Cleaning Up - Synthetic Fragrances vs Essential Oils

Cleaning Up - Synthetic Fragrances vs Essential Oils

By The Den .

Cleaning Up - Synthetic Fragrances vs Essential Oils

Ditching the “f-word” for non-toxic living

The word “fragrance” on a favorite home-care or self-care product label is the red-flag equivalent to finding out a prospective romantic partner doesn’t like dogs—total deal breaker.  At least as it relates to those looking to dial in a toxic-free environment in their homes and on their skin, and for those who love animals. If you are reading this blog, you likely subscribe to all of the above. 

You know what they say, “you gotta kiss a few frogs to meet your prince!” But as for chemicals in, on, or around us, let’s add them to the non-negotiables list and ditch them for good. These days, akin to the landscape of the dating world, it can be easier said than done. 

It’s no new news that many household products, cosmetics, and self-care commodities are laden with nasty chemicals, at least the old school ones. Breaking up with the scents from our youth that we have learnt are harmful to us, such as the original laundry softener sheets that bring about memories of being bundled up in a blanket fresh out of the dryer, or the old-fashioned satisfying squeakiness of a Mr.Clean bleachy home. These are things of the past. We have moved on from these toxic scenarios!

I mean, we read the labels! Those impossible to pronounce chemicals are coming nowhere near us, our kids, or our pets.

Unfortunately, many of us have been duped. And reminded that everything is not always as it appears at first.

The word “fragrance” on a label is better replaced with “toxic”. It is the word to avoid for cleaning products, beauty products, shampoos and conditioners, detergents, deodorants, sunscreens, you name it. If you see the “f-word” on the label without a list of what is in it,  put the product down and back away. Same goes with “perfume” or “parfum”. 

The insidious nature of synthetic-fragrances is that companies do not need to be upfront with what they are made out of, which could be any combination of over 3000 chemicals. The ingredients list is safe-guarded as it is a“trade secret” or better understood as the “secret recipe” that creates the desired smell or scent that we the consumers love. 

The truth can be really tough to hear sometimes and we aren’t here to riddle you with fear. The purpose of this piece is to share information to empower decision making towards a truly cleaner, less cluttered by chemicals environment for all, both internally and externally. 

Let’s cover the bad and ugly and then we’ll get to the good.

Many of the chemicals on the said 3000+  list have yet to be tested for safety. Of the chemicals that have been tested, numerous are listed as hazardous waste by environmental agencies and a staggeringly large number have been proven to create a myriad of health risks.

Some of the side effects of using these chemical cocktails can show up as allergies, a tickle in the throat, itchy eyes, and sometimes asthma. Other worrying side effects of these highly toxic products can result in disruptions to the endocrine system, which can lead to breast, thyroid, and liver cancer; infertility, birth defects, altered development of genitals, and low sperm count and quality, just to give a short list. 

As well, many of these chemicals are categorized as neurotoxins, resulting in the potential of neurological shifts like ADHD, autism, and diseases like Alzheimers. 

Maybe you have heard of phthalates? There are limits set in place for the use of these petroleum-based chemicals in kids toys and child care articles, but not so much in any other usages. They can be found in vinyl flooring, electronics, fabrics, construction products, plastic food wrappings, and many self-care products, amongst hundreds of other things. And you guessed it right, perfume!

Ever notice when someone with a strong cologne leaves the room that the fragrance lingers? Well, these phthalates, usually DEP (diethyl-phthalate) for perfumes and colognes, help the scent stick around longer.

A few other chemicals to keep an eye out for are BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), benzines, parabens, formaldehyde, aluminum, PEG (polyethylene glycol), SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), SLES (sodium laureth sulfate)…the list goes on. But let’s not forget, if the product reads fragrance, perfume, or parfum, they could be lingering without being mentioned, legally.

Avoiding the word “fragrance” won’t totally solve the problem either. Sorry. It’s just not that straight forward. Fragrance-free could be misinterpreted for meaning that there are no chemicals that make up a fragrance, but sometimes they just add more chemicals to mask the smell of the original chemicals which equals no-scent. Those sneaky little buggers.

You know what they say, “you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover.”  Don’t be so reliant on common “eco-words” for safety on packaging either. The world of cleaning products, cosmetics, and all other nice smelling things like candles and air-fresheners have succumbed to green-washing, just the same as the food system. What that means is that it is easy to get tricked by labelling into thinking that what we are buying is good for us and the planet. Words to watch out for and to be skeptical of are green, botanical, organic, and natural to name a few. 

There are no qualifications necessary to use these words on labels, no laws that regulate the truthfulness of the claims.

It’s all jaw-dropping, WTF kinda information. We totally get it.

It continues to be heartbreaking that information like this would be hidden. And for many of us, it’s annoying to say goodbye to scents that we have strong relationships with (especially those we thought were safe), that elicit memories, and can even uplift our self-confidence and mood. I mean, who doesn’t like to be complimented that they smell good? And who doesn’t like to smell good, period?! 

