The Problem with Fragrance Oils
Updated: May 27
My husband, Eric, and I are committed to living a healthy, non-toxic lifestyle, and before launching Fontana, we thought we were. We ate clean, used non-toxic cleaning supplies, and exercised regularly. What else could we be missing?
After a day spent working in our home around a burning paraffin candle, we both had headaches, and we found the initial answer to that question. Quick online research showed that the paraffin candles we were burning were the polar opposite of the non-toxic environment we thought we had created.
Our solution was ultimately founding Fontana with the mission of providing “Clean Burning Candles for a Beautiful Home.”
By providing candles with a clean base of beeswax and coconut oil we were able to eliminate the petroleum byproducts, stabilizers, and harmful dyes found in paraffin candles. We even went above and beyond the “traditional” candle by certifying that each fragrance oil we use is phthalate free (a feat in itself, as it involved researching material safety data sheets and having our suppliers do additional checks on our oils)!
However, the more we learned, the more we realized that there was still something else keeping us from our mission of complete non-toxicity: our candles still used fragrance oils.
The Problem with Fragrance Oils
What’s wrong with fragrance oils? The answer to that question is one not enough people know the answer to, thanks to greenwashing and the secrecy of the fragrance industry.
You see, because the components that go into giving a candle or any scented product its unique smell are considered a trade secret, manufacturers do not have to list any of the ingredients used in their fragrance.
Instead, “fragrance” is simply listed as one ingredient, while in actuality, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), many fragrances can contain as numerous as 5,000 ingredients!
Getting a sense of what those ingredients are is even more troubling.
While your favorite vanilla-scented candle may depict beautiful images of vanilla beans and flowers, it’s not vanilla beans that give it its fragrance, it’s castoreum. Never heard of it? I hadn’t either, and I don’t want to be the one to tell you what that is! If you want to know, head on over to Google.
It continues to get worse though.
With synthetic fragrance oil man-made in a laboratory, many of those additional ingredients are chemicals and petroleum by-products. In fact, according to a report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), approximately 95 percent of the chemicals used in synthetic fragrance oils are derived from petroleum!
Among those chemicals are aldehydes, benzene derivatives and toluene.
If those sound foreign, watch a documentary such as STINK (available on Netflix), and you’ll soon learn that those ingredients are some of the same ones found in toilet bowl cleaner, paint thinner, wart remover, and insect repellents!
These ingredients are also included on the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR)’s toxic substances list, with warnings like the following for toluene:
“Breathing toluene vapors in small amounts may cause a mild headache, dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea. With more serious exposure, toluene may cause sleepiness, stumbling, irregular heartbeat, fainting, or even death.”
The NAS also cites the ingredients as being linked to cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions, and a study published in May of 2019 found that one in three adults claim to have experienced health problems, including migraines and respiratory issues, caused by fragranced products.
It all sounds like something you want to be burning in your home, right?
The Essential Oils Alternative
Fortunately, an alternative to fragrance oils can be found in essential oils.
While even “natural” fragrance oils are manufactured in a lab, essential oils are truly from nature, defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a natural oil typically obtained by distillation and having the characteristic fragrance of the plant or other source from which it is extracted.”
These essential oils are generally collected through a distillation process that carefully separates the essential oil from the flowers, needles, twigs, fruit peels, seeds or roots where it is found.
It is a process that requires far greater effort and expense than the manufacturing of synthetic fragrance oils. (According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), 220 pounds of lavender flowers are required to produce approximately one pound of lavender oil!)
However, it is a process that is well worth it.
Once collected, the essential oils not only have none of the toxic properties of the synthetic fragrance oils, they go the opposite direction and provide health benefits, with many essential oils linked to aiding in the following (as cited by Natural Healthy Concepts):
Alertness: bergamot, grapefruit, peppermint, rosemary
Calm Mood: bergamot, chamomile, geranium, lavender, rosewood, ylang ylang
Detoxification: lemon, grapefruit, orange, peppermint, rosemary
Digestion: ginger, peppermint
Energy: cedarwood, cinnamon, eucalyptus, grapefruit, lemon, orange, peppermint
Hair Care: lavender, rosemary, rosewood, sandalwood
Immune System Function: eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, lemon, oregano, peppermint
Meditation: cedarwood, frankincense, lavender, orange, rose, ylang ylang
Memory: basil, lemon, peppermint, rosemary
Nail Care: frankincense, lemon, myrrh, oregano, tea tree
Skin Care: lavender, sandalwood
Sleep: bergamot, cedarwood, chamomile, jasmine, lavender, mandarin, marjoram, rosemary, sage, valerian, vetiver, ylang ylang
Uplifting Mood: bergamot, clary sage, jasmine, lavender, lemon, lemon verbena, ruby grapefruit, vanilla
Although we want to avoid claiming that burning our essential oil candles will offer any health benefits!
Now you can not only enjoy the scent of a lavender candle, you can relax thanks to the knowledge that you are burning truly “Clean Candles for a Healthy & Happy Home”!