What is Fragrance?

Fragrance is a combination of chemicals that gives some products their scent. The word fragrance may cover dozens or even hundreds of different chemicals, depending on the product. Many of these are linked to harm to our health, and they can be hidden in a wide range of beauty products and household goods. Even products labeled as “unscented” or “natural” may still contain fragrance chemicals, since they are usually diluted so much that the smell is barely noticeable. Fragrance chemicals are ubiquitous environmental pollutants, too, and their vapors contribute to ozone and particulate pollution.

The term perfume (and its synonyms, aroma and odor) is used most commonly to refer to a mixture of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds, though it can also describe the smell of a flower or other natural or synthetic substance. The word fragrance is also sometimes used in an ironic or humorous way, as in You have a lovely fragrance, or Your socks have a nice aroma.

For centuries, human civilizations have been experimenting with and using perfumes. Ancient texts and archaeological excavations reveal the use of perfumes by some of the earliest civilizations. The modern perfume industry began with the commercial synthesis of aroma chemicals in the late 19th century, which allowed for the creation of fragrances that were previously unobtainable without the use of natural aromatics.

Perfume is often referred to as an olfactory art form, with the creation of a perfume considered to be more of an art than a science. The creation of a new fragrance is considered to be one of the highest achievements of the perfumer, and the resulting formula is often kept a secret.

In addition to the perfumer’s creative process, modern perfumery relies on a set of strict safety standards. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) develop and set voluntary standards that are incorporated into the fragrance industry’s testing system. These standards include hazard identification, hazard quantification, exposure assessment, group health and environmental testing, and toxicology.

Fragrance chemicals are often harmful to our health, including causing allergies and contributing to asthma and other respiratory diseases. Some are even known carcinogens. Despite the health risks, most of the ingredients in fragrance aren’t required to be listed on product labels, and the FDA doesn’t regulate them like they do for pharmaceutical drugs.

The good news is that Clearya can help you identify and avoid fragrance chemicals in your household and personal care products, by identifying the chemical names of fragrance components on product labels. You can then use our app to find non-toxic beauty and cleaning products that do not contain these chemicals. If you’d like to learn more about the health impacts of fragrances and how you can help support safer products, please click the links below to read our articles on these topics. And if you have any questions about finding safe products, we’re always here to help! You can reach us through our contact page.