Before the rise of synthetic fragrances and trade secrets, natural materials like musk and rare botanicals were used to create alluring scents. Now, manufacturers have a choice – cheap synthetics or more expensive natural ingredients. And to no surprise the cheapest option is most commonly selected, putting companies’ bottom line ahead of the consumers’ best interests. Manufacturers formulate synthetic fragrances in a laboratory using potentially dangerous chemicals, 95 percent which are derived from petroleum.
Cosmetic formulators have an astounding supply of over 3,000 stock chemicals to choose from. Often, a fragranced product contains more than 500 different chemicals. Unknowingly to consumers, these extensive chemicals blends are simply labeled “fragrance” on cosmetic, personal care and household products, not just perfumes and colognes. And these fragrances are not just absorbed through the skin, but also inhaled, unintentionally winding up in people’s bodies, including pregnant women and babies.
According to the FDA fragrances are responsible for 30 percent of all allergic reactions. Why, I wonder, don’t they enact regulation that prevents harmful fragrances from causing allergic reactions or worse? The same regulatory agency that is meant to be protecting consumers is instead protecting the manufacturers by allowing them to hide behind their “trade secrets.” This is a clear sign that the US cosmetic laws are out of date and need to be modernized immediately.
Thankfully, organizations like The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are doing their best to inform the public and lead the charge for cosmetic regulation reform. In doing so, they commissioned an independent study last summer of 17 popular fragrance products.
The analysis revealed that the 17 products contained, on average:
The majority of chemicals found in the testing have never been assessed for safety by any publically accountable agency, or by the cosmetics industry’s self-policing review panels. Furthermore, research has confirmed that many known synthetic fragrance ingredients are neurotoxins and hormone disrupters. And even low-dose exposure to the toxic chemicals, both on the skin and inhaled, can have serious long term health effects.
A sample of the toxic chemicals used in fragrances and perfumes include acetaldehyde, styrene oxide, acetonitrile, Toluene, and Musk tetralin (AETT), amongst many others. These chemicals have been known to cause an array of very serious conditions detailed below.
Acetaldehyde produces a fruity odor, but more importantly it is a probable human carcinogen.
Acetonitrile can cause weakness, headaches, tremors, numbness, and nausea. At high concentrations it can even cause convulsions and death.
Styrene oxide can cause skin and eye irritation, and in animal studies, it is known to cause depression.
Toluene (also known as methyl benzene) is a neurotoxin and is largely sourced from petroleum crude oil. It can cause damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys, heart, and central nervous system . It also can cause headaches, loss of muscle control, brain damage, memory loss, problems with speech, hearing and vision, and even death. It is interesting to note that toluene was detected in every fragrance sample collected by the Environmental Protection Agency for a 1991 report.
Musk tetralin (AETT) has been shown to cause brain cell and spinal cord degeneration.
Unfortunately, there is no full proof way to identify which of these toxic chemicals are used in the “secretive fragrance.” The majority of commercial brands and even some natural products contain synthetic fragrance ingredients, some which are more harmful than others. Therefore, in order to avoid unknowingly poisoning your body it is important to begin reading the ingredient list of your personal care products. And most likely any company that includes “fragrance” in their ingredient list has something to hide.
As a consumer of fragranced products, you are not without safe options. There are many alternatives to synthetic fragrances, such as essential oils, which are derived from plants. Also, you can choose products with no added fragrance. A great resource to utilize while selecting a safe product is the Skin Deep cosmetic safety database.
However, if you cannot part with your favorite fragrance, try eliminating other fragranced products from your collection. The less harmful chemicals you expose your body to the better.