There is still hope to not stink and smell marvelous.

There are compromises that can be made! Questions that can be asked. 

But first and foremost, a big YES to ousting the products that are crowded with dangerous additives and fake smells. Just by eliminating the chemicals we put on or around our bodies via products, we can significantly lower the toxic load we put on ourselves. This is of big importance to our health, happiness, and longevity. It might mean ditching the fragranced tropical floral candles picked up on vacation that whisk us away in a matter of minutes to memories of a warm salty surf trip. And tossing the woodsy perfume room spray that artificially attempts to bring the smells of the forest to our living space. Also nixing that perfume roll on—ingredients unknown—that makes us feel pretty. They all have gotta go. That’s if we want to live free of toxins.

The good news is many brands have caught on to the conundrum of the consumer. Just the same as you and I want to be lathering ourselves in goodness and spritzing and cleaning with products that are truly good for us and the planet, companies are popping up and providing.

Enter the superheroes and heroines that are essential oils.

These oils are made from natural materials such as flowers, herbs, plant leaves, seeds, roots, and resins. Not only are they actually made from nature, but they are also well known for their therapeutic benefits. Lavender, rose, jasmine, and orange have been said to lower anxiety and support a feeling of calm. Sandalwood has claims to support mental clarity as well as improve quality of sleep. Tea-tree is often indicative of fighting against infection. And peppermint is touted as a great aid for digestion. 

You can go totally witchy (derived from the word wise, fyi) and make your own products. We support the empowerment of DIY.  Which is why at The Den we have over 20 different single note essential oils for purchase, for your home experiments to create your own blends or add to a product. And as much as we would all love to be completely self-sufficient in all that we do, not everyone has the time to be mixing and distilling their own shampoo, conditioner, cleaner, detergent and then some.

That’s why we got you! 

There are plenty of brands that are dedicated to creating incredible, natural (no green-washing BS) products that won’t give you a headache and you can feel safe about using. We don’t mess around here at the Den when it comes to asking the big questions to vet whether the brands we carry and the products we share with you can live-up to their claims. Which means that you, our lovely guests, don’t need to stress about hidden chemicals or devious green-washing lingo. 

Going chemical-free is not limited to the scent of patchouli either. These passionate apothecaries are true artists of their craft and have created a myriad of blends that are indeed upscale in their aromas.

Some of the consciously created brands we carry are: Apprenti Organik, Skwalwen Botanicals, Farm and Folk, Green Room Body Co., Pranic Forest, Harlow Skin Co., Clarity Apothecary and so many more. 

A short list of a few of our favourites:

Bubble bath: Collaborative Scent, by Clarity Apothecary X The Den

Body butter:  Butter Balm by Harlow Skin Co. 

Toothpaste: Spearmint, by Davids

Deodorant: Clary Sage, by Mulberry 

Lip Balm: Citrus Plenty and Spare

3-in-1 Scrub: by Mint Cleaning Company

Body Wash: Cedar and Sage, by Oneka

Candle : Safe Harbour, by Harlow Skin Co

Room Spray: Calming, by The Den x Mint Cleaning Co

Laundry Soap: by Mint Cleaning Co

We also work closely with brands that we love and trust to uplevel the experience and make extra special products unique to the Den. Our latest collaboration is with Clarity Apothecary who is based out of Tofino. Together we have created a warm and inviting, yet still cool and grounding scent, just like the energy of the island. Notes of jasmine, bergamot, grapefruit, orange, vetiver & myrrh, make up the aromas so guests can bring home the PNW vibe. They have been packaged up to be offered as a reed diffuser, bubble bath, and roll-on scent.


And don’t forget to visit our Refill Station for human, planet, and animal friendly shampoos, conditioners, all-purpose cleaners, sanitizers, and body washes. The products that are scented are done gently, using essential oils to give an aromatherapy experience. 

Hallelujah! Going green (really truly clean) never smelt so good.

Without the clutter in our minds and bodies from the pesky effects of chemicals, we have more time, space, and energy to be present with the people, the places, and the things we love so much.

A quick cheat-sheet to avoid sneaky chemicals in your favourite smelling things:

  1. Buy products that are TRULY naturally scented. Such as with essential oils.
  2. Not sure if it's the real deal? Call the company and ask.
  3. Use that intuition! If it smells chemically, it likely is.
  4. Avoid labels where the word “fragrance” is used without a list of what that entails.
  5. Second guess “fragrance-free” mentions.

Two actionable tasks:

  1. Start with eliminating synthetic-fragrances in the things you put on your skin.
  2. Test drive the theory. Go one month without any products that have synthetic-fragrances in them. Tuck those cleaners, shampoos, and body washes away somewhere. See how you feel!


By: Taylor Godber