“Clean” beauty in 2023 is one of the fastest growing categories in the personal care space, so you may want to give – or hope to get – clean fragrance this Valentine’s Day.
The problem: The term “clean” isn’t regulated. Brands can and do make up their own definitions – and there’s nothing to prevent a fragrance brand from slapping the word on its label. So it’s wise to view products’ claims of clean, green or “free from” with skepticism: Far from being “safer,” they might still be concocted from a secret mix of toxic chemicals.
There’s a better approach to fragrance this Valentine’s Day.
The problems with most fragrance
The origins of fragrance hark back to the ancient Egyptians, who made them with chemicals derived from plants and animals. But today that’s too costly. So the beautiful bottles of fragrance on the department store counter that claim to contain jasmine, rose, bergamot or orange zest most likely aren’t made with those ingredients. Instead, they probably contain a cocktail of potentially thousands of hidden chemicals.
And we don’t know which of roughly 3,000 synthetic chemicals may lurk in a particular fragrance – they don’t have to be disclosed, since they’re considered a “trade secret.” But many of the chemicals are concerning, and no federal regulations prevent their use in fragrance.
They might contain substances like cancer-causing formaldehyde or phthalates, which are used to make fragrance last longer but are associated with harm to the male reproductive system and other health concerns. Artificial musk, which accumulates in the body, has been linked to cancer. And many of these chemicals are highly allergenic, so they can trigger asthma attacks, skin irritation, respiratory distress and other allergic reactions.
EWG’s Skin Deep® cosmetics database contains hundreds of fragrance products made with ingredients we consider to be highly hazardous, such as the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, artificial coloring, preservatives and lilial.
Your best source
You have better options if you want to give (or drop a hint about) a safer type of fragrance. A handful of brands make fragrance that bears the EWG VERIFIED® mark, meaning they are free from chemicals of concern and manufactured according to our strictest standards.
Transparency is required for products bearing the EWG VERIFIED mark – and it’s something that’s as much of the moment as the moniker “clean.” Brands carrying the mark must disclose all their ingredients, which include substances with recognizable names like rosemary oil, vanilla, jasmine and rose extract.
Any EWG VERIFIED fragrance would make a fine gift on Valentine’s Day, or consider a sampler set instead. The brands include:
The Food and Drug Administration regulates fine fragrance, but manufacturers aren’t required to submit their products for review before introducing them into the market.
Until the federal government steps up to protect us from toxic chemicals in fragrance products, your best bet is to compare products on Skin Deep and look for those bearing the EWG VERIFIED mark.