Fragrances can make us smell fresh and feel great—but today, there’s much more to consider than whether to choose a musky or floral scent.

For those label readers out there, picking perfume can be tricky. Companies aren’t required to list the ingredients used in fragrances, and the word “fragrance” on a label is usually a catchall term for a cocktail of any number of chemicals. According to a report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, popular fragrances contain an average of 14 secret chemicals from a pool of 3,100 chemicals utilized by the fragrance industry. Not surprisingly, “fragrance” is now among the nation’s top five allergens and is found not only in perfumes but also in shampoo, skin care products, household cleaners and more. Last year’s critically acclaimed documentary Stink! explored the issue in depth, asking the question: Why are toxic chemicals hiding in America?

The good news: As more consumers stop and smell the roses, companies are creating plant-based products that lend a beautiful scent—with no secret chemicals. And although current cosmetics laws don’t require companies to be transparent about what’s in fragrance, a new verification from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) encourages brands to rise to the occasion. The "EWG Verified: For Your Health" seal leverages the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database safety ratings and requires companies to fully disclose ingredient lists. “We are particularly happy to see the unveiling of fragrance in these standards,” says Cynthia Barstow, executive director of nonprofit Protect Our Breasts. “So many chemicals are found in that single proprietary recipe.”

Foraged fragrances 

Companies creating beautiful, nontoxic fragrances are not only developing sustainable alternatives to harsh synthetics but are also fostering newfound appreciation for natural scents. Hall Newbegin, founder of Berkeley, California–based body care company Juniper Ridge, forages domestic woodlands for clean fragrances used in its line of soaps and body washes. “We go out to the mountains and harvest the plants and then distill out their goo,” he says.

“You’re getting a real experience of fragrance. People are rightfully afraid of fragrance because there are so many synthetic fragrances out there.” Minneapolis-based rareEARTH Naturals is also redefining the fragrance world by focusing on ingredient quality and responsible sourcing. Each batch of its fragrances is handcrafted and contains pure essential oils and floral essences. Its spray perfumes use a base of organic and biodynamic grape and cane alcohols. Innovative approaches such as these are paving the way for a new wave of eco-innovators in the fragrance space.

Essentials on essential oils

There’s a plant revolution transpiring in natural fragrance; and essential oils, often used in natural fragrance, are stepping out on their own, thanks to demand for artisan, wellness-focused beauty products. These plant-derived oils can be used for everything from energy to relaxation. Add them to your bath, spray them in your bedroom, or use them to make your own body care. “We've carried essential oils for a very long time, and there was just a small, select group of people who sought them out for aromatherapy,” says Emily Kanter, co-owner of Massachusetts-based natural retailer Cambridge Naturals. “Now we have an incredible amount of customers coming in saying, ‘I want to make my own salve or my own face cream and I want to add these oils.’ ” 

In addition to the DIY draw, convenience has also breathed new life into essential oils, making the concept more accessible with fun, on-the-go options. Not sure how to use them? Don’t fret, says rareEARTH president Brian Paulsen. “Aromatherapy can be intimidating for a customer who walks up to a display and thinks, ‘How do I use it?’” But products such as inhalers and roll-ons are demystifying essential oils, he says.

Smells like quality

Backcountry by Juniper Ridge Body Wash

The more affordable line from Juniper Ridge uses the company’s same unique sourcing practices for the fragrance found in this woodsy, refreshing body wash.

rareEARTH Aromatherapy Roll-On

Energy, sleep or focus is just a roll away with plant-based aromatherapy sticks, perfect for travel or a long day at the office. We also love rareEARTH’s biodynamic spray-on perfumes.

Now Solutions Bamboo Ultrasonic Oil Diffuser

This chic household accessory provides a perfect way to infuse your home with essential oils.