The Link Between Fragrance & Infertility: Cracking the Fragrance Code, Part 3

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Are you and your partner trying to have a baby and grow your family, or maybe you plan to in the future? While there are a lot of factors that play into whether somebody will have difficulty getting pregnant, the ingredients found in synthetic fragrance products have been linked to infertility in a variety of ways.

How do you know if the fragrance you’re using contains ingredients that impact your fertility? What are those ingredients, and how do you avoid them? This episode dives in to all the details. It isn’t just about women’s fertility, either; the ingredients impact men’s fertility and sperm quality as well. So, ladies, grab your partners for this one.

This is the third and final episode in the Cracking the Fragrance Code series. I’m sharing the two ingredients found in synthetic fragrance that can impact your fertility, but you won’t find on a product label. I’ll uncover what companies like Elf Cosmetics, Mrs. Meyers, and Bath and Body Works are hiding in their fragrance that should concern you. You’ll learn how to avoid these ingredients and be confident that the scents you love and have in your home are truly safe.

How to Read Product Labels

When it comes to avoiding most toxins, reading labels is the best way to go. Usually, you can just read the label, and you can see clearly if something has a paraben. A paraben is a known endocrine disruptor that can impact fertility, but it’s an ingredient that you can see written directly on the label, making it pretty simple to avoid.

If you don’t know what ingredients you should be avoiding in your products, check out my free ebook. You’ll get a list of my top 25 toxins to avoid that you can screenshot and take it shopping with you.

But today, we’re talking about ingredients you won’t find on labels. These are hidden ingredients that have been kept proprietary and secret. Anytime you’re talking about fragrance on labels, you’re just going to get one word: Fragrance. 

Let’s say you’re shopping at Bath and Body Works, and you find a lotion that smells good. You turn it around and see all the ingredients that make up the lotion. What makes it soft and moisturizing, and all of the different things that go into creating a lotion. But when it comes to that scent, there will just be the word ‘fragrance’, and you are going to have no idea what’s in that fragrance. There could be up to 3,800 different ingredients that are allowed in fragrance, and of those 3,800, the two I’m about to talk about could very well be and likely are in there.

Lack of Regulation in Products

It’s important to talk about the lack of regulation and why this even exists. For decades in the United States, companies have been lobbying to protect these ingredients and what they consider their trade secrets. They don’t want to divulge them. They don’t want to tell you what’s in there. They want to keep it a secret.

A voluntary self-policing organization called the International Fragrance Association puts out a list of allowable fragrance ingredients, standards of use, safety and restrictions for ingredients used. The list changes and is updated often, but as of 2023, around 3,800 fragrance ingredients are allowed and of those 3800, there are MANY that are known toxins.. but there are 2 that are known to impact fertility.

The 2 Problematic Ingredients Relating to Infertility

Up until 2020, a consumer had no way of knowing what was in fragrance ingredients. In 2020 that all changed when California passed the Fragrance and Flavors Right to Know Act (SB 312) . The law requires disclosure of toxic fragrance and flavor and ingredients (ingredients linked to cancer, reproductive or developmental harm, neurotoxicity, hormone disruption, and allergies ) used in cosmetics, personal care products, and professional salon products to the state of California’s Safe Cosmetics Program database.

After spending multiple hours combing through the database, even I was shocked to find around 2,000 products using a fragrance ingredient that has been banned in the European Union from use in all cosmetics due to it’s reproductive toxicity. And yet, it is still being used widely by companies in the United States.

You probably even have some of those products sitting in your home today, and you have no idea that there are reproductive toxins in them. Because why would you know?

1. Diethyl Phthalates

You have probably heard of phthalates at some point. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors and a whole class of chemicals used as plasticizers and aslso used in fragrance to keep the scent “sticky” for a long period of time.. There are a lot of different types of phthalates out there on the market, and some are worse than others.

There are some limitations and restrictions on the worst of the worst phthalates. For example, you can’t put them in baby toys because they put them in their mouth and chew on them. The scientist responsible for those restrictions is Dr. Shanna Swan, whose groundbreaking research on the link between phthalates and what is now called “phthalate syndrome” spurred legislation to restrict the use of certain phthalates in children’s toys.

Dr. Shanna Swan was one of the first scientists to document associations between phthalates and reproductive development in humans. She’s an award winning scientist based at Mr. Sanai and has published more than 200 scientific papers.

In a groundbreaking study in 2005, Dr. Swan looked at anogenital distance in boys—a measure of genital development—and correlated that with levels of phthalates in their mothers’ urine. A shorter anogenital distance is linked to lower sperm counts. In 2017, she documented how average sperm counts among western men have more than halved in the past 40 years.

