With Mother’s Day less than two months away and spring fashion season fully underway, a big push to sell fragrances will be on the rise. Unfortunately, perfumes, colognes and other fashion scents can be a problem for many people. A small squirt of even a high-end fragrance can cause severe and painful reactions in the form of headaches or sinus swelling for both adults and kids, not to mention itchiness and a runny nose, for people who are allergic. However, that is not the biggest health risk of perfumes. Fragrances can be full of dangerous or toxic perfume chemicals – or contain mystery ingredients you can’t discover. According to Style Bistro, perfume ingredients are protected under the U.S. Fair Packaging and Label Act because they are considered trade secrets, and thus, do not need to be disclosed.
Fragrant colognes and scents are not the only products to contain toxic perfume chemicals. Scented items range from laundry detergent to sanitary pads, not to mention chemical mixtures such as Febreeze, scented candles and air fresheners that can contribute to toxic overload for our families. Let’s discover what sorts of toxins are hiding in fragrances and the damage they can do to your family.
Why Are Fragrances So Toxic?
Way back in 1986, the National Academy of Sciences recommended Congress test fragrances for neurotoxicity. Unfortunately we are still waiting on that study, however, other studies have been done. The EPA tested fragrances for chemicals in 1991 and found a list of the following toxic perfume chemical ingredients: acetone, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, camphor, ethanol, ethyl acetate, limonene, linalool and methylene chloride – usually in some combination. According to InvisibleDisabilities.org, these chemicals can cause central nervous disorders, kidney damage, respiratory failure, ataxia and many less serious but still troubling symptoms such as GI tract irritation, dizziness, fatigue and more.
In 2010, Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) performed and analyzed lab tests on 17 popular fragrances. This study revealed the presence of the following toxic perfume chemicals in just this small selection of brands:
- Endocrine disruptors and phthalates. Last year, the Washington Post reported on a study from that linked phthalates and endocrine disruptors to a more than 6 point drop in IQ for children whose mothers were exposed to phthalates during their pregnancy. If you are pregnant, you would do well to stay away from all products with fragrances, phthalates or endocrine disruptors to protect your baby.
- They also found diethyl phthalate, which has been to linked to sperm damage in studies.
- Over 24 chemicals were discovered that could act as allergy triggers causing a myriad of symptoms like headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting or skin irritation.
- Musk ketone was discovered, which can be a skin irritant. According to EWG, studies have shown this chemical to concentrate in both human fat tissue and breast milk. It is also suspected to be another hormone disruptor.
- A large percentage of the chemicals that were found in these fragrances had not been assessed for safety as of the date of the study. In fact, the only limitation on fragrance manufacturers is that they cannot use banned substances.
- Ingredients found in fragrances, such as phthalates, are considered “Obesogens” which means they CAN cause you to gain weight independent of what you eat or the activity you get.
Other studies have been done reporting a range of toxins, many undisclosed, in popular fragrances. For example, styrene was determined to be “a reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” in 2011 by both the National Toxicology Program and the National Academy of Science, and can be found in some fragrances.
So, to put it all together:
- Fragrances contain chemicals that can reactions which range from allergic reactions and weight gain, to severe damage, conditions or illnesses.
- Many substances that have been discovered in fragrances have not specifically been tested for human safety.
- Companies are not required to list or reveal the chemicals they do use.
Bottom line? Your family should steer clear of toxic fragrances.
Does the Future Smell Cleaner?
The tricky part of all this is the lack of real data on what each fragrance actually contains. The EWG and CSC took it upon themselves to test ingredients that are not disclosed, but companies are beginning to get the picture. In October 2014, SC Johnson announced that it plans to disclose “product-specific ingredient information”. They state: “Beginning in the spring of 2015, consumers will have access to the main ingredients used to create the fragrances in SC Johnson products.” Clorox – which had already disclosed a list of allergens in 2009 – will also list allergens in each product. While this is a step in the right direction toward helping families understand what is in their products, there is still a long way to go before they disclose every harmful chemical contained in their formulas.
How To Protect Your Family From Toxic Perfume Chemicals
How can we be safe and keep fragrances in our lives? Well, that might be tricky, because we can’t always know the exact ingredients in fragrances and scented items. Here are some tips on how to avoid toxic perfume chemicals and still keep a pleasing scent:
- Avoid any product that does not fully disclose all its ingredients. Keep in mind that if a product lists “fragrance” or “perfume” on the label, that scent can be made of any ingredient and therefore is not full disclosure.
- When you read a label, you can look up the specific ingredient right here in Mamavation (we’ve covered many) and if you can’t find it here, check EWG’s Skin Deep database.
- Look for products that only use essential oils for scents, and use essential oils to scent your home.
- Organic and botanical fragrances can be tough to find but are your best choice for fragrances and perfumes.
Here are some cleaner scent options for you to consider if you want to avoid toxic perfume chemicals:
- Rare Earth Naturals provides 100% natural essential oil based aromas, candles, diffusers and more. Artisan-crafted in small batches, these products are made in the USA with products that are safe, synthetic free and responsibly sourced.
- Pure Natural Diva carries synthetic and chemical free scents, as well as soaps, skincare and more.
- Red Flower Scents: They sell an organic perfume concentrate and organic perfume oil roll-on.
- Lurkmade: This brand uses only pure essential oil in organic jojoba – no water or alcohol.
- Givescent: made with a blend of oils and essential oils, these scents are free of alcohol, formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates and sulfates. They are also cruelty free and they donate a portion of every sale to Every Mother Counts and Women for Women International.
- Simply Aroma is a great resource for essential oils, our own Lydia Richmond is a consultant!
- DoTERRA is another brand of essential oils as well. Check out this great product from our friend, Healthy Jasmine.
- Pure Haven carries seasonal candles, during the holidays and in the summer. Check out our candle investigation.
Remember to read labels carefully to discover what a perfume or scent contains, and do the same for your makeup, skin care, personal care and household products. Your family’s exposure really does add up over the course of a day!
Disclaimer: Essential oil links are affiliate links from Mamavation members. Bookieboo LLC has worked with numerous brands in the natural space, including Rare Earth Naturals.