Part of my renewed interest in replacing my commercial deodorant with an all-natural one is the dangers posed by artificial fragrances. Fragrances contain many ingredients which are untested for safety — the FDA doesn’t test them; it doesn’t have to by law. One ingredient in artificial fragrances, pthalates, have been demonstrated in rats to have harmful effects on fetuses. These chemicals block fetal androgens, and have been shown to affect humans in some studies, infants in particular. Pthalates are banned in many countries, but not in the US.
Fragrances also contain synthetic musks, chemicals which have been shown in laboratory studies to be linked to cancer, skin sensitization, skin irritation, and fertility problems in women. According to the Environmental Working Group, “In the US, all musk chemicals are unregulated, and safe levels of exposure have not yet been set.”
Some health researchers believe that chemicals in cosmetics are partly to blame for the high rates of hormonal imbalances, particularly in women. In addition, allergies and chemical sensitivities are on the rise — many people suddenly find themselves allergic to products they’ve been using for years. My advice is: if you know you have hormonal issues, or find that you’re becoming more sensitive to personal care products, replace all your cosmetic and personal care products with all-natural, non-toxic, fragrance-free versions; many of these can be made at home.
On an environmental note, most of the chemicals in fragrances are petroleum-based compounds; this means, our use of them doesn’t decrease our dependence on a petroleum-based economy, which I think most people agree is a good idea. Not to mention, all these chemicals go down the drain and get into the water supply.
For more info, check out the Environmental Working Group’s stance on artificial fragrances.
Instead of artificial fragrances, use plant-based essential oils. I have a few that I always keep on hand for fragrancing homemade cosmetic and bath products, and for use as natural pharmaceuticals. Here are a few I like, and what I use them for:
- Tea tree oil: natural antiseptic and anti-fungal. Dilute and use on cuts, scrapes, pimples, even some rashes. Important to dilute, or to test your tolerance of this. I find that tea tree is irritating to my skin unless its well-diluted with coconut or olive oil. Also great to put a few drops in a bath if you’re dealing with an issue such as a yeast infection.
- Eucalyptus: great for colds and sinus issues. I put a few (maybe 5 drops) in a bath to clear sinus problems. Or I might add a couple drops to my neti pot. Rosemary oil has a similar effect.
- Lavender: the ultimate calming, soothing scent. I add this to coconut oil that I put around my house in baby-food jars for use as moisturizer and lip balm, as well as minor first aid such as kitchen burns. I’ve also been using this on my belly to prevent stretch marks. (For more on preventing stretch marks, check out my friend and fellow nutritionist Jessica Forbes’ blog post on the subject.) And, lavender is my go-to bath addition – for me, no hot bath is complete without the scent of lavender.
- Lemongrass: I keep lemongrass around simply because I love the scent of it. I add it to my homemade laundry starch spray so that our clothes get that fresh lemony-herbal scent.
- Peppermint: this one’s great for flavoring homemade toothpastes/powders, and anything else you want to smell minty. Sometimes I mix it with lemongrass in homemade fabric refresher. It also has some antiseptic properties. (Side note: I have always loved the scent of Aveda salon products. I found that I could mimic their scent by combining rosemary, peppermint, and lavender oils in my oil diffuser (the kind you burn a tealight underneath), to fragrance my home)
There are so many essential oils to experiment with, and they all have different properties. For more info on the properties of essential oils, check out Aura Cacia, an Iowa-based company that sells quality essential oils and products. Try a few out in place of your artificially-fragranced products. You can even use them as perfume–I especially like rose and jasmine for this, and sandalwood is nice for guys!
If you have other essential oils you like to use, or have experience with the toxic effects of fragrances, leave a comment!