Perfume—fragrant, alluring, and full of…alcohol??? It’s true; ethanol, a simple, common type of alcohol used as a medical disinfectant, fuel source, chemical solvent, and cocktail staple, is also a main ingredient in perfume.
Naturally created during a fermentation process of yeasts and sugars, ethanol is the same alcohol found in your favorite recreational drinks, which is where things get tricky.
During the Prohibition Era, drinkable alcohol could not be legally sold, and there were concerns that desperate folks might actually guzzle a bottle or two of perfume to achieve their goals for a good time. That’s when the process of “denaturing” alcohol became a requirement for perfumers.
Denatured alcohol contains additives to make it extremely bad tasting or nauseating. The reason for adding the denaturant is to prevent the alcohol from being consumed as a spirit (liquor, wine, beer, etc.).
Though prohibition came to an end in the U.S. decades ago, the practice of denaturing did not because spirits are heavily taxed and the economy relies on their sales. That’s why even today, the alcohol used in commercial perfumes is denatured by the addition of a foul-tasting chemical called DEP (diethyl phthalate).
While phthalates are a go-to ingredient in cosmetics for myriad reasons, studies have shown there are health-related issues that trace back to their application. For instance, in a 2015 article about perfume, TIME Magazine noted, “Some phthalates—namely one called diethyl phthalate (DEP)—are shown to disrupt our hormones.”
DEP has also been identified as a likely carcinogen. Many health researchers believe we’re really just at the beginning of fully understanding how these kinds of chemicals impact the body.
So does that mean it’s time to ditch perfume altogether? It may mean sacrificing your favorite scent if it’s made with harmful ingredients. But luckily, there are some innovative companies out there producing perfumes in a more conscientious way.
Take for instance, Acorelle, a perfume purveyor based in France. Acorelle uses alcohol made from organically grown wheat, ensuring that harmful pesticides and other chemicals involved in crop-growing don’t make their way into your daily spray.
Acorelle perfume is also deemed to be denatured due to the essential oils added to it, so no DEP is necessary to comply with regulations. Thus, unlike most perfumes, theirs contain no toxic chemicals. In fact, they are paraben-free, phtalates-free, without substances that bioaccumulate, chemical fixers, or animal ingredients.
If you’re feeling lucky, turn over the bottle of perfume in your cabinet and see if it can say the same. If not, perhaps it’s time for a perfume purge. And when you find a new favorite fragrance that’s organic and toxin-free, Mother Nature and your body will thank you!