Look Out For Fragrance & Parfum In Your Beauty Products

What's hiding in your perfume

Parfum is the Canadian term referring to fragrances (a US term) found in cosmetic products but the switch in vocabulary doesn’t change the scary fact that these words are an umbrella term hiding a bunch of toxic ingredients that aren’t doing our bodies any favours.

After my mom’s initial breast cancer diagnosis, conventional perfume was one of the first beauty products I stopped using and soon I begin avoiding all products with unknown fragrant ingredients. Fewer headaches and less irritated skin were noticeable benefits from my shift but reducing my breast cancer risks was also motivating!

Reasons to avoid the fragrance or parfum ingredient:

  1. Fragrance ingredients are super secret: Manufacturers are not required to disclose their “fragrance or parfum recipe” since they are considered part of their trade secrets. This means that there are potentially dozens of secret chemicals that you are wearing without knowledge, with so many conventional products being scented, it’s apparent how quickly our chemical body burden could grow!
  2. Fragrance is everywhere: Walk down the aisle at your local pharmacy and you can read the assortment of “smells” on offer in deodorants, perfumes, shampoos, soaps, and more! Since most of us regularly use 15 personal care products each morning, the ingredients hidden under the fragrance label are building up in our systems due to continuous exposure. The ingredients are being absorbed through our skin and inhaled into our respiratory system.
  3. Fragrance may contain phthalates: Phthalates mimic estrogen and trick our bodies into thinking the hormone is our own. Studies have linked phthalate exposure to the feminizing of humans, breast cancer, and more. Phthalates are one of the main reasons I encourage you to audit your beauty products to minimize your body’s exposure to toxic ingredients!
  4. Fragrance impacts you and the people around you: Remember that ingredient I just cautioned you about…phthalates are the reason someone can walk by us and our scent lingers on. Scents can induce headaches, watery eyes, and induce asthma. For the sensitive skin folk, like myself, fragrances may cause skin rashes, too! Many workplaces and public buildings are going fragrance-free to create more healthful atmospheres.

ditch fragrance from your beauty products

Reduce the risks of exposure to fragrances:

1. Post signs that declare your workspace and schools, “Fragrance Free” or “Scents-sensitive”. Use this scent-free resource from the Canadian Lung Association to help you frame the discussion with co-workers or parent council.

2. Write to your favourite beauty companies and ask them to disclosure the ingredients in their fragrance or parfum.

3. Shop from beauty brands who disclose their fragrance ingredients and are using natural fragrances found in essential oils such as Cocoon Apothecary. Spending your money with companies who value transparency tells the cosmetic industry that disclosure matters.

4. Stop wearing scents. Get used to your natural smell! If you must use a fragrance, refer to #3. and wear sparingly!

5. Read the Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance, a report from Environmental Defence and The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. They tested the ingredients in a number of fragrances to find out what toxins may be lurking inside.

Have you ever checked your beauty products to see how many of them contained the ingredient, fragrance or parfum? What did you discover?


  • surviving and thriving on pennies says:

    I avoid fragrances since we were getting nose bleeds from Glade Plug In products. Never ever shut a door if you use those. Better yet just don’t use those toxic things. Since we kicked the fragrances from our lives I am highly sensitive to them. We now use essential oils and use those sparingly. Great post!

  • lindsay says:

    Giving up fragrance and my perfume was one of the hardest things about “detoxing” my lifestyle, but I never look back! I love everything you listed, including asking your favorite cosmetic and beauty companies to disclose all fragrance ingredients. Having used some safe and fully transparent cosmetic brand (who actually tell you what’s in their fragrances), it’s amazing how gross and chemically the traditional scents smell. As always, great writing, I’ll share on social!

    • Sara Vartanian says:

      Thanks, Lindsay! Scents was one of the first things I gave up because my skin is sooo sensitive and it made a huge difference. I would like to find an essential oil based scent for special occassions!

  • Lynn Hasselberger says:

    All fragrance effects me negatively… I’m super sensitive and didn’t realize it until later in life. Great information worth sharing! So many people aren’t aware of how bad this stuff can be!

  • Anna @Green Talk says:

    I try and avoid any product with fragrance in it. You become so sensitive to its smell when you don’t use the products anymore.