How to Switch to Organic Perfume

As much as you love your signature fragrance, its ingredients might be killing you.


Of all the beauty products a girl can own, fragrance is one of the most personal. She can change up her hair and makeup every day, but one thing that sticks is her signature scent. Smell, after all, is one of the most powerful senses and can draw up memories in an instant. Why do you think Chanel No. 5 is such a cult classic? Nostalgia. Unfortunately, the dark truth about perfume is that it is one of the most notorious culprits of mystery ingredients slowly inflicting harm on your body. 

That's why we consulted two experts: Hillary Peterson, founder of True Nature Botanicals, and Lisa Brodar, co-founder of the Portland General Store. As a thyroid cancer survivor, Peterson realized there were a limited number of safe personal-care products on the market and developed a passion for researching the effects of synthetic ingredients. Brodar, on the other hand, wanted to stay true to PGS's mission to offer alternative options from the mass market saturated with chemically made products.

Both women have experience crafting safe, chemical-free fragrance and were eager to share their knowledge.
Here are tips you can use to discover a signature scent that doesn't cost your health.

How to Switch to Organic Perfume

1. Steer clear of products labeled with "parfum" or "fragrance" as ingredients.

These are basically codewords for cocktails containing who knows what. According to Brodar, as many as 50 chemicals can be under the moniker—the average fragrance has 14 unlisted. This is because the US Fair Packaging and Label Act identifies them as trade secrets that do not need to be disclosed. 

2. Educate yourself

Just because a product claims it is "natural" or "organic" doesn't mean it has a green light. Peterson suggests reading "Not So Sexy," a report by the Environmental Working Group and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. See the list below for red-flag chemicals, which, unfortunately, are rarely listed. 

Chemicals in Fragrances to Avoid

Lisa Brodar calls out these common ingredients and the damage they do. 

  • 1


    "[Acetone] is a hazardous waste. Inhalation can cause dizziness, mouth dryness, nausea, slurred speech, incoordination and in severe cases, coma. "

  • 2


    "[It is] a local anesthetic and central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It can cause skin, mouth, throat, lung and eye irritation."

  • 3

    Benzyl Acetate

    "[This causes] irritation to the respiratory system.

  • 4


    "Even in low concentrations, it can cause fatigue. It is irritating to the eyes and upper respiratory tract. Inhalation of vapors can cause the same effects to those of ingestion. It can also cause CNS disorder.

  • 5


    "[It is] a carcinogenic and irritant.

  • 6


    "[Linalool is a] narcotic. It causes respiratory disturbances and also attracts bees."

  • 7


    "[G-Terpinene] causes asthma and CNS disorders."

  • 8


    "It is highly irritating to mucous membranes
…and you wonder why you don’t feel well!"

3. Use the web to your advantage

"As more and more people discover that there are better alternatives to synthetic fragrance, more brands are launching and most are selling online," says Peterson. Brodar suggests researching local stores that are eco-conscious and seeking out publications that promote US-made goods.

Perfume was intended to capture something real and beautiful. For obvious reasons, natural fragrances will deliver the most authentic expression of nature."

–Hillary Peterson

4. Check your everyday beauty and bath products

Peterson advises that you should be suspicious of your scented lotion, body wash, makeup and other beauty-cabinet items—the exposure to "fragrance" can really add up. 

5. Look for plant-based ingredients

Brodar suggests trying fragrance that has a base of cane sugar alcohol or natural carrier oils such as grape seed, essential oils and absolutes (concentrated, aromatic mixtures extracted from plants). Peterson also says to look for natural plant extracts and offered other practical advice. "If you really want to know what's in your beauty products, get to know the companies you're purchasing from," she says. It may be a few extra steps to read about their process and history but it's your health on the line. 

6. Seek fragrances with few ingredients—ones you can pronounce

There's more safety in companies open to transparency and formulas that are more pure. Brodar argues that the natural fragrances are actually more personal. "Synthetic or mass-market perfumes are made to remain on the top layer of your skin and smell pretty much the same on everyone, whereas a natural fragrance blends with your own body chemistry—it is truly your own."

7. Consider the benefits
Aside from being better for your long-term health, Peterson describes the benefits of natural perfume eloquently: "When we think about our most enjoyable scent experiences, what comes to  mind is not that memory of someone walking onto an elevator wearing a perfume that overwhelms you. For me, the most memorable scent experiences are walking down a street past a night-blooming jasmine, or walking through a forest rich with resins...bringing nature to your body in the form of a natural scent connects you to those real experiences, and elicits a positive reaction on a cellular level." Convinced yet?

Former Associate Editor at StyleBistro. Willing to try any workout trend. Green beauty junkie. Fan of overdressing. Proud member of the cult of Beyoncé. Twitter/Insta: @kristinarodulfo Follow me: Google