This scenario is playing out worldwide where a recent study shows that between 1973 and 2011, the concentration of sperm in the ejaculate of men in western countries has fallen by an average of 1.4% a year, leading to an overall drop of just over 52%.

But, exposure to a wide variety of phthalates aren’t just associated with lower sperm counts in men and male boys born to moms with high amounts of phthalates. It is also associated with:

A study that was published in 2022 looked at 6,000 pregnant women in the United States, and researchers examined the amount of phthalates in their body. They were trying to figure out whether or not women who had high amounts of these phthalate metabolites were more likely to have preterm births.

They took a look at 11 different kinds of phthalates and found there are four that increased the risk of a woman having preterm birth by about 15%. From that data, they ran statistical models and found if women decrease the amount of phthalates they’re exposed to by 50%, we could prevent preterm births by 12% on average in the United States.

When I read this study, I thought, “Why on earth is not every single OBGYN, fertility clinic, and doctor who supports women not talking about this?!”

2. Lilial

Lilial is the common name for a fragrance ingredient also known as butylphenyl methylpropional. All the way back in 2015, the scientific body that reviews the safety of cosmetic ingredients in the EU, (the SCCS) concluded that Lilial…

“…is not safe for use as fragrance ingredient in cosmetic leave-on and rinse-off type products, neither at concentration limits according to the ones set up by IFRA in 2013.. nor at concentration limits as set up by IFRA in the revised proposal that has been submitted in 2015 belatedly.. In addition, no firm conclusion could be drawn on mutagenicity.“

Based on further scientific review, in 2021, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) added Lilial to its list of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) due to its potential to be toxic to reproduction, cause skin sensitization and allergic reactions. Following this, the EU banned the use of Lilial in cosmetic products starting March 1, 2022.

Meanwhile in the UK, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) advised its members to voluntarily remove Lilial from cosmetic products by the end of 2021. The UK’s cosmetic regulation has since been updated to include Lilial in it’s list of prohibited ingredients in cosmetics.

But in the US??? It is WIDLEY used and sold in fragranced products. If you are curious which companies are using it.. keep reading.

Companies Using Lilial and Diethyl Phthalates

A few years ago, California passed the California Safe Cosmetic Act, which created the California Safe Cosmetics Program Database. Companies were required starting in 2022 to register the fragrance ingredients being used that were considered reproductive toxins, allergens, or other toxins on any list that California publishes. Those ingredients are kept on a searchable database and managed by the state of California.

When you look up the ingredient lilial, you’ll need to search by its actual name: butylphenyl methylpropional. What do you get back? Almost 2,000 products contain that ingredient. While I can’t list them all, here are popular brands I know people are probably using and buying. They are knowingly using this reproductive toxin in their fragrances.

  • Mrs. Meyers

  • Rodan + Fields

  • Monat

  • Elf Cosmetics

  • Gap

  • Banana Republic

  • Old Navy

  • Irish Spring

  • John Frida Hair Care

  • The Body Shop

  • Natura

  • Batiste dry shampoo

  • Victoria’s Secret body sprays and lotions

The list goes on and on. These are companies and products sold all the time. You may even have them in your house right now and use them.

What about diethyl phthalates? What companies are still using this ingredient in their products? It’s basically the who’s who of the fine fragrance industry.

  • Jimmy Chew

  • Kate Spade


  • Montblanc

  • Perris Monte Carlo

  • Molton Brown

How to Avoid These Ingredients and Other Toxins in Fragrances

The first thing you can do is avoid anything that has a synthetic fragrance in it whatsoever. So when you’re looking at ingredients, look for something fragrance-free that doesn’t have the word ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on it.

You can take it a step further and say you want to get something with a scent. Verify that the only ingredients the scent comes from are pure essential oils (look for the latin names of the oils, not just “essential oil blend”). You could also take some time and look through the database. Keep in mind that it’s limited. Not every single company has registered all their products. Just because something isn’t listed, doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Lastly, find the brands that you trust. If you don’t know what those brands are, grab my toxin-free shopping guide. I have categories like cosmetics, hair care products, fragrances, skincare, and much more. Every company in my shopping guide is a company that has been fully vetted for all the toxins that are known.

Bottom line? If you’re looking to live a more toxin-free life, if you are pregnant or trying to conceive, one thing you can do is kick these reproductive toxins out of your life. Get them out of your fragrance and breathe easy knowing that the products you’re using aren’t harming your health.

Related Episodes

Did you enjoy this episode? Check out the first 2 episodes in the Cracking the Fragrance Code series.

Episode 44: Cracking the Fragrance Code, Part 1: Safe Synthetics in Perfume vs. Natural Scents

Episode 45: Cracking the Fragrance Code Part 2: Understanding Fragrance Allergens and Reading Labels

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