When it comes to fragrances, things can get a little bit confusing in the cosmetic world. Often labels have phrases like “natural fragrance” or even simply “fragrance,” giving us little information about what the essential elements actually are, where they came from, and if they’re safe for application. The scent of a product is an important component of its therapeutic use: citrus can make a product energizing, floral notes can evoke romance, lavender can be soothing. In other words, scent is an important part of self care, and when you’re simply told that a product contains “fragrance,” you’re left with not quite enough information. On the other hand, sometimes you are told that a product is, for example, “lavender scented,” but it’s unclear as to whether or not the product actually contains lavender (or citrus or rose or whatever the label is advertising the fragrance to be). In this case, you’re left wondering if you’re actually applying lavender essential oil, or just a synthetically derived imitation that will irritate your skin with toxins (which matters, because your skin can absorb them!). So let’s investigate fragrance – when to be suspicious of conventional cosmetic formulas, and how to pick fragrance free cosmetics that won’t irritate your skin.
What exactly are fragrances? They’re complex compounds composed of aromatic raw ingredients. Natural fragrances are obtained from plants using distillation, expression and extraction, whereas synthetic fragrances are created from a combination of plant derived aromatics and chemically created (usually from petroleum) lab constituted alternatives. Synthetic fragrances come with a host of unsavory side effects, and it’s important to stay aware of chemicals you should be steering clear of. Conventional cosmetic companies tend to use synthetic fragrance as the backbone of their product scent profile, and they have a scary amount of leeway when it comes to what they actually put into their formulas. In fact, cosmetic companies can put whatever they want into “fragrances” – think formulas of up to 60 chemicals and toxic ingredients, all labeled under the umbrella term “fragrance.” The logic here is that they have to protect their “trade secrets” so that other companies won’t replicate their signature scents – the official FDA website goes into detail about this loophole, which results in large cosmetic companies including potentially harmful and toxic ingredients in their cosmetics, sans labeling. Take note that even cosmetics labeled as “unscented” will contain synthetic fragrance, in order to neutralize odors from other chemicals present in the formula
Companies rely heavily on synthetic fragrance because it can be cheaper to include than organic or plant based scents, and larger cosmetic companies are, need we say, famous for putting profit before health and sustainability. Toxic ingredients typically included are benzene derivatives (which emulate a vanilla aroma but are also proven to aggravate the respiratory system), phthalates (to dissolve oil, but pose a threat to the reproductive system), and parabens (which act as a preservative, but also disrupt internal hormonal balance). A 2001 study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that synthetic fragrances were often shown to contain hormone disruptors linked to abnormal cell reproduction. Bear in mind that topically applied chemicals are absorbed into your skin and subsequently into your bloodstream, organs and cells. The takeaway: what’s nested under the umbrella term “fragrance” matters, and in conventional formulas, hidden health risks might be lingering.
That said, it’s a smarter choice for your skin and body to stick with healthy natural fragrance alternatives, derived from fruits, plant oils, essential oils, floral extracts and hydrosols. These nature-sourced raw aromatics are beneficial and nourishing, in that they maintain the integrity of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants present in the plant. Minimal processing means that naturally scented ingredients contain the healing properties of the original raw plant. It’s time to replace harsh chemicals with natural, nourishing ingredients. So what are some of our favorite fragrance free products?
Puristry’s Flower Water Toner is a calming floral water that imbues skin with balanced nourishment and cleansing. Its light scent derives from organic rose water, which is a naturally healing and anti-inflammatory extract containing trace amounts of essential fatty acid rich rose oil. The scent is also amped up with organic Japanese honeysuckle extract, a natural preservative that gives the product a longer shelf life while simultaneously the classic floral scent profile of a honeysuckle plant. It’s a soothing and smoothing product with a scent gentle enough to layer with other products.
Puristry’s Vine Therapy Serum is another organic fragrance free cosmetic, with a super antioxidant-rich formula that battles signs of aging, scented with a combination of organic honeysuckle extract, organic bergaptene free bergamot fruit oil, organic cedarwood bark oil, and organic lavender oil. The blend of natural ingredients works synergistically to produce a light but luxurious scent that sits lightly on the skin and most importantly, is healing and clarifying. Plus the serum is packed with antioxidant-rich grape extract, proven to reverse signs of UV damage and contribute to cellular level renewal and collagen production.
Finally Puristry’s Seaberry Moisturizer is a concentrated blend of organic sea buckthorn fruit oil (which imbues the product with a citrusy, bright aroma), organic bergaptene free bergamot oil, and organic sage oil (an earthy base note with antifungal and antimicrobial properties) Seaberry fruit oil contains over fifty phytonutrients, which help your dermis battle inflammation, oxidative stress, and breakdown of the extracellular matrix, so this is a product that’s simultaneously soothing and hardworking to produce visible results – denser and firmer skin with a more even tone.
The takeaway? Puristry’s combination of plant sourced oils and extracts allows us to create our signature scent blends, while maintaining the integrity of ingredients and allowing their healing and nourishing properties to shine through. Fragrance and scent enhancers in products need to be as clean as the active ingredients and ideally, it should be the active ingredients that are imbuing a product with natural scent. Because you’re often layering several products together in one skincare routine, you want clean ingredients from all elements in a formulas, from the preservatives to the fragrances and everything in between.