Spritzing on your favorite cologne for a night out on the town shouldn’t require a degree in chemistry. The truth is, the majority of personal care products and synthetic fragrant potions are poisons that should be packaged with hazard symbols and come with a hazmat suit.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average adult uses nine personal care products each day containing 126 unique chemical ingredients. While women certainly dominate product usage, the guys aren’t far behind, using an average of six products consisting of 85 unique chemicals daily. What’s more, one in every 23 men is spritzing, slathering, and smearing on ingredients every day that are cancer-causing or are probable human carcinogens.
Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals in Cologne
One of the biggest chemical culprits lurking in personal care products today is synthetic fragrance. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that 95 percent of the chemicals used in synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum. I don’t know about you, but hydrocarbons don’t exactly scream date night for me.
These unsexy chemicals — including aldehydes, benzene derivatives, and toluene — are linked to allergies, birth defects, nervous system disorders, and even cancer. If that doesn’t kill the mood when you sniff your guy, this will: EWG researchers found more than 75 percent of products with the ingredient “fragrance” contained phthalates. Phthalates are synthetic chemicals that disrupt hormone activity, reduce sperm counts, and have been linked to liver and breast cancer.
While you may not have a degree in chemistry, industry insiders do and they know how to deceive when it comes to labeling. If you were looking for the word phthalate and didn’t recognize DEP (short for Diethyl phthalate), you could have exposed yourself or a loved one to a chemical linked to sperm damage, abnormal reproductive development, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Oh, and numerous brand-name colognes contain DEP.
The Cosmetic Industry’s Stinky Lies
When you peek behind the veil of deception shrouding the fragrance industry, the truth really stinks. For decades, the cosmetics industry has been a self-policing entity using trade secrets as their superpower to douse you and your significant others, co-workers, friends, and family — heck, even babies — in deadly chemical cocktails that can include any number of 4,000 chemical ingredients used by the industry. And, you don’t just absorb these toxic chemicals into your bloodstream via your skin; you also inhale them when sprayed.
If you’re wondering why our government agencies aren’t protecting us, I am, too. To date, “The European Union has banned or restricted more than 1,000 ingredients from use in personal care products, compared with only 11 chemicals restricted or prohibited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
The good news is healthy alternatives do exist. And a clean-smelling, toxin-free man is, for me at least, a much bigger turn-on than crude oil. For some great smelling — and safe — alternatives, check out our guide to nontoxic cologne brands for men.
9 Nontoxic Cologne Brands
1. Eden Perfumes
Eden Perfumes is a company out of the U.K. that will match your favorite brand name perfume or cologne with a 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free version. They rely on natural ingredients to create healthy blends that are free of animal notes such as civet, ambergris, musk, honey, milk, or castoreum.
While Eden doesn’t promise the scent will match exactly, they do promise the use of vegetable-derived elements that are IFRA-certified safe, nontoxic, and don’t contain synthetic preservatives, parabens, or phthalates. They package their fragrances refillable bottles, making reordering, easy, cost-effective, and sustainable.
Ingredients: Their blends include natural ingredients such as jasmine, vanilla, passion fruit, saffron, oud, and sandalwood.
Why we love it: From designer perfumes and aftershaves, just enter the name of your desired brand in the search bar on the Eden home page and they’ll let you know if they have a consciously-crafted match. I ran a test order and they do ship to the United States.
Where to buy: Eden Perfumes
2. Herban Cowboy
Whoever said real men can’t be vegan has certainly not met Herban Cowboy (or my husband). This oh-so-masculine line is 100 percent PETA-certified cruelty-free and vegan. Founders Lisa and Luke use natural essential oils of bergamot, pink grapefruit, and cedarwood to create scents with names like Dusk, Forest, and True West.
Herban Cowboy uses no phthalates, colorants, triclosan or parabens (can I get a yee-haw?). Their products are made in the good ‘ol USA and are never tested on animals. Lisa and Luke created, amidst crazy odds and a scarce budget, a men’s personal care product line that is also environmentally friendly through their use of recyclable packaging (where facilities exist).
Ingredients: Denatured alcohol, fragrance, water, proprietary essential oil blend
Why we love it: PETA -certified cruelty free. Free of phthalates, dyes, parabens, sulfates, or triclosan. Packaging is recyclable where facilities exist.
Where to buy: Amazon
3. Henry Rose
Created by actress Michelle Pfeiffer and self-touted as “The first line of fine fragrances created with 100% ingredient transparency,” Henry Rose is fittingly named after her daughter, Claudia Rose, and son, John Henry. Henry Rose offers a unisex line consisting of five distinct and woodsy scents from a combination of safe synthetics and natural ingredients.
For just $25, you can order all six scents in small, sample sizes. The company will generously send you a $20 credit along with your order to use towards your favorite bottle. With catchy names like Last Light, Jake’s House, and Fog, all Henry Rose fragrances are cruelty-free and are never tested on animals. The line is also hypoallergenic and does not contain parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, or known or suspected carcinogens or endocrine disruptors — including phthalates. The Henry Rose line doesn’t contain any ingredients of concern listed by EWG. In addition, Henry Rose never sources materials from endangered plant species or ecosystems.
