The Wellness Woman: Perfume Substitutes Even if you can’t name the brand, you can probably remember exactly what your mother’s perfume smelled like when you were a kid. Our sense of smell is linked with memory even more so than our other senses. We have very emotional responses to scent, biologically and socially, so of course we care about what we smell like. Something we should probably care a little more about? The chemicals we’re putting on and in our bodies for the sake of a signature scent. Here’s how you can go all-natural with no worry!

The Question of Toxicity

“Please don’t tell me my perfume is toxic.” OK. We won’t, but more accurately, we can’t—at least to a certain extent. Federal regulations for “fragrance” products are actually very loose. Ever wonder why you don’t see a huge laundry list of chemical ingredients on the back of your perfume box? Not because they’re not in there (trust us, there are 3,100 stock ingredients for companies to choose from), but because these companies don’t have to put them all on there. According to a study done by the Environmental Working Group, even with some ingredients listed, there are, on average, about 14 “secret ingredients” hidden in the makeup of those listed on the label.

The “Secret Ingredient” Health Risks

So, what’s up with these secret ingredients? Some of them haven’t even been thoroughly tested. Under the wide umbrella of the “fragrance” title, the U.S. Food and Drug Association lacks the authority to require companies to test for safety. Since perfume is directly applied to the skin, sometimes even inhaled, harsh chemicals can accumulate in the body. Here are some of the toxins we do know of:

Parabens: synthetic preservatives that interfere with hormone production and release

Phthalates: a carcinogenic preservative linked to reproductive issues like decreased sperm count, early breast development, birth defects and damage to the liver and kidney

Synthetic musks: linked to hormone disruption—accumulates in breast milk, body fat, umbilical cord blood and the environment

The Wellness Woman: Perfume Substitutes

How-To: Herbal Perfume

... but you still want to smell nice. No problem—be your own perfumer! Essential oils are all-natural, smell amazing and if you choose the right brand, they won’t contain any unknown chemicals. Sadly, like the perfume industry, essential oils are also unregulated. If you’re using essential oils, be sure it’s a well-known brand that sells certified therapeutic grade oils. And remember, if the price of the oil seems too good to be true, it is.

You can find tons of great essential oil perfume recipes on the web. To get you started, here’s some basic combinations you can consider:

  • A base note essential oil like cedarwood, vanilla or sandalwood
  • A middle note oil like rose, lavender, or geranium
  • A top note oil like orange, lemongrass or peppermint

Once you’ve found a recipe you’d like to try, mix all of your oils in a bottle and let it rest for a few days so the scents intermingle and meld. After that, add your alcohol and cap your bottle tightly. Then shake, and put it in a cool, dark place.

Note: For a faded alcohol scent and a more intense oil fragrance, allow the perfume to rest for a month.