In this second part of our 4 part series on “What’s in your "natural" skincare products?” I want to talk about product fragrance additives. Since the beginning of time, history has shown us that fragrance or perfume has been around “scenting” our lives. The word perfume is derived from the Latin word; per fumum; which loosely translated means smoke. It is said that Stone Age man discovery of fire and the scent of burning wood began man’s exploration and use of “scent” originally used to pay homage to the gods and later with the Egyptians initiating its use for personal enjoyment.
What's really in your "natural" skincare products?
Fast forward to present day and we still use fragrance to bring enjoyment, medicinal purposes and covering up not so nice “odors”. The human olfactory system (our sniffer and our brains) consists of receptors that detect particular molecules and responds to them with an electrical impulse to the brain. No worries, I won’t bore you with the biology and chemistry lesson. BUT, I do want to show that a fragrance or scent is more than just a smell, but a chemical and biological stimulant resulting in some sort of reaction from the human body.
So how does fragrance in body product affect us? And why should you care? On the most basic level, we use the “scent” of bath and body products to either effect our own senses or those around us either by making us respond in a positive way (either making us feel good or preventing us from feeling bad, think how deodorant prevents those around us from feeling bad J). Then there is the aromatherapy aspect which indicates that either the inhalation or absorption through the skin of certain herbal scents will have a mental, physical or emotional influence on one’s health (we’ll talk more about that in our next article).
Early on, the “scents” used in bath and body products were botanical in nature. Rose water always comes to mind for me. People used herbs and flowers to “scent” themselves to either attract others or cover up not so pleasant body odors when bathing was done as frequently as we do now. Later, as we became more advanced and our appetite for greater variety of “scents” for the body, chemist began mixing compounds together trying to duplicate existing natural scents and create new “perfumes”. Today, we bath and body product developers have a plethora of natural and man-made options for “scenting” our products.
Bath and Body “scenting” options usually fall into 4 categories: Scent Free, Fragrance Oils, Essential Oils and Hydrosols. Since we’re talking about scent today, we’ll only be discussing the fragrance oils, essential oils and hydrosols. Fragrance oils are usually a combination of aroma chemicals, essential oils and/or aroma resins. What’s really in fragrance oils? Well we don’t know exactly. Fragrance oils and perfume ingredients fall under the FDA’s Trade Secret regulations and do not need to be disclosed in product labeling (http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/labeling/regulations), so it’s very difficult to define exactly what ratio of man-made vs. plant derived ingredients are in a fragrance oil. However, all ingredients must be approved safe by the FDA individually, but that doesn’t necessarily give me the warm and fuzzies considering all of the other chemicals that have been shown to not be so safe and are approved for use by the FDA. What we do know is that fragrance oil are usually a combination of hundreds of synthetic and natural aromatic ingredients that either come in liquid, powder or crystalline form. (Nature's Garden has great article on how fragrances are manufactured if your curiosity is peaked.)
The resins and crystalline ingredients must be dissolved into liquid form using a solvent. One such solvent that has been used for the last 50 years and is now being phased out is DEP (Di Ethyl Phthalate). Although it has been declared safe by the FDA (See what I mean?) it is considered toxic by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) www.atsdr.cdc.gov It can affect the liver and reproductive systems. Because this substance is known to be toxic, we consider fragrances with this ingredient a no-no for our products.
There are many fragrance oil manufacturers that are also saying no to DEP in their formulations and I applaud them for this. In an effort to make more “natural” fragrance oils, other companies are manufacturing blends using compounded natural aroma isolates – which are single odor molecules that are extracted from raw material using distillation. You can’t get more basic than a single molecule and we like this idea that the distillation method must also be chemical free.
Lastly, hydrosols are basically less concentrated essential oil made from steam distillation of plant material – you probably know it better as floral water. In the distillation process – essential oils from the botanical ingredient is collected and the fragrant water that remains from the steam process is the hydrosol. Unlike most essential oils, hydrosols can be used directly on the skin because of their mild nature (but the rules of safe plant material still must be followed – as the hydrosol may still carry the toxic or medicinal impacts of the plant ingredient).
As you can see there is more to the fragrance in your product than just its lovely aroma. As a naturalist, I try to use products that are as close to the botanically derived product as possible while ensuring that the method used to make the product is as chemically free as possible. For this reason – I chose to use DEP free and natural isolate fragrance oils and essential oils in our soaps and body products. At one time I vowed never to use fragrance oils, but am quite pleased with the more naturally derived products that have been made available in the last few years. I am still very careful in choosing my vendors and making sure that I know from where and how my ingredients are derived. But personal care products are a matter of personal choice and only you can decide to be informed of what goes in and on you and your family’s body.
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Join me in my quest for natural alternatives in beauty and healthy living. I am passionate about my craft and strive to continuously educate myself and others on natural ways to care for ourselves and our families. I am thankful for the ability to educate others and formulate bath and body products to enhance one's overall well being.