Fragrance folly

Photo: istockphoto/diego_cervo
A look at the not-so-pretty side of the personal care industry

My biggest grievance with the personal care industry is its rampant use of synthetic fragrance. It is in everything from hand soap to shaving cream and can also be found in numerous household items like garbage bags and laundry detergent. It’s impossible to escape because even if you keep your home fragrance-free, you will encounter it in public through other people’s perfume and air fresheners. It is everywhere and we are only beginning to understand the health impacts.

I spent many years loving perfume. This changed when I discovered essential oils and fell in love with the true aromas of plants. As my interest in aromatherapy grew, I started to feel like we had all been ripped off with these fake petrochemical versions of fragrance that have dominated the industry. Not only did I develop a distaste for these artificial scents but I also developed a sensitivity by not being exposed to them for a period of time. I first noticed it while walking through a store’s beauty department where the typical barrage of perfume occurs. A strange headache appeared. I am not alone; 30 per cent of Americans report experiencing adverse health effects from fragrance. Some of the symptoms include headaches, tightness of chest and wheezing, asthma and exacerbation of asthma, and infant diarrhea and vomiting. You have to wonder what else it’s doing to our bodies.

One of the challenges of researching fragrances is that the ingredients are not disclosed by the manufacturers for proprietary reasons. It is difficult to know what toxins are involved when the ingredients aren’t required on the label. Fortunately, some researchers have been able to break down some of the formulas and the results are alarming. In a 2009 study, fragrances in 6 top-selling air fresheners and laundry detergents were analyzed. Of the 50 unique components found, ten were regulated as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws, and among those, three were classified as Hazardous Air Pollutants - acetaldehyde, chloromethane, and 1,4-dioxane.

The Environmental Working Group in the United States released a report called Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance, which found numerous potential toxins in the 17 popular perfumes tested. Diethyl phthalate, an hormone disruptor found in 97 per cent of Americans tested, was contained in 12 of the perfumes. This is a chemical that has been linked to abnormal reproductive development in baby boys and sperm damage in men. I shudder to think of pregnant women using fragrance and unknowingly putting their babies at risk. The report found that each perfume tested had an average of four hormone-disrupting chemicals including galaxolide and tonalide, synthetic musks that accumulate in the body and can even be found in the cord blood of newborns.

Whether or not you expose your own body to these chemicals is your choice, but keep in mind that you are exposing others to them as well. It’s similar to second hand smoke. Scent is very important to humans so it’s understandable that the fragrance industry is so large. We simply need safer options. Thankfully, you can get the benefits of a nice smell from essential oils and plant extracts and many companies are using them instead of synthetics. There are even some amazing perfume companies creating 100 per cent natural blends, something I see growing in popularity. There are also many unscented products on the market to choose from.  When reading labels, always check for ingredients listed as ‘fragrance’, ‘parfum’ or ‘natural oils’ (if it’s truly natural, it will be listed as its botanical name).

Read the rest of this series: Parabens | Petrochemicals | Triclosan | Formaldehyde



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