How Toxic Is Parfum As A Skincare Ingredient?

Liv for Virginutty, peaceful and wearing Philippine barong

Let’s talk about "parfum" — the mystery fragrance in everything from perfume to face wash to baby wipes. It sounds innocent enough, smells nice too. But what is it?


What is “parfum” and what’s in it?

”Parfum” or “fragrance” is a cocktail of mystery ingredients, which are often comprised of toxic ingredients including hormone disruptors amongst others — which is worrying, since our hormones regulates almost everything from fertility, to weight, to acne.

Even more worryingly, the secrecy of ingredients in parfum is protected by industry trade laws. That means companies or manufacturers using parfum don’t legally have to disclose what’s in it.


Why is parfum an ingredient you should avoid?

Parfum is a chemically manufactured scent that gives products an indulgent feel. But there's no functional purpose to it. The most common response to fragrances in products manifest as mild forms of allergic reactions ranging from irritation and redness, to burning, itching and swelling, to dermatitis and hives.

Because of the secrecy of ingredients in parfum, there’s a severe lack of transparency to the end consumer applying these products daily.

Consider how many products you use and apply in a single day. Body wash, moisturiser, hair oil, deodorant, aftershave, perfume, foundation, lipstick. You could easily have used ten before even leaving the house — all of them with their own fragrance, seeking out the attention of our senses.


Why can parfum be so harmful to our bodies?

According to organics.org, women put up to 515 synthetic chemicals on their bodies every day. In 2002, a survey conducted by Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit activist organisation involved with research and advocacy, found that women use an average of 12 products a day, with men using an average of 6 products a day. They also found that:

“One of every five adults are potentially exposed every day to all of the top seven carcinogenic impurities common to personal care product ingredients — hydroquinone, ethylene dioxide, 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde, nitrosamines, PAHs, and acrylamide. The top most common impurity ranked by number of people exposed is hydroquinone, which is a potential contaminant in products used daily by 94 percent of all women and 69 percent of all men.”


Surely if parfum was that bad, personal care and cosmetic safety boards wouldn’t approve it as an ingredient?

The more you use something, the more your exposure adds up. Absorbing a tiny amount of a toxic ingredient into your body everyday adds up to a high volume over time.

One of the biggest issues with the personal care industry is the tendency to approach each safety assessment as if consumers will only be exposed to one chemical at a time, and as if the product is the only source of exposure for each chemical considered. As the EWG states so simply: “The panel is often wrong on both counts.” Exposures add up.


The good news is…

There’s a significant shift in the beauty industry. We’re turning back towards green and natural ingredients, and starting to hold big brands and businesses accountable for the lack of transparency surrounding their ingredients.

More and more businesses in health and beauty (significantly, small-scale startups) are investing in organically-derived and naturally-sourced ingredients, rather than opting for quick, cheap synthetic compounds. This is because consumers are starting to ask questions and hold corporations accountable.

The European Union alone has been very proactive in dealing with potentially harmful foods and cosmetics, banning over 1,300 chemicals found in cosmetics.

We know how disturbing it can be when you start to realise just how many products labelled “organic” or “natural” actually contain parfum and other synthetic ingredients that break us out into allergies and add up to health complications over time. (This realisation is partly what motivated our founder, Melissa, to start Virginutty.)

But now you’re aware, you can change the way you consume.


What you can do to avoid toxic ingredients in your skincare:

  1. Double check the ingredients list next time you use a beauty product and check that you know what's really going onto, and into, your body.

  2. Try to choose brands that operate on a transparency basis, with ingredients fully disclosed.

  3. Opt for natural and organically-derived products where you can.

  4. If something doesn’t seem right to you, question it. Simply asking a question can lead to significant change.