Are Synthetic Fragrances Toxic?

Whether you’ve gone green completely, are transitioning, or considering moving towards chemical-free, natural beauty products, perfume (at least for me) may be the last item on your check list to swap out. Even though ironically, it might be the most toxic beauty item in your bathroom.

Most synthetic fragrances on the market use chemical fixatives such as phthalates to make scents adhere, lift and linger in the air. The conversation around these chemicals has become a hot source of debate, as studies are revealing a potential ability of phthalates to disrupt hormones, contribute to infertility and inhibit fetal development (JAMA).

While the simple answer may be to just avoid fragrances with phthalates, it’s not so simple. Due to the proprietary nature of fragrance blends, the FDA does not require fragrance companies to reveal their ingredients. Leaving consumers in the dark on what’s actually in their perfume.

To avoid the unknowns and potential dangers of synthetic fragrances, many women are turning to organic, natural fragrance oils. But it’s easier said than done. Letting go of your favorite perfume can be hard when the limited selection of alternatives in the natural sector offer aromatherapy-ish, ephemeral, one-note fragrances, that may have you running back to your signature scent before you can say disappointing. Thankfully, New York based organic fragrance brand, Lurk, is upping the sophistication level and bringing forth natural fragrance oils with staying power.

Created by Anne Nelson Sanford in 2008, a member of the Natural Perfumer’s Guild, the eco-friendly, organically sourced, pure plant extract line of fragrances features two eau de toilettes and ten essential natural fragrance oils. Each boasting a depth and intensity reminiscent of the old Parisian fragrance houses. While the complexity of each fragrance reads old world, the untraditional scent pairings offer a modern twist.

“People are taught a formula when creating perfume that contains building blocks – base, middle and top scents. They are taught to blend for smoothness and balance. But I’m anti-balance; and I don’t create formulaically; and I don’t follow guidelines,” says Anne.

The results of this self proclaimed “maverick” approach are unique fragrances, like Lurk’s TRN V4 comprised of a barely noticeable tobacco base with floral notes from organic high altitude lavender. The surprising combination creates a beautiful floral freshness that feels earthy and sweet; one of our favorites.

Base oils, like Violet Leaf, Black Currant, or Orris Root act as fixatives keeping the scent in place and promote longevity; and are layered with high percentages of citrus and floral top notes further extending wearability.

“A normal eau de toilette usually contains 10% fragrance, whereas ours contain 15% similar to a stronger eau de parfum which has usually 15-20% fragrance extracts. Our perfume oils are around 25%, so you’re getting a deep concentration,” says Anne.

While a higher concentration contributes to longevity, proper skin prep and application also play a role.

“The first tip I always tell people is to make sure your skin is super moisturized. If your skin is dry its going to eat up the fragrance. Secondly, I always recommend people apply fragrance on pulse points: inside of wrists, inside of elbows, back of the neck, lower back, and a couple of drops on the lower belly. These are the warmest spots on your body and it’s going to transmit your fragrance and give it longevity.”

Lurk natural fragrance oils can be worn alone, layered to create semi-custom scents (which we love!), or mixed into unscented body oils, like Laurel California Body Oil.

I asked Anne to recommend scents and layer pairs for the following personalities:


BS AS pair

BS 003 + AS01
“Both of these scents are really clean, fresh, have lots of citrus and sparkly notes with hints of woods, but the wood notes in both of these fragrances are very dry and clean. Some woods can be dark, musky and thick, but not these ones. Cedar wood and sandalwood are cleaner, fresher wood notes for the person who wants to feel and smell clean.”


BS 003 Eau de Toilette + RSW 005
“When you layer BS 003 and RSW 005 you don’t get the rose coming through and the scent becomes multidimensional. These two together smell like clean laundry.”


PRJ RSW pair

PRJ V1 + RSW 005
“PRJ V1 is made with a deep, rich, white flower base. It has incredible Jasminum Sambac and a little bit of rose, but the sweetness is cut with petitgrain. There is a sweetness to it, but you can barely pick it up. RSW 005 has a strong rose in it and when you layer the two fragrances the rose and jasmine get together and amplify each other. It’s the ultimate floral. This fragrance is for the girly girl, but it’s really clean.”


NST OM 11 pair

NST V7 + OM 011
“NST V7 is a really sophisticated floral that pairs well with OM 011. OM 011 has a little bit of white flower, but its not overpowering and has an oud base which is super sexy. It touches on a vixen vibe but when you put it with NST V7 it tones it down and makes it more mysterious, so its not just dark and sexy. It becomes a little cleaner and sophisticated.”



TRN V4 + RSW 005
“TRN V4 has a tobacco base, which most people cant pick up. And it has high altitude organic lavender in it that creates a beautiful floral freshness. Together when they are mixed its hard to pick up either scent. You’re left with this earthy sweetness with a hint of cool sophistication. It has a modern boho California vibe. I love it paired with RSW 005 – its gorgeous. When you get a little bit of the sandalwood in there mixing with the little bit of rose in TRN V4  it’s divine.”



BS 003 Eau De Toilette
“We have a large male consumer base who love the BS 003. It’s faintly sweet, crisp, but woodsy and fresh on men. They love it.”

Written by Amy Chang, founder + editor; Image source: Lurk