Ingredients: Water, denatured ethyl alcohol, fragrance (parfum). See the full list of ingredients.
Why we love it: This line of fragrance is both EWG Verified and Cradle to Cradle Certified Gold. They are environmentally and socially responsible; even the packaging is green. Their boxes are made using recycled corrugate paper, and bottles are made from 90 percent recycled glass and are 100 percent recyclable. The caps are made from sustainably-sourced and commercially compostable soy. Henry Rose gives back via its partnership with Heifer International; a portion of all proceeds go to the farming families harvesting their vetiver in Haiti.
Where to buy: Henry Rose
4. Nature’s Brands Organic Aftershave Cologne
With notes of citrus and spice, Organic Aftershave Cologne by Herbal Choice Mari of Nature’s Brands is USDA-certified organic, cruelty-free, and vegan. It contains no petroleum-based ingredients, gluten, soy, dairy, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), beeswax, petrochemicals, synthetic fragrances, dyes, phthalates, parabens, or preservatives. The cologne uses oils that are hexane free, cold pressed, non-refined, and non-deodorized. The brand makes eco efforts by packaging the cologne in a bio-energy, eco-friendly violet glass bottle.
Ingredients: Purified water, organic vodka, organic sweet orange oil, organic lavender oil, organic cedarwood oil, organic lemongrass oil, organic olive oil, organic bay leaf, organic St. John’s wort, organic sage, organic calendula flowers, organic ylang-ylang oil, organic cinnamon oil
Why we love it: Made in the USA, chemical-free, and never tested on animals
5. Arcadia Natural Solid Cologne, Sandalwood
For the guys who prefer to rub versus spritz, Arcadia‘s Sandalwood Solid Cologne is for you. Comprised of 95 percent natural ingredients, it’s moisturizing and free of phthalates, preservatives dyes, and alcohol. No alcohol means a longer lasting scent. Most commercial scents are 90 percent alcohol, which causes the scent to disappear as the alcohol evaporates.
Arcadia natural incorporates 100 percent plant-based butters and waxes, vitamin E, as well as essential and fragrance oils. Handcrafted with plant-based butters and waxes, the solid cologne is also moisturizing.
Ingredients: Plant-based butters and waxes, vitamin E, essential and fragrance oils
Why we love it: Vegan, 95 percent natural and phthalate-, preservative-, dye-, and alcohol-free
Where to buy: Arcadia Natural at Amazon
6. Olivina Men Natural Fragrance Cologne, Bourbon Cedar
An essential-oil based fragrance, Olivina Men Natural Fragrance Cologne might be upstaged by its oh-so-cute bottle. But beauty runs skin deep here with scents of lemon, bergamot, and sage, and base notes of cedarwood, bourbon accord, and patchouli to create a masculine scent that uses clean ingredients, natural fragrances, and recycled materials.
Ingredients: alcohol denat. (natural grain), aqua (water), fragrance (parfum)**
**natural essential oil based fragrance
Why we love it: A paraben-, petroleum-, phthalate and silicone-free cologne that’s also cruelty-free and vegetarian
Where to buy: Amazon
7. Aubrey Organics Men’s Stock After Shave, North Woods
Aubrey Organics makes wonderful personal care products for guys and gals that are clean, pure, and fresh using all-natural formulas with organic ingredients.
Why we love it: No sulfates, parabens, phthalates, artificial coloring, artificial fragrances, or animal testing. Vegan.
Ingredients: Alcohol denat. (38b, lavender*), aqua, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) extract, glycerin, aloe barbadensis (aloe) leaf juice*, pinus sylvestris (pine) oil, panax ginseng (ginseng) extract. *Organic
8. Dancing Dingo’s Botanical Cologne
With a name like Dancing Dingo and products that are Leaping Bunny and PETA approved, what’s not to love? Handmade in the USA, Dancing Dingo’s Botanical men’s colognes use all-natural essential oils and are free of harsh chemicals and alcohol.
Ingredients: Purified water, aloe vera, glycerin, Irish moss, aspen bark extract (populus tremuloides bark extract), clinical grade essential oil blends (vary with scent)
Why we love it: Masculine, hand-blended scents that are vegan, gluten-free, and cruelty-free.
Where to buy: Dancing Dingo
9. Radiant of the Earth Deep Delight Forest Cologne
Living Libations incorporates pure, organic and wildcrafted ingredients of botanicals including vetiver, mitti attar, sandalwood, cardamom, vanilla, and lemon in every bottle. The company uses bio-dynamically grown, organic, 190-proof neutral grape alcohol that they filter in three stages to assure the highest level of purity. An independent lab then tests the alcohol to ensure that the finished product is pharmaceutical grade and meets United States Pharmacopeia standards.
Ingredients: Biodynamic grapeseed alcohol; oils of vetiver, mitti sttar, sandalwood, cardamom, lemon, and vanilla bean
Why we love it: All-natural ingredients that are organic wildcrafted; vegan; free of parabens and sulfates, and cruelty-free
Where to buy: Living Libations
Click the image below for our printable comparison guide to nontoxic colognes.
Editor’s Note: Originally published on June 5, 2019, this article was updated in September 2023.