Why Your Favorite Fragrance May Not Be Your Friend
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By: Sarah Grace Powers – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
Mmmm, that smells so good!
Out of all of our five senses, smell is one that is most connected to our emotions. One whiff of a certain scent can trigger long forgotten memories and put you right back into, say, the moment of your first kiss.
Many of these scents are natural and harmless—fresh cut grass, those first drops of rain, garlic sauteeing in butter, freshly baked bread, lilacs in bloom.
However, in our modern world there is an ugly underbelly to the pleasure of the aromatic experience. And that is synthetic scents – otherwise known as fragrance.
Fragrance…. It sounds like such a benign word. We say, that flower has a lovely fragrance.
The truth is that many companies are using the word ‘fragrance’ as a catch-all term for a chemical cocktail that is now being shown to disrupt the function of important hormones, including thyroid and adrenals, causing all kinds of problems with your health and wellbeing.
As if it’s not enough for women to deal with all the hormone changes that naturally come with the life cycle – periods, childbirth, and menopause – now matters are made much worse by the proliferation of Phthalates – a strange word that is hard to pronounce and even harder to spell. (It’s pronounced f-THAL-lates by the way.)
You’ve likely heard of phthalates, perhaps in relationship to plastics, and that you should be trying to avoid them by cutting out activities like microwaving food in plastic containers, or drinking that water that’s been sitting in a plastic bottle in your hot car for hours.
And, yes, those nasty phthalates are found in many plastics, and they actually proliferate in way too many ways in our modern environment. No wonder so many of us are experiencing adrenal problems, thyroid imbalances, and hormones gone haywire in general.
For today though we’ll focus specifically on fragrances.
Whether it’s your favorite perfume, scented candle, or that fresh-smelling aroma that clings to your hair after shampooing, the bad news is that yummy smell is likely to have been synthetically manufactured. It very well might be the culprit for any mild to severe symptoms you experience. Or, if you’re not symptomatic yet, it could be a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’
I believe that the toxicity of these chemical compounds explains why there’s been such an explosion in allergic reactions to perfumes and scents.
What Exactly ARE Phthalates?
They are basically industrial chemical compounds used in synthetic fragrances, PVC plastics, and solvents. They were first developed and put into use in the 1930s and, like so many things, they seemed like a miracle solution to make everything so much easier. But before too long some of the negative hormonal consequences began to be noticed.
Unfortunately, it’s not until recent years that this information is reaching the general public.
Meanwhile, due to how ubiquitous these compounds are in today’s world, we are all absorbing through our skin a significant phthalate load, not to mention also inhaling and ingesting even more. And these chemicals all too quickly move into our bloodstream.
This isn’t a good thing.
Because phthalates are now well known to be ‘endocrine disruptors’ which means they have been linked to low sperm count in men, weight gain, insulin resistance, and a slew of other hormonally related problems.
It’s virtually impossible to completely avoid these chemical bad boys unless you have a private rocket ship to another planet. However, there are definitely steps to you can take to reduce your own exposure and that of your children or loved ones.
And that brings up back to the topic at hand—your favorite perfumes, candles, hair and skin products, etc., that contain synthetic fragrance.
I know, I know – who wants to make these changes? But please don’t shoot the messenger here. I’m simply reporting.
Unfortunately, the US government is extremely slow in regulating harmful chemicals found in our beauty care products, and this has a disproportionate effect on women. So, until that changes, we have to step up and make our own wise choices.
How to Avoid Phthalates in Your Personal Care Products
First off, become a vigilant label reader. You might already do this for food—but we are more than what we eat! The things we put ON our bodies end up IN our bodies just as surely as our last meal.
Get started by looking for the word ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ even ‘natural fragrance’ when you are buying lotions, potions, soaps, and makeup. Those words are basically code for synthetic phthalate-containing compounds.
Instead, seek out products that are either unscented, or list pure essential oils for the scent. After a while you will become more savvy about what sorts of aromas come from pure essential oils, and which are just about always synthetically manufactured.
For example, tropical scents like coconut, jasmine and gardenia are almost always synthetic, as are fruity fragrances. But citrus aromas like grapefruit, orange and lemon are usually derived from essential oils, as are lavender and eucalyptus.
Your best bet though is to spot the words ‘essential oils’ on the ingredients list of any product that smells good. Even that’s not a guarantee, but it’s a start.
If you want to check out how your current favorites measure up for safety – both in regard to phthalates and other allergens and toxins, the Environmental Working Group website has a handy tool to let you do that. I typed in one of my (former) favorite product lines, Origins, and was horrified to find they are made by Estee Lauder and some actually rate quite high on the hazardous scale.
Currently, one of my favorite clean beauty and skincare lines—which I am now proud to represent—is BeautyCounter. This company is receiving a lot of press lately for the work they do in Washington D.C.to change our current laws and ban toxic chemicals from our beauty care products.
And, don’t stop with your personal care products. Check for fragrances in your cleaning products too, be careful about air fresheners, and choose candles that are naturally scented with essential oils.
I know, I know—it can feel hard to make the switch. But isn’t your hormonal health worth it?
Sarah Grace Powers is a Holistic Life Coach and EFT Practitioner. She works with women over 40 who want to embrace ageless living and who are ready to release the weight—physical, mental or emotional— that holds them back from achieving their dreams and making their impact in the world.
In her previous career she owned and operated an herb shop and has practiced holistic living for more than three decades. Find her at sarahgracecoach.com
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