Q: I recently caught a video on MNN about how zookeepers at the Denver Zoo are using Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men to get lions all hot and bothered. Great story, but I was left wondering — since I just happen to be recently single and on the prowl — if you had any thoughts on men’s fragrances that will leave me and my potential mate in the throes of passion and not in the throes of an allergic fit. I’m quite sensitive to synthetic fragrances and avoid them in personal care products whenever possible, but I thought it might be worth experimenting with a petrochemical-free, allergy-tested cologne if there are any out there. Any recommendations? Also, patchouli and mixing and matching essential oils is out of the question.

Musk know,

— Preston, Saugatuck, Mich.

Hey Preston,

Although the pheromones in Obsession do the “trick” for the lions at the Denver Zoo, you’re right … the health and environmental drawbacks of wearing fragrances filled with mysterious, harsh petrochemicals are anything but sexy. That is unless you’re into wearing eau de crude oil. The truth is, most of the “secret” chemicals used in fragrances are petroleum-derived and can lead to health woes like skin allergies and respiratory problems like asthma. Phthalates, a chemical plasticizer that makes a scent “stick,” are perhaps the most controversial — and ubiquitous — ingredients found in fragrances and have been linked to reproductive birth defects in baby boys. If you ever do decide to wear a cologne containing phthalates and someone approaches you in a crowded bar, a sparkle of lust in the eyes, and coos in your ear: “What scent are you wearing? It’s so, so sexy,” you might as well respond: “It’s phthalate-based … the scent of deformed sex organs in baby boys.”

Unlike a few years ago, it’s much easier for men to find phthalate-free, allergy-tested fragrances that aren’t patchouli and don’t contain any potential harmful petrochemical-based ingredients. I’m not much of a scent man myself, but when I do wear one, it’s Gendarme, a clean and fresh cologne specifically formulated by Topper Schroeder for those suffering from chemical sensitivities. I’m not sure what exactly is in a bottle of Gendarme aside from “herbs, oils, etc.” but it won’t leave you (and it hasn’t left me) with itchy skin or an asthmatic attack.

Another popular allergy-tested men’s fragrance option is the collection of nature-based Anthony for Men Body Essentials Body Sprays. Great for those into Axe-like all-over “mists” but sans the icky, overpowering stench, the Body Essentials products come in somewhat cheesy scents like Courage (amber spice) and Strength (incense). Like Gendarme, all Anthony for Men products are allergy-tested and cruelty-free, and as a bonus they’re affordable and a portion of proceeds from sales benefit prostate cancer research and awareness. Also worth looking (or smelling) out for is the phthalate-free Natural Skin Care for Men Cologne from Burt’s Bees and Herban Cowboy Cologne, touted as the “World’s First Organic Cologne.”

Right now, the market for natural, chem-free fragrances for women is more expansive than the offerings for men but the above recommendations and a few others are certainly spritz-worthy. Let me know which one you end up with and if it successfully lures you any mates. Now go get ’em.

— Matt

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Any recommendations for men's cologne that won't irritate my health or Mother Nature?
Matt Hickman can help you channel that inner tiger without those nasty petrochemicals and phthalates.