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The Movement Toward Free and Clear Products

Have you noticed that more and more companies are offering cleaning products and personal care products like shampoos and conditioners with the label “free and clear” on them? What does it mean for a product to be “free and clear,” and why are some people choosing these products? What’s the difference between these and “fragrance-free” products?

A relatively un-documented movement

In most cases, when you google a health-related topic, you receive countless results. Search on “free and clear” and you’ll most likely get only a few articles on the topic—and those will relate to real estate, as in owning a property with no outstanding payments or money owed. There’s almost nothing about free and clear as it pertains to cleaning or personal care products that are free from perfumes and dyes (unless it’s to advertise such products). 

If you’ve had this on your radar, though, you’ve likely noticed the increased availability of these products, and interestingly, they’re often out-of-stock or running low. Could this be the next “free” movement—as in gluten free, fat-free, sugar-free, etc. ?  

Why go free and clear?

Think about how much cleaning products like clothing detergents and dish-washing soap, or personal care products like shampoos, conditioners, hand soaps, body washes, lotions, and sunscreen products touch your skin. If you use the typical versions of these products, you’re exposing your skin to contact with fragrances, dyes, and other chemicals every time you use them.

For many people, fragrances in particular cause adverse reactions—including, as Everyday Health notes, headaches, trouble breathing, or skin rashes. In fact, a study by the University of West Georgia found that 30 percent of people surveyed said they found fragrances from perfumes or colognes to be an irritant. Yet this is the interesting part—although these substances can cause the same physical symptoms as allergens do in allergic reactions, your body’s immune system doesn’t respond to them as it does a true allergen. 

An irritant is not the same as an allergen. Smoke is an irritant, and if you inhale it, it’s no surprise that you begin having difficulty breathing. WebMD explains that when something burns, it forms chemicals that injure your mucous membranes and skin, which can cause - you guessed it - breathing issues and swelling. It doesn’t sound that different from inhaling fragrances. 

Yet another WebMD article suggests that the number of people with what’s known as “fragrance sensitivity,” perhaps incorrectly labeled “fragrance allergy,” is actually on the rise. Whether related or not, it also says that the inclusion of fragrances in products, because good smells sell, is also on the rise. 

If you have fragrance sensitivity, this may not be great news. However, many product lines—some that have been around for years, but others that are newer to your grocery shelves—have begun offering “fragrance free” and better yet, “free and clear” options that are free of both fragrances and dyes. 

What do “fragrance-free” and “free and clear” really mean

If you’re trying to avoid fragrances, it’s important to understand that meaning of “fragrance-free” differs from that of “scent-free.” As cleaning products company Seventh Generation explains, “…a product is only truly fragrance free in our eyes if it is free of both intentionally added fragrance ingredients and masking agents.” By masking agent, they mean a chemical that neutralizes the natural smell of the product, which many products labeled “fragrance free” do use. 

While there is no hard and fast definition for “free and clear,” Seventh Generation uses that term to also mean free of fragrances and dyes. Vancouver, Washington-based Biokleen on its web site states that the company’s products are “free of phosphates, chlorine, ammonia, petroleum solvents, butyl, glycol ether, brighteners, artificial colors, artificial fragrance.” 

Is free and clear right for you?

Not everyone has reactions to fragrances, dyes, and other chemicals used in cleaning and personal care products. However, it seems reasonable to think that the less you put on your skin that it could react to or absorb, the better. As always, though, the decisions to use the products you eat and drink or use for personal care are indeed personal decisions. 

Do you have a story about using these types of products that you’d like to share? Please do in the comments below. What products have been working out for you?