• Julie McClure

Are Your Favorite Scents Toxic?

Lemon fresh laundry detergent, lavender body lotion, apple spice candles– so-called “natural” scents are all around us, but did you know that most contain chemicals toxic to our health? Brands don’t have to list the ingredients they put into a product’s fragrance because it’s considered a “trade secret,” so it could contain any of the 4,000 chemicals that are known to be used.


Women are thought to be exposed to more of these chemicals on a daily basis than men. Between our shower products, make-up, and perfume, it’s estimated women use between 12-16 scented personal care products every day. And that doesn't even include all the other scents we come into contact with in cleaning supplies, candles, scented plugins, and other home products.


Why Are Fragrances So Toxic?


Since scents are trade secrets, they’re regulated by an internal agency that has very few safety standards. Fragrances can be petroleum-based (yes, like gas!) and contain chemicals like benzophenone, acetaldehyde, and formaldehyde in addition to other ingredients like solvents, stabilizers, and preservatives that are all known to be harmful to our long-term health. These ingredients have been found to be carcinogenic (cancer causers), hormone disruptors, and damaging to our organ systems, especially our reproductive, respiratory, and nervous systems.


Toxins from these scents enter our bodies in two ways – through our nostrils as we breathe in and enjoy the good smells and through our skin, either from direct contact (like when you apply a body lotion) or from particles in the air we absorb (like with air fresheners). Either way, the particles eventually make their way to our bloodstreams and travel throughout our bodies interrupting normal function. Besides the long-term health damage, exposure to the toxic chemicals in fragrances can cause headaches, rashes, and other allergy-like symptoms.


How Do You Avoid Toxic Scents?


As you can probably guess, reading a product’s label to see if it contains fragrances is way more complicated than it needs to be. But if you learn the right lingo, it can become a whole lot easier.

  • Unscented: This means a fragrance may have been added to mask odors and create a neutral, “no scent” fragrance

  • Fragrance: If you see this on the ingredient list, then assume it contains a mix of chemicals you’d rather avoid

  • Parfum: See fragrance! It’s a fancier word, but means basically the same thing

  • Fragrance-free: The gold star standard for beauty and personal care products! This means it is actually free of any trade-secret protected fragrances

  • Natural: Just because a label says it's natural, does not mean it’s exclusively natural. Take a deeper look to see if it’s truly all-natural

  • Third-party Certified Green: Look for this term on cleaning products to ensure it’s a brand committed to avoiding toxic chemicals

  • Soy & Beeswax: Candles made from paraffin wax can release dangerous gasses or black soot that harms our lungs, so looking for soy or beeswax-based options (that are also fragrance-free) is the best way to avoid chemicals while sprucing up the way your space smells

Are There Natural Alternatives to Toxic Scents?


In addition to buying fragrance-free products, there are plenty of quick and easy DIY options for creating amazing, natural smells for both yourself and your home too.


  • Deodorize a Room: Open a box of baking soda or place a small bowl of vinegar in any room that smells less than pleasant and it will start deodorizing quickly. Also, don’t underestimate the power of opening a window! Just letting fresh air circulate can help keep your space smelling clean.

  • Simmer Herbs & Fruit: You can find plenty of recipes online for this, but I am a huge fan of just using what I have. I like to add citrus peels and a few herbs I have on hand (like rosemary or basil) into a pot with a few cups of water. Simmer and enjoy a blast of fragrance that will travel throughout your home – a great alternative to candles or scented plug-ins!

  • Secure Bad Odors: Make sure you’re trash can has a secure lid and clean your garbage disposal regularly to keep odors from escaping.

  • Create Your Own Signature Scent: By mixing a few key herbs and oils, you can create an amazing signature scent that everyone will compliment you on! Just make sure to consult a trusted source when mixing essential oils (as overuse can cause irritation).

  • Plants in the Bathroom: Adding plants to your bathroom’s decor can help naturally absorb and neutralize odors. Additionally, hanging certain plants (like eucalyptus) from your showerhead can add a fresh scent every time someone showers and steam activities the leaves to release oils (similar to a diffuser).

Interested in living a more Clean + Clear lifestyle? Sign up for my newsletter so we can stay in touch! You can also check out my recent post on The Healing Powers of the Alkaline Diet to learn more about how some of your favorite foods can help you feel amazing from the inside out.



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