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A Fragrance-Free Manifesto

Woman spraying fragrance

A Fragrance-Free Manifesto

Kate Jakubas

Kate Jakubas

Meliora K

This post originally appeared on Meliora K’s blog. Meliora K is a No Secrets partner.

Why reading labels and avoiding this one ingredient will make you healthier, wealthier, smarter, better looking, and awesome.
If you read the full ingredient list of any common household product, chances are you’ll be amazed at how many different substances are included. Even if you don’t recognize what any of them are, you can look each one up, read what other people and organizations have to say, and decide whether you think you are dealing with a miracle product or you need to don gloves and a respirator to immediately remove it from your home. However, there is one ingredient you will come across that is an exception to this rule.


It is the mystery meat of our household products. U.S. federal law doesn’t require labeling of the chemicals that companies use in their fragrance mixtures. As a result, they can add thousands (really!) of different possible ingredients to your cosmetics and cleaning products, and you don’t even know what they are. According to the Environmental Working Group, fragrances can contain hormone disruptors and the top 5 allergens in the world.

WTF, companies? Why not just list what you’re actually using? Then at least we can have a conversation about it, and people that are sensitive to chemicals have a shot at learning what products to avoid and which ones are A-OK.  Instead, we get a mysterious product, where you know what’s in it and you want us to use it, no questions asked. This reminds me of something…
Snow White
Even if you are trying to reduce the number of nasty chemicals you encounter, you can still run into fragrance. Even some companies that claim to be “green” use this umbrella term on their ingredient lists without listing out the actual fragrance ingredients.

We can argue (and we might) about whether other ingredients are dangerous or bad for the environment: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, glycerin, and scores of others are great cause for debate and research.  At least there we can identify the subject and talk about it openly. With fragrance, the actual ingredients are a mystery and may contain a combination of substances, many of which could be harmful.  If we are going to take control of our products and make them safe for our families and the environment, it’s critical that we understand exactly what is in those products.

That’s why Meliora K will never use “fragrance” as an ingredient and is committed to disclosing 100% of our ingredients, along with other companies involved in the No Secrets campaign by Women’s Voices for the Earth. Transparency is the founding value of our company (we even disclose the full recipes used in our products!) so we can make products that help you reduce your exposure to unwanted chemicals.

5 Responses

  1. Kathryn

    I wonder if we can test the fragrances with a proton NMR or Carbon NMR and/or IR spectroscopy to figure out what chemicals are being used and start from there. What do you think?

  2. Yes, there are various technologies that can be used to reverse-engineer fragrances and find out (most) of what is in them. All the major fragrance houses would have technology like this (which makes one wonder why they are hesitant to disclose simple ingredient lists to consumers, when their competition can already find out their “secrets” in much greater detail if they wished.) For the average consumer, this kind of lab analysis would be pretty expensive. We need fragrance companies to commit to greater transparency, so that folks can more easily find products they can tolerate, without going through the guessing game of trial and error.

  3. Deborah Wardly, MD

    Alex, that is an excellent point that I had not considered. This makes it pretty apparent that the only group that the fragrance industry is hiding this information from is the public consumers. So yes, the question is why do they need to hide this from us in particular? it’s not really about the recipes being proprietary, is it? it’s clearly about the fact that if we knew we were being poisoned, they would be getting hit with lawsuits left and right. at the very least they would be subject to governmental regulations. why the government allows them to get around the law is beyond me, but of course it is all about money, isn’t it? I suspect this will come back to them at some point, judging from the lawsuits that are being won against Big Tobacco now. ultimately there will be enough people harmed by fragranced products that history will repeat itself. I am just waiting for laws about second-hand fragrance. am I dreaming?

  4. Kathy

    I work at a government agency with a fragrance free policy, but they will not enforce it. They post the policy for all to see, and the perfume wearers ignore it. The rule has become, if someone complains about your perfume, just say you don’t have any on. Get your friends and coworkers to say they are not offended by how you smell. Then the allergy sufferer/perfume sensitive individual is pegged as the troublemaker and a source of discord w/in the agency. Before long, the person with sensitivities to perfume/etc. is told they will be written up if they keep accusing people of wearing too much perfume, even though others smell the perfume and the perfume has caused asthma attacks in the person making the initial complaints. This culture likes its scents. It gets very personal!

  5. Lynn

    I was fired from my government job in August 2013 after being diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, a disability under the ADA law. I lost my income, my medical benefits, my self worth. I am a victim twice. I was treated like a sub-human and worse. Office wide emails are NOT policy. The worst offenders out of spite would make multiple trips by my work station throughout the day. Smokers would reapply all day long. Of the over 6000+ chemicals used in scented products most have been banned to use in the fields where our groceries are cultivated. Enbalming fluids and formaldehyde are some of the more common toxic chemicals used in a large number of popular perfumes and colognes. Alot of children suffer from asthma attacks due to overuse of these products by thier parents who refuse to do without, at the expense of thier childrens’ health. Just because something may smell good doesn’t mean it is good for you.

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