I generally don’t like to slam products. I’d rather focus on solutions than problems. But when there’s a general perception that something is eco-friendly or healthy, I want people to know the whole story.
This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, and a friend’s recent query spurred me on to finally do it. Said friend asked me to offer some advice on choosing an eco-friendly house cleaning service. There were a few contenders on the table, including both nationally known and local companies. To me, aside from all of the obvious criteria for choosing a service (reliability, trustworthiness, thoroughness), the biggest question that would set cleaning companies apart is this: which products do they use?
There are a lot of green cleaning products on the market, and even more jumping on board every day. It’s incredibly easy to fall for the claims made by many of them, especially when they’re as enticing as: “biodegradable,” “not tested on animals,” “chlorine free,” or “phosphate free” (since last year, all dish detergents are now phosphate free). And while these are all respectable traits, they don’t say everything you need to know. Here’s what I think you should know. Many companies either choose to ignore or simply cannot claim this of their products: “free of synthetic fragrance.”
I’ve always suspected Mrs. Meyer’s soaps included artificial fragrance because a) the scent on my hands did not go away quickly b) I could taste the scent through my nose, c) the scent made me nauseated. While in the privy of one of my favorite restaurants (lots of local & sustainable NYC restaurants love Mrs. Meyer’s), I decided to peek at the label to confirm my suspicions. Right there, plain as day, was the ingredient I was looking for: Fragrance (Parfum). When I see that ingredient without any footnotes explaining its derivation, I begin to question the validity of the rest of the product claims.
Mrs. Meyer’s says:
“Our fragrance compositions use a combination of natural essential oils and safe synthetic ingredients. This allows for the most pleasing, quality, and intriguing scents – inspired by the garden – that you’ll want to use again and again. This approach provides consistent performance, quality, and safety in every bottle. All fragrances are phthalate-free.”
Why do I care so much about synthetic fragrance?
1. The fragrance/perfume industry is protected by patent or trade secret laws which allow them to hide any and all ingredients in their formulations. I don’t know about you, but I like to know what’s in the stuff I’m washing my hands with or spraying on my kitchen countertop.
2. Fragrance can be made from any combination of petroleum and non-petroleum derived substances, including formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene (I don’t think Mrs. Meyer’s includes any of these).
3. This potentially toxic soup can have any number of untoward effects on human health, including reproductive and endocrine disruption, immune system effects, and neurotoxic effects.
To learn more about the dangers of artificial fragrance, read Get a Whiff of This: Perfumes (fragrances) — the Invisible Chemical Poisons
by Connie Pitts.
I trust my senses first, but when I want a little confirmation for my concerns, I turn to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) cosmetic database. It’s not without its flaws, but I find it helpful when I’m unsure about the safety of particular ingredients. In their assessment, Mrs. Meyer’s products range from 3 to 6 on their 10-point hazard scale (that’s moderately hazardous). The caveat here is that, without knowing the actual composition of the fragrance chemicals the Caldrea company (maker of Mrs. Meyer’s) use, EWG applies the worst-case scenario fragrance to all products.
It’s easy for me to unfairly single out Mrs. Meyer’s (as I did in the title) because she’s got a friendly name and image. But sadly, she’s not the only green game in town that has this vital flaw. Her partners in crime also include Simple Green and Method (whose products also include artificial colors). Just because something is Green Seal certified (ahem, Simple Green) does not mean it is healthy, it just means it is not considered to be detrimental to the ecosystem. I care a heck of a lot about the ecosystem, and the one I care most about is yours.
Here are some others who share my concern:
In this last post from the Smart Mama, she refers to a study where Mrs. Meyer’s was found to contain high levels of 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogenic solvent. Mrs. Meyer’s has since corrected this problem. You can read about it here.
I also know I’m not the only one who can’t stand these synthetic fragrances. A few user reviews:
As I mentioned, I like to use my senses. In our culture of sensory overload, it can be difficult to distinguish harmful from healthful. It’s easy to dismiss the way we feel (our gut or intuition) because there are so many external influences affecting us. The good news is, once we start eliminating these influences, including all of the artificial scents and flavors, the line between what’s toxic and what’s not becomes a bit clearer. Life begins to smell (naturally) sweet again.
Stay tuned for part 2 of why I think Mrs. Meyer’s stinks: synthetic fragrance-free solutions!