The Seduction of Smell

What is Perfume?

Perfume is used to entice us to purchase products, hide bad odours, make us smell more attractive, and uplift our mood. It’s often made from extracts of fragrant ingredients such as fruits, spices, resins, leaves, gums, grasses, flowers and seeds (and the occasional animal product). The extraction process separates the fragrant ingredient oils from water. After the oils are extracted, they are blended and mixed with alcohol, infused, and then packaged. But there is actually a lot more to this process than meets the eye. 

Origin Of Perfume.

The latin phrase ‘per fumum’ (meaning through smoke) was used to describe the smells produced from resins and woods burned at religious ceremonies and rituals in Ancient times.

The first cultures thought to use perfume were the Mesopotamians and Egyptians. For more than 4,000 years, (through the Persian, Greek and Roman Empires), people used fragrance to show their wealth and hide unpleasant odours in times of poor hygiene.

By the 19th Century, advancements in chemistry allowed for a new breed of perfume. This technology made a simple fragrance develop into a far more complex formula containing natural and synthetic ingredients.

Given that smell is one of the key factors in a consumer’s decision to purchase a product, it has become seriously big business.

The Trade Secret.

Worldwide, the perfume industry is worth billions of dollars. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians spend more than $4.5 billion on toiletries and cosmetic products every year.

That’s a lot of money and you can appreciate why the big companies want their closely guarded formulas to remain hidden. However, the trade secret loop hole has allowed a myriad of chemicals go into products under the label fragrance. Labelling laws also allow ingredients under 1% of the formulation to be in any order on the label.

And here in lies the problem for us. What are we really putting on our bodies? What is in that cleaning product you are wiping all over your bench top? What are we actually inhaling in that vanilla scented store? The International Fragrance Association list over 3,000 chemicals in their ‘transparency list’, used to formulate the huge range of fragrances around the world. True Story.

In late 2015, the Environmental Working Group launched a strict certification programme for personal care products. To gain verification, items must be free of substances on the "unacceptable" list and provide full disclosure of ingredients on the product packaging. So far only 1,336 products have been EWG certified.

Sensitivities To Perfume.

Not surprisingly, a large proportion of people are sensitive to fragrance, much like myself. The EWG reported that women are now exposed to a daily average of 126 chemicals from cosmetics, food, cleaning supplies, and pollution. These chemicals have the potential to be endocrine disruptors, allergens, respiratory irritants, carcinogens, neurotoxic chemicals, or environmental toxicants. Yikes.

I used to be a Flowerbomb girl from way back. But since experiencing sensitive skin, I have been searching for safer alternatives to synthetic fragrance. Fragrance can be found in new clothing, linen, household cleaners, laundry detergents, car wash, air fresheners, deodorants, candles, cosmetics, sunscreen, hair care products, baby products, etc, the list goes on. So I make small changes as I go, and these add up to a big impact on my health overall.

Remember, whilst not all synthetics are bad, not all natural ingredients are good either. Some people are sensitive to essential oils and allergic to natural products too. So it’s best to check the label and find a good balance for your personal needs. If you are on the lookout for some great eco brands for your household cleaners, check out The Eco Store, That Red House, or Abode. 

The Future Of Perfume.

In the US, Michelle Pfeiffer released a fragrance line called Henry Rose. The company uses mostly natural ingredients, but their main ethos is to be safe. Best of all, they are transparent with their formulations, so you know what ingredients you are putting on your skin. GAME CHANGER.

In Australia, we are seeing a rise in the popularity of natural products and fragrance. One Seed, Aromantik, IME are examples of Australian brands offering natural fragrance formulations and what I use now. 

Allergies are on the rise, and we are seeking alternatives to anything that may aggravate or cause them. Now more than ever are we choosing to buy transparent products for ourselves, our families and the environment.

Technology is also providing increasing information. Apps have been created to decode ingredients and product labels to make it easy on us non-scientists (see below). They have some limitations, but let’s be honest, labels can be hard to read at the best of times and this takes the hard work out of it.

So, how can you help your household?

Try Small Changes.

  • Reduce the amount of products you use. Less waste and chemicals absorbed on your skin, equals more money in your back pocket and less risk.

  • Read labels. Avoid over powering smelly products in the cleaning aisle of your local supermarket. Research better options before you go.

  • Get help. Download an App to help you make more informed choices.

  • Go DIY. For affordable ways to decrease your household chemical exposure visit the Low Tox Life.

  • Vote with your wallet. Spend your hard earned money on products with safer formulations and more transparency.

  • Shop our store The Calm Skin Co.


Helpful Apps.


More Reading.


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