Maybe you've been thinking of going vegan, cruelty-free, or nontoxic with your beauty routine but the idea of a major overhaul is daunting. If you get rid of only one thing, get rid of fragrance.
Growing up I loooved fragrance so much. I was the teenager who would rub perfume samples from magazines on her wrists. I had bottles of CK One, Tommy Girl, Chanel Allure and about 10 other perfumes on top of my dresser. They were more than just fragrance, they were my friends. If I needed to be bold at school, I would wear a fragrance that made me feel confident. If I needed a pick me up, I would spray a pineapple body spray from Bath and Body Works around my room. My go-to gift was the satsuma collection from The Body Shop. My father used to say my room smelled like a perfume store. I just couldn't get enough!
In college, I worked at Victoria's Secret in their beauty department. I loved memorizing all of the fragrance notes and rattling them off to customers, telling them about the warm sandalwood, musk, and vanilla base notes. Every day when I would go home from work, my black suit would be covered in a light dusting of glitter and smelling of Very Sexy for Her or Very Sexy for Her II.
So if I love fragrance so much, why am I recommending giving it up? Well, I'm vegan and there are so many unknown ingredients hidden in the words "fragrance" or "perfume" on a label. Fragrance is protected by trade secret so that is why perfumers do not have to disclose the ingredients on labels. This means that whenever you see "fragrance" or "perfume" on a label it could be hundreds of hidden ingredients that do not have to be disclosed to you. Some of these ingredients are animal derived, such as musk (musk deer), castoreum (beaver), civet (African cat), ambergris (sperm whale), and African stone (African hyrax).
Also the majority of the large perfume companies are not cruelty-free, meaning they test on animals. This includes any perfume sold in China as the Chinese government requires animal testing on all cosmetics and beauty products. To see a full list of cruelty-free and non-cruelty-free fragrances, check out Cruelty-Free Kitty's Guide.
Lastly, fragrance can contain endocrine disruptors, such as phthalates. An endocrine disruptor is a chemical that can mimic estrogen and thus, screw up your hormonal balance. But you can't know if you're products contain phthalates or not because they could be hiding in the trade secret "fragrance" on the label.
How did I wean myself off of perfume? I started by wearing the perfume that I had only for special occasions. Then one day, I threw out my last full-size bottle of Chanel Mademoiselle perfume [it may or may not have gone in and out of the garbage can a few times before I finally let go.] Then for a period of time I still used samples I would get from Sephora or that I would fill up myself at Nordstrom. Slowly I threw those out too.
I tried a few vegan, cruelty-free, nontoxic perfumes but none of them did the same thing for me as the traditional ones did. I have so many strong memories attached to them! I've also gotten rid of other products with "fragrance" on the label including bath soap, dry shampoos, and wave sprays.
It's important to note that not all fragrance is bad. If a company claims to be vegan, cruelty-free, and nontoxic but has "fragrance" listed in ingredients, you can ask where it comes from. It may just be a variety of plant based sources. One positive note is that companies are starting to commit to disclosing their fragrance ingredients, including Unilever by 2018 and Procter & Gable by 2019.
So what's life like in a post-fragrance world? Well, I smell like nothing at all or a bit of coconut oil most of the time. I still like to get a whiff of Mandarino di Amalfi every time I walk by a Tom Ford counter. I love that smell! I'll still chat with the person working at a perfume counter all about the origin story of a perfume, where it came from, who made it, the notes, etc. It's intoxicating. To be clear, I'm still obsessed with fragrance, I'm just not okay with how it's made or what's in it.