Posted on: February 22, 2016 at 3:00 pm
Last updated: September 7, 2018 at 3:54 pm

This amazing post was written by Jenn Ryan, a freelance writer and editor who’s passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. You can read more of her work at

What Does the Word “Fragrance” Really Mean?

You’ve seen it on your labels: simply the word “fragrance”. You may not have thought much beyond this word, but you’re about to have your eyes opened into the real meaning of fragrance, as well as a host of medical problems it can cause, and why it’s best avoided.

In fact, by the time you’re done reading this article, you might just want to begin writing the FDA letters about how ridiculous it is that this term is allowed to be used so broadly with such flimsy regulation.

The Word Fragrance Has Nearly 4,000 Meanings—And You’ll Probably Never Know Which One Your Product Uses

It was Marilyn Monroe who said the only thing she wore to bed was Chanel No. 5, but I’m here to tell you, and belatedly, Marilyn, why you should put that bottle of conventional perfume DOWN.


That word “fragrance” that you see can have nearly 4,000 different meanings. It could also be referred to as “parfum” (what the heck?). Fragrance could mean pretty much anything. It’s a catch-all term for many, many toxic chemicals. The manufacturer of the product is allowed to decline to disclose what’s in their product’s fragrance and simply hide under the defense that the information is “proprietary”.

The word “fragrance” could also be an umbrella term for several different chemicals in the product, again, none of which are required to be disclosed to the consumer. Only a few hundred of these thousands of chemicals have been tested for toxicity, and many of them are found to be toxic and present an alarming threat to your central nervous system. Just to name a few of these fragrance chemicals: benzyl acetate (known carcinogen), methylene chloride (known carcinogen, and banned by our own FDA in the late 1980s, but no regulation exists due to the fragrance umbrella term), and limonene (known carcinogen). Many of these chemicals come from petroleum.

Medical Problems Fragrance Have Been Linked To

Are you ready for this list? You might be itching to throw away your bottle of Justin Bieber perfume after this.

Allergies. Sneezing, coughing, watery eyes.

Asthma. Fragrance is suspected to contribute to asthma development in children.

Cancer. Yeah, because many of these chemicals are known human carcinogens, according to the FDA.

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Central nervous system disorders. These include autoimmune disorders, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and more.

Dermatitis. Red, scaly, dry patches on the skin, either from ingesting problem foods or from putting products with fragrance on your skin in the form of lotions or makeup.

Depression. In people who are highly sensitive, these scents can affect brain chemistry and even lead to people being more prone to panic attacks.

Dizziness and Nausea. These symptoms happen when your central nervous system is impacted by these toxins.

Headaches and migraines. Whew! That guy that walked by you that took a bath in cologne (we all know that guy)? He could just have been responsible for your migraine later that day.


Upper respiratory problems. Even failure can happen at high exposures. Aka DEATH.

That Taylor Swift perfume isn’t looking real sexy, now is it?

Products That Fragrance Is In

Ok people, let’s get real: most of the products that fragrances are in test on animals. Those expensive perfumes with toxic chemicals? They get sprayed into the eyes of cats, rabbits, dogs, and monkeys. Same thing goes for your makeup and home cleaning products. But anyway!

Fragrance is in: candles, perfume, air fresheners, dish soap, laundry and dish detergent, hand/body soap, shampoo, fabric softener, sunscreen, lotion, makeup and nail polish remover, medication, and more! If it smells fake, then you likely aren’t benefitting from it.

Read labels. Be aware. Ditch those candles, incense, and expensive perfumes. Those car air fresheners, cans of Glade (animal testers!) sitting on the back of the toilet at work, and cleaning products? Seriously. Stop. I’ll show you how.

How to Avoid—And Natural Alternatives


Listen, going to the store and picking up a bottle of “fragrance-free” dish soap isn’t going to cut it. Why? Because fragrance-free simply means that the manufacturer has put other chemicals in there to cover up the smell, but not necessarily one of the thousands of chemicals under the umbrella term “fragrance”. It doesn’t really mean fragrance-free! Yes, frustration is setting in. Welcome to the FDA.

Do an audit of your home to determine what you’re using. Your dish soap may be scented with essential oils. That’s awesome. You can use Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap (scented with essential oils) for a variety of applications around the home rather than buying conventional, animal-tested detergents and deodorants that are laced with toxic chemicals. Make your own perfumes out of essential oils. It’s easy and not half as expensive as that David Beckham cologne you bought for your man for Valentine’s Day. And you can help save animals by not buying these products!

Try making your own fragrance from essential oils (Always do a patch test first to ensure your skin isn’t sensitive to an oil). These 3 are wonderful scents to try first:

  • vanilla
  • rose
  • sandlewood

You can also buy natural essential oil perfumes such as Pacifica Beauty products. The same goes for natural laundry detergent, dish soap, shampoo, etc. Or, like I said, just use Dr. Bronner’s for everything. Regardless, just remember that the term fragrance is hiding thousands of chemicals, and that many of them are known carcinogens. Stick to natural scents like essential oils, herbs, and flowers!

Jenn Ryan
Health Expert
Jenn Ryan is a freelance writer and editor who's passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. She loves running, reading, and playing with her four rescued rabbits.

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