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Is Your Perfume to Die For?

We live in a fragrance obsessed world. Perfumes, air fresheners, candles, car fresheners, fabric fresheners, plug-ins, gels, sprays and diffusers. You name it and there is a product that you can buy for every possible scent requirement.

Fragrances play an integral role in the beauty industry where you can be lured into making a purchase by the fruity or floral scent of a product such as hand cream.

The terms fragrance, perfume, parfum and aroma are generic industry names for single scents that have been made up of a cocktail of chemicals. Some fragrance chemicals have been linked to an array of diseases and conditions including asthma, hormone disruption and skin irritation.

The ingredients that make up a fragrance are not disclosed because they are considered trade secrets.

The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) is the official self-regulatory representative body of the fragrance industry worldwide.

IFRA prepared a report in 2013 for the European Commission about the importance of protecting the industry’s trade secrets. It believes that full disclosure of ingredients would damage a company’s competitive advantage. However, it could be argued that competitive advantages can be gained in other ways such as branding and endorsements.  

Some of the most common ingredients in a fragrance include:


Synthetic preservatives known to interfere with hormone production. In 2012 a scientific study reported that parabens had been found in the tissue samples of 40 women with breast cancer. Although there is no conclusive evidence to link parabens with breast cancer, parabens are an endocrine disruptor resulting in increased levels of oestrogen, the hormone which fuels the majority of breast cancers.


Many of the chemicals used to make up a fragrance are derived from petroleum. For example, benzene derivatives, aldehydes and phthalates that are linked with cancer, birth defects, nervous-system disorders and allergies. Repeated exposure to petroleum by products may be linked to endocrine disruption.


Phthalates are known to disrupt hormones, are linked to reproductive effects (decreased sperm counts, early breast development, birth defects) and are suspected carcinogens. They are used in perfumes to ‘fix’ the scent and if a product lists aroma or fragrance on its ingredients it may contain phthalates. Europe banned phthalates in toys back in 2005 after they were linked to damage to the reproductive system and an increased risk of asthma and cancer.

Musk (Animal)

Animal musk is harvested from animals. The method of extraction details are too painful to share. The main sources are the secretions of civet cats, beavers, sperm whales, and musk deer.

Musk (Synthetic)

These are linked to hormone disruption and are thought to persist and accumulate in breast milk, body fat, umbilical cord blood, and the environment.

If you love fragrances and can’t live without them opt for botanical perfumes that are the most wonderful gift from nature.

Transparency is key when it comes to making informed product choices. If all the ingredients are not listed on the label my rule is that the product stays on the shelf.