What's in your products?: Fragrance

Fragrance - Synthetic fragrance is the most common ingredient found on the label of personal care products. The generic terms, “fragrance” or “parfum”, can indicate the presence of up to 3,000 separate ingredients. Most or all of them are synthetic. Fragrance is a sensitizer and a known trigger of asthma. Symptoms reported to the FDA have included headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation.

A test of fragrance products by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, “Not So Sexy”, found that perfumes contained an average of 10 known sensitizing chemicals, which can trigger allergic reactions such as asthma, wheezing, headaches, and contact dermatitis. In addition, clinical observations by medical doctors have shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope, and other behavioral changes.“ (Home Safe Home, Debra Lynn Dadd). Many of the compounds in fragrance are also suspected or proven carcinogens.

In 1989 the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health evaluated 2,983 fragrance chemicals for health effects. They identified 884 of them as toxic substances. In a 1991 study, the US Environmental Protection Agency found that 100% of the perfumes they tested contained toluene, which can cause liver, kidney and brain damage as well as damage to a developing fetus. Certain fragrance ingredients, such as phthalates, have been found to have hormone disrupting properties. Diethyl phthalate (DEP), a solvent used in fragrances, has been linked to adverse reproductive effects, including DNA damage to human sperm.

Many of the fragrance ingredients that have harmful effects are not listed on ingredient labels. In the European Union, labels are required to identify 24 well-known allergenic substances that are used to create fragrances.


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