What is the ingredient “fragrance”?
“Fragrance” is an ingredient - often times multiple ingredients - rolled under the singular-sounding ingredient listing. The ingredient(s) contained within the term “fragrance” do not need to be specifically listed. Therefore, when you see the word “fragrance” in an ingredient list, it is likely a variety of undisclosed chemicals.

“Fragrance” is considered a “trade-secret” ingredient. Although the FDA requires products to list their ingredients, they are not allowed to be used to force a company to tell “trade secrets.” “Fragrance” falls into a strange realm of “a complex mixture of many different natural and synthetic chemical ingredients” (of which do not need to be disclosed to the consumer).

If the secrecy isn’t concerning enough, what else is bad about “fragrance”?
The innocuous-looking ingredient “fragrance ” often contains hazardous chemicals linked to negative health effects. “Fragrance” is considered to be among the top 5 known allergens and can trigger asthma attacks. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “fragrance” is the number one cause of cosmetics-induced dermatitis. A report by the Committee on Science & Technology noted that 95% of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, which are capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions.

Phthalates are used to make fragrances last longer, and are usually present in products that have fragrance in them. The phthalate commonly used in products that contain fragrance is diethyl phthalate, or DEP. Research has shown that DEP is confirmed to be harmful to aquatic life. And when tested on rats in a laboratory setting,  it has been shown to cause musculoskeletal and neurologic problems. Phthalates are also associated damage to the male reproductive system.

I could go on and on, but the idea is to realize that “fragrance” isn’t healthy or safe. Fragrance irritates individuals with chemical sensitivities as well as contains hazardous chemicals that can harm individuals and the environment.

Where can fragrance be found?
Fragrance chemicals are commonly found in your average cleaning products, scented candles, and air fresheners; as well as shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and many more products. Even some products labeled “unscented” may contain fragrance ingredients! This is because the manufacturer may add just enough “fragrance” to mask the unpleasant smell of other hazardous chemical ingredients.

How to I avoid products that contain fragrance? What are the alternatives?
Once we realize the importance of finding products that do not contain “fragrance”, the mission then becomes where - and how -  do we find better products. Choosing healthier products also requires an awareness of not only ingredients but also “brand knowledge”. We must learn how to choose products that are safer alternatives to hazardous chemical-based products. Unfortunately, not all brands that claim to be “safe” or “green” really are. Some of the brands that I have come to love and trust for cleaning are BioKleen and Ecover. These are the brands that we use at my cleaning company. For personal care products, the brands EO, Aura Cacia, Alaffia and Earthpaste are my personal favorites. When choosing your own products, consider shopping at a local natural foods store, such as Whole Food or a local natural food Co-Op. Other rules of thumb when shopping for and choosing healthier products are to look for products that clearly declare all of the following statements on the container: plant based, contains no fragrance, non-toxic and biodegradable. Another nice tool for “checking” a product’s “heath rating” is through this website: www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners

Gea Bassett is the founder and owner of Green Cleaning Seattle - Otium-Maid Services™ (GCS), an eco-safe AND FRAGRANCE-FREE home cleaning company in Seattle. She has an MA in Sustainable Education from Goddard College. Her mission is to continually expand and improve on what it means to be a “green business” by injecting a sustainable mission into every element, including using natural products, reducing carbon footprint, growing local, providing continuing education for her employees, and beyond.