October 27, 2021

The Hidden Ingredient Beauty Brands Don’t Want You to Know

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BREAKING NEWS: Sneaker manufacturers slip secret cancer-causing ingredients into their products!

The thing is, they're not even that sneaky, they just have to call it “fragrance.” According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 5,000 different fragrance chemicals — in endless combinations — are used in beauty products today.

This doesn't mean that all clean products are unscented. I love a delicious scent as much as the next gal, but it is entirely possible (and preferable!) to use products scented with clean ingredients such as traceable essential oils, responsibly sourced vanilla, and other natural scents from actual plants, herbs, and fruits. Click here for some of my top picks!

What is Fragrance?

As you can imagine, “fragrance” — sometimes called “scent” or “parfum” on ingredient labels — is added to products to make them smell better. Sometimes they're used as a brand's signature scent or to evoke a sense of familiarity or luxury. Sometimes they're used to mask offending odors. Smell is one of the most powerful senses and manufacturers know it.

The truth is, the personal care industry is the Wild West of the FDA, y'all. They do not have the power to remove products from shelves, even after it’s been scientifically found to be unsafe, toxic, harmful to humans — even to babies. What's more, companies are not required to disclose what's in their “fragrance” because it's proprietary, meaning it's a “trade secret.”

Unfortunately, even major retailers like Sephora, Target, and Ulta label many items as being “clean” even though they used undisclosed fragrance. The good news is the blanket term “fragrance” is easy to spot so it's pretty easy to avoid.

But what is the big deal? Why is “fragrance” so bad?

9 Reasons Why You Should Avoid Fragrance

There's a misconception that if it's sold in stores across the US, it must be safe. Unfortunately, that can't be further from the truth. Because they don't have to disclose what's in it, manufacturers will often include ingredients known to be harmful because they are cheaper and easier to source. Some of those chemicals extend the shelf-life of the product. I know you're skeptical, but here's 10 reasons why you should avoid it (and alternatives below!)

  1. You can often find phthalates hidden under the “fragrance” label. These chemicals can disrupt the hormone system and have been associated with developmental issues in babies and concern over child health. Source. Source. Source. Source.
  2. Phthalates are also linked to reproductive issues in both men and women. It's no secret that infertility has been rapidly increasing in the last few decades.
  3. Synthetic musks build up in our bodies and may magnify the impacts of other toxins.
  4. Some musks have shown hormone disruption potential. Source. Source. Source. Source. Source.
  5. Synthetic musks are also persistent in the environment and contaminate waterways and wildlife.
  6. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), fragrance is the number one cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis and its occurance is on the rise.
  7. Some fragrances emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws.
  8. Many synthetic fragrances include neurotoxicants, which are chemicals that are toxic to the brain.
  9. These neurotoxicants found in synthetic fragrance have even been linked to austism.

The evidence is overwhelmingly clear: Undisclosed synthetic fragrances are linked to everything from cancer to allergies to infertility to even autism.

I am not into fear-mongering, but I do believe that knowledge is power. The lack of safety and testing is criminal. The only way they’ll stop allowing this shit to hit the shelves is for people to spread the word and demand better. 

On a much lighter note, there are more and more companies that are hopping on the no-synthetic fragrance train! The list gets bigger and bigger every day. Below are some of my current favorites.

Brands That Don't Use Synthetic Fragrance


When it comes to skincare and makeup, I use Beautycounter almost exclusively. They are unmatched when it comes to clean skincare and they have the best non toxic makeup. Many of their bestselling products have an intoxicating vanilla scent that is organic and sourced ethically from a woman-owned supplier in Madagascar. Some of their other top sellers are made with citrus scents that make you feel like you're on a lavish vacation. My top picks: Sugarbuff Body Polish in Lemongrass, Lip Conditioner in Peppermint, Counter+ All Bright C Serum, Counter+ Overnight Resurfacing Peel, and Sheer Genius Conditioning Lipstick.

Primally Pure

Primally Pure is also one of my top picks because in addition to using only natural fragrances, their products are paleo-friendly and organic. While they don’t test for heavy metals, they do source their organic ingredients carefully. My top picks: The Charcoal Deodorant (even my manly man husband swears by it), the Everything Spray is a phenomenal toner for balancing your skin's pH level. I also swear by the Almond Vanilla Body Butter and the Gua Sha Stone. Gua Sha is like a natural botox! Check out this Gua Sha facial massage tutorial.

Summer Fridays

Instead of synthetic fragrances, Summer Fridays opts for Peppermint Oil, Corn Mint Oil and Orange Oil in some products to give a tingling effect on the skin. They also use natural fragrances made from Cardamom, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger, Clove, and Pumpkin Oil. These cleansing oils are strong antioxidants that help with circulation. My top picks: the Overtime Mask and the Jet Lag Mask.


Honest is also vehemently opposed to undisclosed fragrances and what's awesome is that some of their products are even EWG-verified (the strictest safety standard). They also have some really high-performing and affordable clean makeup. Recommended products: Skin Sweep Exfoliating Powder Cleanser and Luminizing Glow Powder.

Osea Malibu

Every single Osea Malibu product I have tried smells HEAVENLY and they accomplish this using only natural My top picks: Ocean Cleansing Mudd and Ocean Cleanser.

Ilia Beauty

Ilia Beauty challenges the conventions of clean beauty to create safe, potent formulas that protect and revive your skin. I love makeup that acts like skincare and that's exactly what this brand does well! My top picks: Multistick (Dreamer is my absolute favorite shade of all time!), Liquid Powder Chromatic Eye Tint (a cream eyeshadow that is SO easy to use), Illuminator, Clean Line Gel Liner.

Jane Iredale

Jane Iredale is a great option for mineral makeup that is synthetic fragrance-free. Recommended: PurePressed Base Mineral Foundation SPF 20/15.

RMS Beauty

RMS Beauty products are formulated using raw, food-grade, organic, wildcrafted, and natural ingredients that are as close to their natural state as possible. They also test raw materials for heavy metals. They disclose a full list of their ingredients here.


I love that this is an affordable synthetic fragrance-free brand! You can even find many of their products at Whole Foods. My top picks: Curiously Clarifying Shampoo and Brightening Facial Scrub.

A few more brands I have vetted for clean skincare and non toxic makeup (they don't use synthetic fragrance) but have not yet tried:

  • 100% Pure
  • Annmarie Skincare
  • Biossance
  • Crunchi
  • Juice Beauty
  • Kjaer Weis
  • Morrocco Method
  • Mad Hippie
  • Mineral Fusion
  • Native
  • Tarte
  • Ursa Major
  • Vapour Beauty
  • Weleda
  • Wellnesse
  • W3ll People

Got any specific questions about a brand? Drop 'em below!

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