5 Nontoxic Perfumes That Will Make You Forget About Synthetic Fragrances Forever

5 min read

You’ve probably been there: Walking into a meeting, scooting into a seat on the train or sitting down at a restaurant and a cloying, overwhelming scent hits you. It might be from the laundry detergent on the clothes of the person sitting next to you, from the air freshener or deodorizer used for cleaning, or from someone else’s idea of a “signature scent.” Regardless of its origin, that cloud of fragrance contains a lot more than odor blockers or natural components.

More than 95 percent of the chemicals in synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals. These chemicals include benzene derivatives, aldehydes, phthalates, and a slew of other known toxins that are linked to cancer, birth defects, nervous-system disorders and allergies—some of which are cited on the Environmental Protection Agency’s hazardous waste list.

A 2011 study revealed that top-selling household products (from laundry detergent and fabric softeners to dish soap, shampoo and lotion) emitted more than 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including some that are classified as toxic or hazardous by federal laws. Even products advertised as “green,” “natural” or “organic” emitted as many hazardous chemicals as standard ones. Close to half of the products tested generated at least one of 24 carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants, to which the Environmental Protection Agency says there is no safe exposure level.

Is Synthetic Perfume Harmful?

Synthetics by definition are not harmful (for more on the topic, listen here). But many of the ingredients used in traditional perfume fall into that 95 percent that have been shown to be harmful. Plus, we’re actively putting perfume on our bodies in direct ways. That’s why it’s even more crucial that our chosen scents are free from toxic chemicals, petrochemicals and air pollutants.

While the clean beauty industry is on its way to abolishing toxic synthetic fragrance and perfume oils (and big brands like Unilever, Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson have begun to list the ingredients in their signature fragrances), the ingredients still aren’t regulated. That means choosing products that have been third-party tested or that explicitly state where their scents come from is currently the best way to avoid the off-gassing that’s common from fragrances.

But in the past, nontoxic fragrances, which are usually derived and blended from essential oils, have been known for being quite earthy and not very complex in their scent profiles. Thankfully, the new era of awareness of ingredients has ushered in botanical fragrances that are as nuanced and full-bodied as we expect fine fragrance to be, all without the toxic chemicals, cloying scents and potential side effects. Here are six we know will make you forget all about the traditional fragrance you may have stood by in the past.

5 Safe For You Perfumes to Try Now

Strange Invisibles

An OG in the world of natural, botanical fragrances, Strange Invisibles hydrodistills its ingredients from biodynamic, wild-crafted and certified organic plants. Hydrodistillation is a gentle immersion method that captures the complete aromatic profile of a plant, including the fine aroma chemicals that cannot be captured with steam distillation. Coupled and expertly blended with Esprit de Cognac, the original perfumers’ alcohol used in France from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century, these botanicals create layered, complex scents that evoke beautiful memories and immediate allegiance. They also last on skin, another natural perfume complaint, and develop over time.


New-to-the-scene PHLUR seeks to fundamentally change the way we think about fragrance. They’re initial direct-to-consumer model allowed them to speak straight to the heart of a new way of thinking about fragrance, one that’s separate from a department-store beauty counter or a celebrity endorsement. The line uses both naturals and safe synthetics, but is clear that their use of synthetics comes in a) where nature stops, or b) where a natural, like sandalwood, would actually harm the environment. They list in completion their ingredients for each scent on their site, and you can easily contact them for more information.

Henry Rose

Created as a collaboration between 130-year old scent maker International Flavors and Fragrances and well-known actress Michelle Pfeiffer, Henry Rose makes a bold claim: It is the first fine fragrance to disclose all its ingredients and attest to their safety. Michelle began the process of creating the line nine years ago, after she’d been fragrance-free since the 90s, citing her father and friend’s battle with cancer as the reason she became aware of environmental hazards. She became an avid label reader, and even turning down endorsement opportunities when she couldn’t find enough data on perfumes. Henry Rose is her attempt to prove that fine fragrance can be safe, layered, moody—and totally transparent. The line even has support from Ken Cook, the co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, who went to fragrance house meetings with Michelle while the line was still in process.

The 7 Vitrues

Founded by a journalist with a mission of peace who never intended to make perfume, The 7 Virtues is a line that stands out for its ethos. Barb Stegemann began by sourcing legal orange blossom and rose essential oil crops, which freed Afghan farmers from the illegal poppy crop and liberated their daughters from becoming young opium brides. She’s taken her philosophy of equality and empowerment around the world to Haiti, Rwanda, The Middle East, India and Madagascar—and her line of perfume benefits from her vast travels, her desire to liberate women and her commitment to clean, safe ingredients. The line is made from ethically and legally sourced botanicals, combined with sugar-cane alcohol, and is vegan, organic, cruelty-free, paraben-free and hypoallergenic.


Founder and master blender of Florescent, Susannah Compton, created her line out of a deep love for how scents evoke feelings. After traditional fragrances gave her headaches and nausea, she found botanics and essential oils, which she says are more alluring. Not only do they smell exquisite, but they also retain therapeutic properties, so when you spritz yourself with Florescent blends, you get the benefits of essential oils alongside the emotional and mental connection to the scent. Her three blends were lovingly crafted based on years of testing, and she maintains that nothing can compare to the complex aromas created by nature.

Is fragrance the new secondhand smoke? Read more about the potential side effects of toxic synthetic perfume.

About The Author

Nicolle Mackinnon

Nicolle Mackinnon

Stemming from her personal journey to treat her celiac disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Nicolle serves as a writer and editor for several leading publications helping women understand how important, stylish and fun it is to commit to clean beauty. By way of her contributions to No More Dirty Looks, Thoughtfully Magazine and numerous beauty brands' blogs, websites and social media, Nicolle has become a trusted voice on the correlation between health and beauty. Follow her journey on Instagram and connect with her via nicollemackinnon.com.



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