Perfume is a huge industry (to the tune of $30 billion in 2013) that targets one of our five senses. Scent is powerful. Catching a whiff of something floating through the air can send us back years to specific time and place (think of visiting Grandma when she’s baking cookies for example), repel us (opening that too old bowl of mystery something in the fridge), uplift us (breathing in fresh lavender or smelling the spring air in bloom), make us grumpy (following that stinky truck billowing black smoke down the freeway) and elicit a whole host of other emotions.
The perfume industry is aware of the power of scent and capitalizes on it. But is it hurting us or helping us?
Ancient to Modern Perfume History
Perfumes have always been popular. In ancient history, perfumes and essential oils were the same thing: the volatile extracts of plants, resins, flowers, grass, and spices. Even the word ‘perfume’ reflects this as it’s a Latin meaning ‘through smoke’ as perfumes were made by extracting the essential oils of the plants through pressing and steaming. Those oils were used for medicine and health benefits in ancient times (as well as freshening up stinky bodies that didn’t have access to hygiene options like we have today). While the scent played a role (and sometimes important one), the fragrance itself was considered sacred, important, expensive and revered (and often used in religious rituals).
But as in most things, the purest form of a product has changed dramatically in modern times. Somewhere along the line the pressing and steaming process used to extract essential oils was swapped out with chemicals and petroleum products that can do extract oils cheaper and faster. The problem is, the essential oils then contain those added chemicals and petroleum used to extract them.
With each ‘modern’ advancement, perfumes become more toxic and less natural. Often natural essential oils aren’t even used anymore. Chemical alternatives have been produced that take less time and yield higher profits. Once the fragrance is obtained, it is mixed with up to 20% alcohol (for perfume) and up to 90% alcohol (for cologne) and other chemicals intended to increase profit and cut production times.
The results of all this modern innovation is that the cost of producing (and buying) perfumes have gone so dramatically that is more accessible to everyone and has become a common daily addition to many lives. With more people using perfumes on a daily basis, there are also more people complaining about the headaches and other physical symptoms related to being near someone wearing all those scented chemicals. But are they just being sensitive or is there something behind those complaints?
Studies Show Harmful Effects of Perfume Use
A 2010 study on popular perfume brands links potential sperm damage, hormone disruption (linked to things like thyroid disease, obesity, diabetes, etc.) reproductive toxicity and allergies. Seventeen popular perfumes were tested and all were found to contain chemicals not listed on their labels. Some of them containing as many as 24 different hidden chemicals that are associated with allergies and hormone-disrupting chemicals. Some of those chemicals are linked to cancer. Not only are there no health benefits left in modern perfumery, but are show to be detirmental to the health of those who wear them (and those who are in close proximity to those perfume wearers).
Pregnant women (or those wanting to become pregnant) are advised to stay away from commercial perfumes as well as those who struggle with allergies or those who want to decrease their risk of getting cancer.
Are There Alternatives?
If you’re someone who loves perfume but also loves your health, you’re in luck. Using Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade essential oils is a great alternative. Not only do they smell good, they are GOOD for you. There are a few blends of essential oils already mixed together that are popular alternatives for perfumes. Or experiment. If you start out with pure grade essential oils, you’ll be smelling good while being safe for you, those around you and the environment.