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Joining an already busy and sweaty gym is often a strong reminder of why we love to smell good! And besides, who doesn’t adore opening a new bottle a perfume, or discovering the latest beauty products or wearing a fragrance that brings back beautiful memories of times gone by?

But have you ever wondered what’s in your cosmetics and perfume that makes them smell so good?

If you’ve ever gone so far as to investigate the ingredients, either out of curiosity or concern you’ve probably seen the word ‘fragrance’ listed on the ingredient label. But what is this? Well, that’s the big secret. Because back in 1973 an Act was passed that made it perfectly acceptable for companies to withhold information of what their perfume ‘fragrance’ contained, which at the time seemed fair. However, it has since been discovered that some companies have used this loophole to legally ‘lump’ any harmful, untested chemicals under this title and without disclosure.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a project set up in 2004 by the Breast Cancer Fund to help educate consumers about toxic chemicals in their products and to also put pressure on the cosmetics industry to make positive changes.

After testing 17 different perfumes, they found a total of 38 chemicals that were not listed on the labels, with an average of 14 unlisted chemicals in each product.

Our beloved Chanel Coco was at that time scored at 18. And although some of these ingredients were harmless fragrance ingredients, many of them were preservatives and additives that are questionable for our health.

One of the biggest health concerns for wearing these chemical containing products, is the possible impact on our hormones. Some synthetic chemicals, when absorbed into the body, can act like our hormones, by either mimicking or blocking our bodies own natural hormones, which can lead to a disruption of the body’s normal functions. Because our bodies generally produce small levels of hormones each day, even slight variations in these levels can contribute to health issues including infertility, metabolic issues, diabetes, and more.

Here are 3 perfume ingredients that might be in your favourite fragrance that can affect your hormones.


BHT is a butylated compound used to preserve products to lengthen their shelf life. There’s evidence that suggests that BHT mimics estrogen, meaning it could compete with the estrogen in your body, potentially creating a hormone imbalance. This is a problem for both men and women.

BHT bio accumulates in the body over time, so even a product that contains a miniscule amount can cause a build up in the long run. And it’s not just used in perfume, you’ll find BHT in makeup, skin care, diaper cream, even food! Fatty food products like chips, baked goods, butter, meat, and vegetable oils often have BHT added to prolong their shelf life. This means that avoiding it is hard, but worth it if you can.


Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are often used in a number of different products. From food packaging, to detergents. They’re used to make plastics more flexible, but in perfume, they help the scent adhere to your skin. Which is why this is one of the most common chemicals to be found in perfumes and diethyl phthalate in particular is often used in relatively high concentrations.

Phthalates have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system, thereby interfering with normal hormone production.

Exposure to phthalates has been found to potentially cause reproductive abnormalities and decreased production of testosterone in males, as well as decreased male fertility. Other studies have shown a link between phthalates and endometriosis in women.

Musk Ketone

Studies have shown that musk ketone, a nonbiodegradable compound, can have harmful effects on both human health and on the environment, after affecting the wildlife inhabiting the aquatic environments in which it was discovered.

Musk ketone has also been found in fatty tissue and breast milk, which indicates that people are being regularly exposed.

Not only has it been associated with endocrine disruption, musk ketone has also been shown to induce phase I enzymes in rodents and to be a cogenotoxicant in cultured human cells. This indicates it as a possible carcinogen, meaning it’s a substance or agent that can cause cells to become cancerous by altering their genetic structure so that they multiply continuously and become malignant.

Until companies are required by law to disclose their fragrance ingredients to consumers, it might be a safer option to find your favourite scents among the natural perfumes made from essential oils and botanical ingredients are free of synthetic fragrances and other chemicals. Read the labels and look for brands that list natural oils, plants, or specifically state they don’t contain phthalates, BHT or Musk Ketone. Any time you see the ingredient “fragrance” listed on a label assume added chemicals may well have been used.

By making small changes in the products we use and by choosing natural over synthetic, we can make a big difference to our exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals, and help to create a more balanced environment for us all the thrive in.

Written by Kate Swinson - Founder of MEvME

Image: David Suzuki Foundation