Skin, Lip and Body Care

Going Through Cancer Treatments? Stay Away from Synthetic Fragrance

+ Pamela Friedman

Imagine you have an open wound on your back. The area feels sensitive, and you’re especially careful what you put on it. You probably wear softer fabrics against it, like cotton, or keep the area uncovered completely. Most likely you baby it, applying only lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser to clean.

Would you want to pour alcohol or other chemicals on top of it? Probably not.

If you’re going through cancer treatments, however, and you use personal-care products that contain synthetic fragrance, it’s like pouring chemicals on top of a wound. Skin becomes dry, flaky, and extremely sensitive as a result of chemotherapy and radiation, and needs all the tender care you would give a sensitive sore. That’s why fragrance-free products are the only way to go.

Look on any bottle of shampoo, moisturizer, body wash, deodorant, shave cream-any of your personal-care products-and most likely you see the innocent-looking word, “fragrance.” Problem is, that single word could stand for as many as 200 chemicals combined to create the scent. Manufacturers aren’t required to list those chemicals because they’re “trade-secret,” so you don’t know what you’re putting on your skin. According to the a 1986 report by the Committee on Science & Technology, 99% of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including benzene derivatives, aldehydes and other known toxic ingredients capable of causing cancer, birth defects, nervous system disorders and allergic reactions like sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, wheezing, and headaches.

“Few [of these chemicals] have been tested for their safety in combination with one another,” says Siri Amrit Kaur Khalsa of Tigerflag Natural Perfumery, and a cancer survivor. “As the body breaks them down they form new chemicals, all in combinations that have not been tested for safety.”

Fragrances can also contain phthalates, known to extend the longevity of an aroma-and linked with reproductive disorders. According to an investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), 98 percent of the fragrance products studied contained ingredients not assessed for safety or with insufficient data, 76 percent contained allergens, and 16 percent contained ingredients that may cause cancer.

Give your tender skin a break and choose either fragrance-free personal-care products, or those with natural-source fragrances like essential oils. (If you’re going through chemo, some essential oils may be too irritating for now. Go for unscented.) If you look, you can find many that don’t expose you to unknown chemicals, like Jason Naturals, Avalon Organics, Dakota Free, Terressentials, Absolutely Organic, Emerge Organic Skin Care, and Pristine Planet, among others.

Do you have a favorite fragrance-free product? Please share with us.

Photo courtesy of Hoiram via