanol. Phthalates (diethyl phthalate or DEP) is another chemical commonly used in artificial fragrance to dissolve oil and fragrance. With continuous exposure to these chemicals, there’s a risk of potentially disrupting our hormone and endocrine system, which can impact fertility and development in both men and women, and impact fetus development. Not to mention, it can increase cancer risks.
By the way, it’s worth mentioning that DEP is an ever-present pollutant of the human body, found in 97 percent of Americans tested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Umm— time for a reality check!
How do you know when an artificial fragrance is used?
Read the label! If you see “fragrance,” or “artificial fragrance,” or “fragrance-free,” there’s a chance of exposure to these chemicals. By the way, just because a product may say “fragrance-free,” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have other chemicals masking to make it appear to have no smell. Also, stay away from “musks.”
“There is evidence that exposure to synthetic musks can have hormone disrupting effects. Galaxolide and Tonalide can bind to and stimulate human estrogen receptors, and both musks have been shown to affect androgen and progesterone receptors. Tonalide has also been reported to increase the proliferation of estrogen-responsive human breast cancer cells. Further, Tonalide has been identified as a photosensitizer, a chemical that becomes more toxic when exposed to sunlight on the skin and has been linked to liver toxicity..
Due to the ubiquity of these chemicals, synthetic musks are pervasive in people’s bodies—even in newborns. Environmental Working Group tests of umbilical cord blood found 7 out of 10 babies had been born with Tonalide and/or Galaxolide in their blood. Another study detected Galaxolide in the blood of 91 percent of Austrian students.”
Safest to find products that say, “no artificial fragrance.” Use products with pure essential oils or distillations. Find a skin care line that offers no artificial fragrance and phthalate-free products. Make your own scents by blending vodka, distilled water and essential oils. Use natural infused flower water as a body mist, e.g. rose water or orange blossom water.
Learn more at:
Article: Avoid Artificial Fragrance
Report: “Not So Sexy” (2010)
Report: “A Little Prettier” (2008)
Report: “Not Too Pretty” (2002)
Skin Deep product search: Fragrance-free cosmetics Skin Deep topic: Fragrance Analysis: Scented Secrets
Science: Synthetic musks
Bitsch N, Dudas C, Körner W, Failing K, Biselli S, Rimkus G, Brunn H. 2002. Estrogenic activity of musk fragrances detected by the E-screen assay using human mcf-7 cells. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 43(3): 257-64.
Seinen W, Lemmen JG, Pieters RH, Verbruggen EM, Van der Burg B. (1999). AHTN and HHCB show weak estrogenic but no uterotrophic activity. Toxicol. Lett. 111, 161–168.
Schreurs RH, Sonneveld E, Jansen JH, Seinen W, van der Burg B. 2005. Interaction of polycyclic musks and UV filters with the estrogen receptor (ER), androgen receptor (AR), and progesterone receptor (PR) in reporter gene bioassays. Toxicol Sci. 83(2): 264-72.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). 2009a. Inventory Update Reporting (IUR) Data for 2006. Available: http://www.epa.gov/iur/Written by: Dahlia Kelada