You’ve heard this a million times before but it’s worth repeating: Your skin is your largest organ, so what you put on it will without a doubt end up inside your body. That’s why it’s not only important to be conscious of what you’re slathering on, but also what you’re spraying on your skin every day.
“Fragrance enters your body through your skin but also through your nose and lungs, so it has three points of entry—and the lungs give direct access to the blood stream,” says Patricia Malemes, owner and founder of Agape & Zoe, a natural beauty and perfume line in Dallas, Texas.
The trouble is, it’s not always super-obvious what’s really inside that pretty glass bottle of perfume. Since fragrance formulas are considered a “secret recipe” and top-secret information, the FDA doesn’t make companies list every single ingredient individually. A laundry list of possibly toxic chemicals can read as just “fragrance” on the box.
But never fear. We’ve decoded some of the common lingo and terms so you can sniff out which ingredients are not up to snuff.
Pthalates, Parabens, Polycyclic/Nitro Musk
When phthalates and parabens are in perfume, as well as other beauty goods such as skincare products and nail polish, their main purpose is to preserve a product’s lasting power on your skin, as well as its shelf life, while synthetic (polycyclic/nitro) musk is added to some fine fragrances because using the actual oil secreted by animal glands is definitely a no-no (yuck!). These three P’s have all been shown to have hormone disrupting activity. As that scary description implies, they can mess with your body’s natural production and balance of hormones—and in women, that most likely equals estrogen. What’s more, research shows synthetic musk could pose a toxicity risk (a study on mussels found that synthetic musk intensifies the toxicity of other pollutants, leading to accumulation and cellular damage). Trace levels have also been found in the water supply because their molecular makeup can’t break down.
In the past, phthalates, parabens and synthetic musk were deemed safe by the scientific community. But because they’ve been used in almost everything—from plastic water bottles to detergent, body wash and candles—what were once trace amounts in the body could become amplified (aka bioaccumulation). The result? Safe turns into, well, toxic. Studies on long-term and excessive exposure to these ingredients have been linked to a slew of scary health conditions including breast cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, birth defects and sperm damage.
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