Why perfume and fragrance can damage your health

What they don’t tell us about perfume and fragrance

When I was a little girl, I didn’t care about safe fragrance products – I made perfume from rose petals and water. It didn’t smell that brilliant, but it didn’t smell that bad either. But, one thing was certain – it was safe. Then I grew up and discovered the expensive (fashion house) brands, which smelt lovely! I’ve always liked the smell of perfume, and I’ve always felt rather glamourous wearing it. However, what I’ve discovered recently is that perfume and fragrance are made from dangerous, toxic chemicals. It’s not safe, it’s not glamourous and it’s certainly NOT romantic!

Shocked? Well I was, so let me share my research into safe fragrance and perfume and the truth about what goes into perfume, scent and cologne.


The truth about fragrance and perfume

Firstly, most perfumes are full of carcinogens and neurotoxins. Carcinogen means it is directly involved in causing cancer, and neurotoxin means it has a poisonous effect on the brain and nervous system.  Anyway, perfumes contain either synthetic fragrances or blended fragrances. Although there are many toxic chemicals inside perfumes the one you really need to watch our for is fragrance or parfum.

There are over 500 potential chemicals that can be used under the name of “fragrance”. Fragrance is often a pleasant smelling ingredient that is found not only in perfumes, but also in cologne, fabric softeners, washing powders, candles, air fresheners, deodorants and many other items. The reason is it so bad for us is because it potentially represents an undisclosed mixture of chemicals and toxic ingredients that are used as fragrance dispersing agents. Manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients on their labels for a fragrance is classified as a trade secret.

Fragrances are known to contain phthalates, a preservative.  They are purposely made to be long lasting and slow to breakdown, which increases their toxicity. Phthalates is known to cause hormone imbalance, birth defects and excessive weight gain (see my article on Why Beauty and Cosmetic Products Can Make you Fat). By disrupting our natural hormones they can cause any number of possible emotional concerns, including anxiety, mood swings, and depression. Feeling down? It could be the scent you’re wearing or being exposed to!

Some fragrance chemicals can alter the skin’s surface tension, which increases the skin’s absorption of other chemicals. This can cause skin allergies and irritations. By lingering in the air, fragrance can aggravate dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions.

According to the EU’s Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-food Products, 1 in every 50 people may suffer immune system damage from fragrance, and become sensitized. Once sensitized to an ingredient, a person can remain so for a lifetime, which means enduring allergic reactions with every subsequent exposure. Fragrance is considered to be among the top 5 known allergens and is known to cause and trigger asthma attacks. Product tests conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in 2010 revealed an average of 10 sensitizers in each fragrance tested.

Fragrance is known to have neurological effects that can affect blood flow to the brain, change blood pressure and effect mood. It can cause headaches and migraines, and many fragrance chemicals have been found to cause neurotoxicity, which occurs when exposed to natural or artificial toxic substances. Neurotoxins alter the normal activity of the nervous system, which causes damage to nervous tissue.

And, as if all of that’s not bad enough, the list of dangers goes on. For example, some of the most common chemicals in perfumes can cause the following:

  • Ethanol, acetaldehyde, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, a-pinene, acetone, benzyl alcohol, ethyl acetate, linalool, a-terpinene, methylene chloride, styrene oxide, dimenthyl sulphate, a-terpineol, camphor, and limonene can cause  irritability, mental vagueness, muscle pain, asthma, bloating, joint aches, sinus pain, fatigue, sore throat, eye irritation, gastrointestinal problems, laryngitis, headaches, dizziness, swollen lymph nodes, spikes in blood pressure, coughing, and burning or itching skin irritations.
  • Acetonitrile can cause headaches, tremors, convulsions, and even death.
  • Styrene oxide can causes depression.
  • Toluene (also known as methyl benzene) is a well-established neurotoxin that can cause loss of muscle control, brain damage, headaches, memory loss, and problems with speech, hearing, and vision.
  • Musk tetralin (AETT) has been shown to cause brain cell and spinal cord degeneration.

So, what if you still want to smell nice?

Can you find safe fragrance products?

If you really want a scent to smell nice, use products without added fragrance, or try healthier and safer alternatives of natural perfume oils made from genuine essential oils. Remember, fragrance oils are not the same as essential oils. They are synthetic as oppose to being derived from flowers, leaves and other natural substances. Be sure to read the labels and know exactly what you’re putting on your body. A final warning, some products advertise as fragrance-free but they may contain a masking fragrance. If you can’t do any of these, then spray perfume on your clothes and not your skin and have an awareness for those around you. Finally, support companies that fully disclose ingredients in their products. Happy spritzing!

For more information on why perfume and fragrance can damage your health and products that you can use that are safe, please complete the contact form.

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