Is your perfume making you sick? Here's how to know for sure.

There is much heated discussion in the perfume world when it comes to this topic. Those that have sensitivities to strong overpowering fragrances will argue the nasty toxins in synthetic mainstream fragrances make them sick and those that have never had anything but joy from a single spritz of their favourite designer perfume will wonder what all the fuss is about. So what is all the fuss?

Personally, I can get a slight headache if I’m walking down the street and a mainstream fragrance hits my face like a large suffocating blanket – it’s uncomfortable, but not extreme. With that said, I’ve had issues when it comes to dousing myself in mainstream perfume – I’ve felt congested, fuzzy-minded and as though I need to cough immediately. So naturally it makes sense to delve a bit deeper and figure out what the heck is going on.

The not-so-fun facts

Last year a Melbourne University study revealed that one in three Australians reported health problems such as migraine, headaches, skin conditions and asthma attacks when exposed to everyday fragranced products. One in three people! And of these health effects, more than half those affected could be considered disabling under the Australian Disability Discrimination Act. Eeek.

When you also consider that women are exposed to approximately 168 different chemicals per day from an average of 12 products, men approximately 85 chemicals per day, it is then quite alarming to find that teens use approximately 17 products per day resulting in even higher chemical exposure per day. An EWG study tested teens to find out which chemicals in personal care products were found in their bodies, the results were 16 different hormone-altering chemicals, including parabens and phthalates, were detected.


It’s hard to ignore the findings, especially now when there is more and more research uncovering the harmful effects of toxic chemicals found in our everyday consumables. Fragrance is in many things, from perfume, to skincare, air-fresheners, cleaning products, toys, furniture, and more. But we are not doomed.

The safer solution

There are healthier alternatives that I hope will one day be ‘mainstream’, and with the growing awareness of how beneficial a natural and organic lifestyle is, so grows the availability of the everyday products to suit our needs. These are exciting times people. And this totally includes that eco luxe perfume you once thought was only for hippies, but is now completely holding their own amongst the big players.

Zoe Foster-Blake’s real-life beauty hacks.

So, when it comes to lovingly spraying yourself with a luxury signature scent best known for its celebrity name, you might want to digest these ingredients first before applying again…

  • The chemical composition of a mainstream perfume is made up of two parts, a base carrier usually a perfumers alcohol & a fragrance compound. Together, this chemical cocktail if legally enforced on a label (which it is NOT due to a loophole in the industry) could look something like this:

Ingredients: ethanol (denatured), Isopropyl myristate, Dipropylene glycol, phthalates, artificial dyes, fragrance oils, mineral oils, parabens, adulterants… and any of the other 3000 ingredients available for use in perfume creation.


A list which is mostly petrochemical based with the already very KNOWN carcinogen culprit such as phthalate and its endocrine disruptor pal paraben. Yes, we have all heard of these bandits by now so I won’t go into them here. It would be silly to ignore the compounding effect that these known toxins can have on your body given that we are exposed to them daily for what is essentially your lifetime.

Now in comparison, the chemical composition of a 100 per cent natural or organic perfume is also made up of two parts, a base carrier (sometimes oil like jojoba and sometimes alcohol) and a fragrance compound. This time when you look at a label of any natural perfume it’s pretty damn simple:

Ingredients: pure botanical ethanol (sugar cane, grain or grape), 100% natural botanical fragrance (proprietary blend of 100% botanical ingredients). Or to that like.

And while some people might argue that even an essential oil is a chemical, which it is, and can be harmful, which it can in incorrect doses, there are regulations & standards set by IFRA and government bodies such as NICNAS to guide safe use of the botanical ingredients found in fragrance and cosmetics, just as they are for the synthetic ingredients. However, it’s the effect of these chemicals on our bodies that is slowly showing signs that natural and organic is less harsh on our bodies and their abilities to digest, absorb, utilise and eliminate them. This equals one bloody happy body and mind.

Beware of greenwashing

Most companies will also list the botanical ingredients in their packaging or on their website, as well as proudly state they are cruelty free, vegan, organic or toxin free. This is because there is nothing to hide and educating people on what they put on their skin is empowering. So when reading your next label and you see the word ‘fragrance’ listed in ingredients, you now know it might not be as sweet smelling as the rose you thought is would be, unless of course that fragrance is 100% rosa damascene (wink).

Image: Supplied.

Your scent-sational journey

There are many factors that might contribute to deciding what everyday products to purchase for you and your family- budget, quality, effectiveness and when it comes to fragrance – the smell. Scent is known for its connection to conjuring up the sweetest memories and emotions, and for the fragrance lovers who question whether you can get variety, longevity and value from an all natural and organic fragrance, I would have to ask… have you tried one lately? There are so many wonderful Australian perfume brands on the market today, all of which offer a different fragrance for everyone.

Natural perfumes also don’t sit on the surface of your skin like a blanket, they evolve with the chemical make-up of your skin to become part of your natural scent, only that little bit more lovely. So when it comes to choosing a little bottle of magic mist in the mornings, I sit on the side that works best for me. The natural side. Because quite frankly, there’s enough in this world making us sick, I’d rather it not be my spritz du jour. The IME Collections Pack is the perfect way to start (shameless plug).

Tonia Walker founded IME Natural Perfume as a holistic approach to mainstream fragrance. The collection of nine certified natural fragrances are inspired by the nine muses of Greek mythology and in turn help women release their inner muse through the sensory journey of inspiration, colour, mood and scent. The magic is in the mist!