Girl Planting seeds

Why Go Fragrance-Free?

Spa_ProductsOn a recent trip to the mall, I noticed scented air wafting from several stores. It turns out, “scent and aroma marketing” is a new trend to enhance the consumer experience and lure families to spend more time (and money) in stores, offices and more. According to reports in Forbes and Bloomberg Business, a growing number of luxury hotels even have a signature scent to help draw guests in.

Back at home, turn on the tv, and you are likely to see commercials for plug-ins, scented candles, air fresheners and celebrity-inspired perfumes. We are a culture enveloped in artificially-scented products, many of them aimed toward teens, especially body sprays with enticing names.  

What are these scents and why are we becoming so enamored with them? Forbes reports that “Science backs up investing in fragrance, which directly accesses the brain’s limbic system, the area that processes memories and emotions, according to Simon Harrop, CEO of Brand Sense…”

There is a stark difference, though, between the science of aromatherapy, based on therapeutic-grade essential oils sourced from plants, and the chemical-laden synthetic versions conventionally used for marketing and in consumer products. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the term “fragrance” (also called “aroma” or “parfum”) on a label can include any of approximately 3,000 different chemicals which are not required to be individually disclosed on the label. What’s more EWG says, “Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.” Which means, if a kids shampoo or teen body spray lists “fragrance” on the package, there’s no telling what chemical cocktail the product contains. Synthetic fragrances often include phthalates, known to be endocrine disruptors which can wreak havoc with the body’s hormonal system.

Thankfully, tools such as EWG’s Skin Deep® cosmetic safety database can de-mystify the shopping experience and make it easier to find healthy products. So can spending a few extra minutes in the store reading labels to ensure a product doesn’t contain “fragrance.” Small retailers and big box chains alike are offering more options. Likewise, many workplaces are going fragrance-free to decrease possible health issues, so we can all breathe a little easier.



Erin S. Ihde is Project Manager, Environmental Research at The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center ®  (DIEHC) at Hackensack University Medical Center.  The DIEHC study team has several published papers in peer-reviewed journals on environmental factors associated with autism spectrum disorders, cancer and endocrine disruption as well as current studies in maternal/fetal toxin exposures and  breast cancer prevention.  Ms. Ihde has created research partnerships with Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, the Meadowlands Environmental Research Institute, and Georgetown University Lombardi Cancer Center. She serves on the hospital's Wellness Advisory Committee and Research Steering Committee,  and trains new researchers as part of the hospital’s Clinical Research Education Program.  Ms. Ihde has an MA in Environmental Education from New York University, where she received a fellowship from the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, has a BA in English from the Honors Program at The College of New Jersey, and is a Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP) through SOCRA. 

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