Health Risks of Perfume

no perfumeThe Health Risks of Perfume
(and Other Scented Products)

Did you know that perfume is made of toxic chemicals that can injure your health? Many of the chemicals in perfume are the same chemicals as those found in cigarette smoke, and yet there is no regulation of the fragrance industry. Many people are "bothered" by perfumes—developing headaches, sinus problems, and even asthma from exposures. Many have gotten sick or even disabled from wearing—or being exposed to—fragrances and using other scented products (me included). Also fragrances are now used in almost every cleaning, laundry, and personal-care product on the market!

These chemicals go directly into the bloodstream when applied to our skin and are also absorbed into the skin from our clothing. We also inhale the chemical fumes, which then go straight to our brains—where they can do major harm. Many even have a "narcotic" effect, which is why some people seem "addicted" to their perfumes. Please take the time to read the articles in this section and educate yourself about the health risks to you and your family…

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Twenty Most Common Chemicals in Thirty-one Fragrance Products

Based on a 1991 EPA Study

Compiled by Julia Kendall (1935 – 1997); distributed by Environmental Health Network (used by permission)

Principal chemicals found in scented products are:

These three are the main ones in most products people use every day—shampoos, toothpastes, cleaning gels, deodorant, and beauty products:

COCOAMIDE DEA (diethylalomine) TEA, MEA – detergent in most shampoos, moisturizers, and more

PROPYLENE GLYCOL – industrial antifreeze – in deodorant, shampoos, shaving gels, moisturizers, and more…

SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE AND FLUORIDE – garage floor cleansers, detergents – in shampoos, toothpastes, more…

Read more: Twenty Most Common Chemicals in Thirty-one Fragrance Products

Making Sense of Scents

no perfume"Perfumes are increasingly used in an ever wider variety of fields, including perfumes proper, cosmetic products, hygenic products, drugs, detergents and other household products, plastics, industrial greases, oils and solvents, foods, etc. Their composition is usually complex—it involves numerous natural and synthetic sweet-smelling constituents, more than 5,000 of which are known. Perfumes may produce toxic and more often allergic respiratory disorders (asthma), as well as neurological and cutaneous disorders." from the French toxicology journal, Ann Dermatol Vernereol, Vol 113, ISS 1, 1986, P.31-41

84% of these ingredients have never been tested for human toxicity, or have been tested only minimally. N. Ashford, Phd and C. Miller, M.D. Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes 1991, p. 61

Read more: Making Sense of Scents

Fragrance-Free Encounters and No-Fragrance Spaces

Not Just a Personal Preference, but a Vital Matter of Health

– written by Roberta Rigsby

Text of pamphlet to help the lay person understand the effects of scented products—used by permission

You may have been given this brochure by a friend, co-worker, relative, or professional who is trying to explain the need to avoid exposure to scented products. If so, this person probably is environmentally ill (EI) or is trying to protect the health of others who are EI. Someone who is EI (for instance, as a result of chemical injuries caused by pesticides or solvents) can be harmed by exposure to common chemicals, including the chemicals found in aftershave, perfume, scented hair products, and scented cosmetics, lotions, powders, and soaps. A person who is EI not only needs to avoid personal use of scented products but also needs to avoid other people who use such products and places that have picked up their smells.

Read more: Fragrance-Free Encounters and No-Fragrance Spaces

VOCs in Consumer Products

Identification of Polar Volatile Organic Compounds in Consumer Products and Common Micro-Environments


Previous studies have shown that common personal activities(1) and emissions from building materials(2) or consumer products, particularly in enclosed spaces (micro-environments)(3) can elevate exposures to a number of toxic and carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These earlier studies investigated about 25 personal activities, 50 building materials, and 32 micro-environments for a set of about 30 VOCs, mostly nonpolar aliphatic, aromatic, and halogenated compounds. These are of course only a small number of the hundreds or thousands of activities, materials, and micro-environments people encounter daily, and the chemicals are representative of only a few of the many classes of chemicals encountered daily.

In an attempt to broaden the number of micro-environments and chemical classes studied, the U.S. EPA sponsored a study of polar chemicals emitted from 31 consumer products and 16 micro-environments. Polar chemicals such as alcohols, aldehydes, esters, and ketones are of interest because of their odorous and irritant properties. Complaints of odors and eye, nose, and throat irritation are often encountered, particularly in the office environment, as part of a complex of symptoms known as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)(4). Some people may be unusually sensitive to odors or irritant properties of these chemicals (chemical sensitivity)(5). Both SBS and chemical sensitivity may be widespread enough to have significant effects on the country's productivity and health care costs.

Read more: VOCs in Consumer Products

FDA Regulation of Fragrances

FDA "Regulation" of Cosmetics and Fragrances

Whenever the safety of perfumes and fragrances is questioned, the fragrance industry's standard reply is that perfumes are regulated by the FDA. This statement is true, as perfumes do come under the regulation of the FDA. However, let's take a closer look at what this regulation really consists of:

By law, the ingredients of a product must be listed on the label. These are listed in order of predominance. There are a few exceptions to the labeling requirements. Fragrance formulas are considered trade secrets and so the ingredients in fragrances are not required to be revealed. So the word "fragrance" must be put on any product that has ingredients added to give the product an odor. The word "fragrance" on the label may represent many ingredients, sometimes hundreds.

Read more: FDA Regulation of Fragrances

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