By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Recently, I found myself haunting boutiques and natural food markets, looking for a perfume that didn’t float on a raft of toxic ingredients.
This has never been an easy mission. Even though many organic and natural body products have ditched the phthalates, parabens, triclocan, sodium lauryl sulfate, PEG and other unhealthy compounds with names requiring acronyms, many colognes and perfumes remain laden with chemicals.
One reason is the ubiquitous “fragrance” issue. Fragrances do not fall off trucks. They must be created and often that means combining synthetic ingredients, sometimes even with botanicals, to create the desired scent. Those synthetics typically come loaded with phthalates, chemical compounds used as “extenders” or stabilizers and have a dark side. Phthalates have been found to disrupt the endocrine system and are suspected of increasing infertility and cancer risks.
Next come the parabens, added as preservatives. Their safety has been questioned because paraben particles have been found in breast cancer tumors. Parabens also concern researchers because they appear to mimic estrogen in the body.
Major manufacturers keep including these ingredients either because it’s easier, cheaper or because they can; cosmetics are little regulated in the U.S..
Fortunately, eco-friendly perfume entrepreneurs are on the case, creating increasingly sophisticated scents that make better sense. Their concoctions forgo questionable chemicals, producing formulas that are not just healthy, many are heavenly.
So just in the nick of time for Valentine’s Day, here a few ideas for healthier scents.
We first fell in love with Zents at a little shop called Fete-ish in an arts district in Dallas over the holidays. The formula was called Earth, and it evoked a clean, yes, earthy scent that we found irresistible.
The composition captivated us, we discovered later, because it’s a layered unisex perfume with bergamot, Siberian fir and frankincense with underlying notes of sandalwood and Himalayan cedar wood. Earthy and woodsy. We got the scoop from Zents – Zen + Scents – a Denver company that sent us little samplers of their scent library, which turns out to be filled with complex, but fresh aromas. The Zents catalog not only has an amazing range, the company confirmed that its accomplishments are paraben- and phthalate-free. They don’t do any animal testing or use of SLS or propylene glycol either.
This spa quality line is full of surprises. Several of its exotic blends, Earth, Ore, Fig, Mandarin and Water are sold as unisex scents, and after trying them, we concur that these can work both sides of the aisle. In fact, the little vial of Ore has already departed the scene, now the property of a young man I know who has a dance in his near future.
Another surprise is that unlike so many single-note eco-scents that rely primarily on a lone essential oil, say lavender, Zents’ formulations are more complex, and lasting. They morph and meld with your own chemistry, but hold on well through the day. These fragrances, by the way, are available a eau de toilettes, lotions, and as a solid shea butter balm set in a reusable stone container. These Concreta balm creations can be used as skin softener or as a hair pomade, adding shine and scent.
Several of the Zents scents are strong, but in a good way, as in distinctive and enduring. They are also, as promised, “ideal for those with fragrance sensitivities.” As Zents co-founder Cord Coen notes in a statement on the perfume line: “Many people get terrible headaches near department store fragrance counters or can’t wear scent at all because of this sensitivity. But the light and pure essences of Zents make it tolerable for many of those people.”
Our tests included hanging around some of “those people” — including a longtime friend I call the Allergy King — and we heard no complaints. I employed another teen, a young lady, in this sampling, to indentify favorites. She went back and forth between Pear and Petal. Both have fruity and floral notes that registered to her as “fresh.” Pear is infused with wild mimosa, honeysuckle, d’anjou pear, honeydew, vanilla bean and gardenia. Petal takes its cues from lemons and freesia with lily of the valley at its core.
Valentine’s Day shoppers will want to note that a couple Zents scents come ready for the holiday with traditional aphrodisiacs included. Ore contains ylang ylang, an aphrodisiac for women (meaning men will want to wear it). Sun contains vanilla, an aphrodisiac for men. Sun, by the way, is one of the most feminine Zents scents, with a base of blood orange, pink grapefruit, Sandalwood and golden amber. It’s top note, vanilla. Check out Zents Valentine’s gift sets.
My favorite of these lovely scents? I’m still an Earth girl, but I will need some days of Mandarin and Water, my version of wine and roses, interspersed with moments of Sun.
(The Zents collection prices range from $11-$90. Find Zents at boutiques, resorts and spas nationwide.)
Company founder Kathleen Cumberland named her natural scents line after the family’s dancing Dingo dog, who liked to hop on two legs. The Leaping Bunny certification also hops across the company website, assuring customers that the products featured are cruelty free. Dancing Dingo products also are paraben-, sulfate- and phthalate-free because that was the whole point for Cumberland, who loves scents but wanted to find natural alternatives. She left her engineering job to create first a line of natural baby products, Baby Dingo, then doggie cleansers (specifically a dog “defunkifier”).
Today, Austin-based Dancing Dingo offers a suite of scents that includes natural perfumes for adults as well. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) verifies that they’re non-toxic, on its Skin Deep database, which has tested thousands of personal products for toxicity. (All of the perfumes featured in this story check out on Skin Deep, or haven’t been tested yet.)
The goal with the perfumes, Cumberland said, was to create blends that were light and contemporary, but still natural. “A lot of times essential oils can be heavy,” she said. “What I like about our scents is that we do a lot of light blends and take them in a different direction.”
