Mini Rant: Essential Oils vs Perfume

We interrupt your irregularly scheduled “fitness games” updates (and everything else I need to get back in the habit of) to bring you this mini-rant.


I’ve never bought into the notion that “natural” is automatically healthier than “synthetic”–all else being equal, sure, but “all else” means things like being able to absorb vitamin C from an orange better than you can from a vitamin tablet. It does not mean “contains natural ingredients” is good while “manufactured” is bad. Poison ivy is natural, after all, but you’d never use it in a salad… and so many life-saving medicines are man-made.


The reverse, though, is also true. Man-made medicines are only preferred because you have better control over elements like dosing and availability, but they are not better than natural options in and of themselves. Holistic healing has enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that so much of it isn’t “tested to work” because it simply isn’t being tested. And there are definitely times when “natural” is automatically better… like when you’re allergic to a synthetic product but don’t want to give up the benefits of that product. Case in point, my love/hate relationship with perfumes and my growing interest in essential oils.


Note, I’m not talking about wearing perfume as is. That, unfortunately, is just a chemical smell to me, nothing pleasant about it, one that has a tendency to linger and even grow in intensity as time passes (which is apparently a common problem for people with sensory disorders). No, I’m talking about products that include perfume in them to provide their scent. Scented deodorant, scented shampoo, scented laundry detergent, et ceteraThese I actually think smell nice, but I’m allergic to perfume. A mild allergy, to be sure, otherwise I could never have put up with these products for so many years, but I’ve started trying to cut back on perfumed products, which is proving to be easier said than done.


I got all excited one day recently when I found out Secret had a line of deodorant that uses essential oils… until I read the ingredients list and saw “fragrance” listed. (Note, I don’t know if there’s an industry standard meaning to this term–I’ve actually tried to look it up but no dice–but in my extremely limited experience it means “perfume” unless the ingredients list specifies otherwise, so I treat it as if it says perfume.)

Gain detergent with essential oils? Ingredients include “fragrance.”

The unscented “for sensitive skin” deodorant I’ve used for years because the scented varieties give me a rash (and with which I am now noticing that I might still be getting a rash)? Fragrance.

Medicated acne wipes, also “for sensitive skin?” Fragrance.

The first two examples are annoying because it’s always more expensive to get a product with essential oils, but near as I can tell they’re not even using the oils for scent, not when they have to add “fragrance” in addition to the oils. (Maybe I’m the oddball here, but I thought “not using synthetic perfume/fragrance” was part of the point of using essential oils?) And the second two examples are just… why? Why, when they’re not even scented products, and they’re intended for sensitive skin, are they adding a scented ingredient that could potentially irritate the user’s skin? Would these products really smell that bad without the added fragrance?


Urgh. I never realized just how common added perfume (‘scuse me, fragrance) was as an ingredient until I started actively looking.


It’s not all bad, though. There are some products that use essential oils instead of added fragrance (and those that mention “fragrance” on the ingredients list specify that it comes from the oils or other natural ingredients and don’t just leave it at “fragrance” as if that’s all I ever needed to know). I’m trying Seventh Generation for my laundry detergent (first test was on my covid mask), I switched to The Seaweed Company for my shampoo/body wash needs (they have different varieties, but the scent in mine comes from orange oils), and I took a chance with the deodorant Cleo Coco (sadly very expensive) which I’ve found is so dry thanks to the clay that it’s going to take some getting used to. Or some unscented varieties of cheaper brands are genuinely unscented, no added fragrance; it just requires due diligence and a willingness to find out the ingredients before buying.


So, who of my readers have switched to products with essential oils? Or genuinely unscented products? Which ones do you like best?

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