The Secret Chemicals in Fragrances

The Secret Chemicals in Fragrances

Angie Cho
Sep 30, 2010

If you have ever felt uncomfortable being near a person wearing too much cologne or perfume, there's a good reason why. As far as toxicity goes, "fragrance" is a red flag ingredient.

The Skinny Science:
Fragrance is a category of secret ingredients whose science is vigilantly protected by manufacturers. Have you ever noticed that one of the last ingredients of many household products simply reads "fragrance?" The chemical make-up of a product's fragrance is not disclosed. What we do know is that some of these unregulated ingredients are undesirable substances like: petrochemicals, estrogenic chemicals, hormone disrupters, and suspected carcinogens.

Reactions to fragrances range from asthma episodes, headaches and wheezing to skin rashes.

Word to the Wise:
Our federal laws have loopholes that allow companies to hide the ingredients of fragrances. There's little regulation so some of these substances never get tested. Earlier this year, the President's Cancer Panel warned against the risk of these "unregulated and unstudied chemicals."

Natural Alternatives:
Fortunately, there are natural alternatives to artificial fragrances. They have been used for centuries by cultures across the globe for their therapeutic and medicinal properties. These alternatives are easy to find in the form of dried plants like citrus peels, flowers, herbs, teas, and the essential oils derived from them.

• For home and laundry: dried lavender, all citrus skins, eucalyptus leaves, peppermint leaves, and all essential oils.
• For personal fragrances: your choice of dozens of essential oils.

(Note: For the allergy prone, natural fragrances can also cause allergic reactions.)

Your best bet for buying essential oils is your local trusted natural food, health, or beauty store. Watch out for terms like "nature identical" or "oil of." These can mean that the product is diluted, or worse, that they were combined with the synthetic fragrance you're trying to avoid.

As always, stay informed, be aware of cumulative exposure, and green your routine to what fits you best.

Extra Tidbits:
• Terms quicklist: Avoid the terms "nature identical" or "oil of."
• If you're curious, here is the President's Cancer Panel's landmark report.
• One quote from the report: "Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety... Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated."

Previous Decoding Household Chemical Posts:
Hygiene Products for Dummies: Cosmetic Safety Database
What is Dioxin? How to Avoid Toxin Dioxin
The Dirt on Bleach: What makes Chlorine Bleach Bad News?
What is Triclosan? A Shady Chemical You should Unfriend

(Image: Courtesy of Flickr member Illuminated Perfume)

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