Retailer Jennifer Chinnis, who sells Dancing Dingo through her online store, Ardent Beauty, says the Dancing Dingo line is popular with her customers because the scents are breezy and yet last well for natural perfumes. (Natural scents don’t last quite as long as their department store cousins, because the synthetics have been removed — a small price to pay for de-toxifying.)
Dancing Dingo’s perfume retinue includes scents such as Adore, Moroccan Rose, Night Violet, Lush Blossom, Tunisian Neroli and a fragrance that Cumberland thought would be perfect for Valentine’s Day, Tahitian Gardenia. The essential oils that form the base of this perfume are created by soaking Gardenias in coconut oil, creating a rich floral infused with coconut. We sampled this one and agree: This is a sophisticated scent that’s rich, but doesn’t weigh you down.
Lush Blossom, a confabulation of jasmine, ylang ylang and vanilla, all aphrodisiacs, would be another good candidate for cupid seekers.
Dancing Dingo also offers the perfect men’s perfume for Valentine’s, called simply, Love, a scent that’s described as warm and spicy. Want to calm your man friend down? There’s also Peace, Tranquility and Chai Tea for men, among other more masculine scents.
These spunky scents caught our eye, or rather, nose, at a natural foods market. Upon examination we discovered they were sulfate-, paraben-, phthalate-free; not tested on animals and came with a pledge that some of the proceeds would be donated to regional affiliates of Girls Inc.
A sniff of several confirmed that they were light, airy and perfect for young women. Or any women looking to simplify and shirk that heavy department-store scent-shield.
Thinking Valentine’s Day, we tested a small bottle of Sugar Grapefruit, which comes in a pink motif and with a whiff of musk. It’s part of the “Little Luxe” line, an affordable group of mini-sized bottles, which offers an edible sounding array: Mandarin Tea, Paper Flower, Pomme Poivre, Gin Blossom and Honey Coconut.
Love & Toast sent a Sugar Grapefruit hand crème along with the perfume, which we liked even better. The cream was luscious and thick, thanks to the shea butter, macadamia and olive oils. It seemed to solidify the scent. And one of the advantages of this line is that you can get companion lotions. (Though the same is true for Zents and some other perfumes we tested.)
Turns out, though, our Love & Toast recommendation for Valentine’s would be Dew Blossom, a fragrance blend that contains Osmanthus and that aphrodisiac, Ylang Ylang. Dew Blossom is an exotic aroma, a little hard to characterize, being like nothing we’ve tried before. It could have been called Fresh Linen, but it’s a little more sultry than that.
Love & Toast does not aspire to spa quality, like Zents, but would work as an affordable, healthy replacement for those colognes and lotions with the long lists of suspicious ingredients sold at the mall. Unless, you’ve really got a craving to slather on some ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate or butysphenyl methylpropional. (By the way, watch out for parabens that come contained in other words, like methylparaben.)
(Find Love & Toast at natural food markets and online at the company website. Prices range from $12 for roller ball cologne to $28 for a perfume bottle.)
MiEssence takes it upscale and organic with botanical perfumes that come with USDA and Australian Organic certifications. These scent confections are packaged in classy little bottles, wrapped in a cardboard cylinder that’s suitable for gifting (and not plastic). These perfumes are earthy, but so far removed from the funky little oil you once found in a back corner of your food coop. These are truly Valentine’s-worthy and ready to shove commercial competitors off the shelf at any fine boutique. They’re tox-free, of course, eschewing all the toxic ingredients, which you can probably recite by now.
MiEssence, which has a large inventory of cosmetics and body products, gets good marks from the EWG Skin Deep database, for both its cosmetics and perfumes. That’s because their products, including the perfumes, simply don’t contain questionable ingredients, and they go the extra mile for those organic certifications. The scents are named Love, Wild, Free, Brave, Delicious and Calm. Our consultant Jennifer Chinnis tells us that Wild and Calm are the two most popular with her customers. Go figure. Wild, she says, is actually pretty soothing. We tried Calm and found it to be, um, pretty wild. It’s complex and intriguing, not bad qualities for a scent, though not calm in the traditional sense.
Now for the really hardcore green scents, and by that we don’t mean heavy, just the opposite. Body Organic’s body mists are stripped down to the basics. You’ll might smell a little like you just stepped out of a fruit factory, or the garden. Here’s the ingredient list for Body Organic’s Creamy Coconut: Water, Pure Coconut Extract, Organic Clarified Lemon Juice.
See, we told you there was another way to preserve scents, and we suspect it involves lemon juice.
To be honest, we haven’t had a chance to try these scents out. But this California company has a good reputation and we hope to stumble across some of these mists soon. They seem perfect for a post-shower spritz. So if you’re looking for a girlfriend who doesn’t want any questionable ingredients in anything she applies to a pulse point, this is the stuff.
One big tip off, the product line is Leaping Bunny certified, meaning its cruelty free and vegan. Here’s what they don’t include: Parabens, phthalates, sulfates, peanuts, petroleum, DEA, genetically modified ingredients or gluten. That last one could be important if you’re among the many going gluten-free. The ingredients this company does use are certified raw and the containers are BPA-free. Nothing toxic sneaks by Body Organic, which gets good marks for low toxicity on the Skin Deep database.
Body Organic products also are made in the US, and include a full line baby body products. Baby Organic products are equally pure, and with good reason.
(Body Organic’s Body Mists are $14.99 and its Body Creams are $34.99. Buy online at Natures Paradise.)
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