Warning! Your Fragrance could be Toxic

What does your perfume smell like?  Roses?  Lavendar? Or, how about coal-tar and petrochemicals?  Most likely, the latter is really what you smell when you spray on your favorite perfume or use a fragranced personal care product. Fragrances are loaded with toxic chemicals, and worst of all, nothing is stopping manufacturers from keeping their fragrance ingredients a secret.  Actually, there are laws protecting fragrance makers from revealing their fragrance ingredients as it is considered a trade secret and is thereby legally protected.

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  This is a clear sign that the US cosmetic laws are out of date and need to be modernized immediately.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:

  • Fourteen secret chemicals not listed on labels due to a loophole in federal law that allows companies to claim fragrances as trade secrets.
  • Ten sensitizing chemicals associated with allergic reactions such as asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis.
  • Four hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to a range of health effects including sperm damage, thyroid disruption and cancer.

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.

Posted by on Oct 19th, 2010 and filed under FEATURED ARTICLES, TOXIC PRODUCTS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses for “Warning! Your Fragrance could be Toxic”

  1. Zack says:

    It gets much worse than that–unless the below is incorrect, the ONLY way to know if a fragrance with neurotoxic or carcinogenic chemicals is not in ALL your lotions, hair care products, etc….is to make them yourself.

    Take from another site:

    If a “fragrance” is added to mask or cover up the odor of other ingredients it is not required to be added to the label. Therefore, a product that contains fragrance chemicals can be labeled “unscented” or “fragrance free”. This means that if an ingredient in a product gives it an undesired scent then the manufacturer can add fragrance oils to mask the smell and never disclose them at all. I had always wondered why I still had allergic reactions, ranging from eczema to asthma, to products bearing the label “unscented” or “fragrance free.”

    By the way, manufacturers can add “fragrance” chemicals to essential oils with no disclosure requirements….

  2. Craig Payne says:

    Hi Zack, thanks for your comment. I wonder, what site did you take that passage from? Here are my two scents: When product formulations include a fragrance they are required to at least include the term “fragrance” in the INCI, or they can write out the full list of chemicals used to create the fragrance. Just because it is a masking agent does not mean they do not have to include it. Here is the cosmetic labeling requirements from the FDA regarding fragrance:

    “The ingredient or mixture of ingredients acting as a masking agent, i.e., covering the undesirable off-odor of a product without adding a discernable odor to it, may be declared by their individual name(s) or as “fragrance” (in lieu of a better designation).”

    Unfortunately, just being labeled “fragrance” is not enough. Within that fragrance could be numerous toxic chemicals which you may otherwise want to avoid. So, possibly you were reacting to another chemical in the formulation, or the INCI could have included all the chemicals individually.

  3. Rachel says:

    Hi there, I’m aware that this is an old article but what I’m getting from this article is that it’s safer to rub a cream containing solely pennyroyal essential oil on my pregnant belly than a fragrance oil?

  4. Some knowledge on the subject of Merlin Series 4

  5. Depends what the fragrance is made out of if is just real essential oils no , but if is cheap synthetic yes .

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