Could your favorite fragrance be making you sick?
This issue is something I’ve wrestled with addressing, because I love perfumes and body sprays. There’s an undeniable power of scent. Scent has the ability to affect your mood, can affect your confidence and subconsciously and it can even trigger old memories. In fact, there are amazing programs and kits such as, Essential Awakenings, that utilizes scents to help Dementia patients with memory recall.
But, all that said, there are some chemicals in popular fragrances that can trigger allergies, cause respiratory problems and may be carcinogenic (promotes the formation of cancer) and hormone disruptors. This means whether it’s inhaled or put on the skin, it could be absorbed by the body and have some negative health consequences.
Laboratory tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics were analyzed by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and showed 38 unlisted chemicals in 17 name brand fragrance products. The undisclosed ingredients contained “troubling hazardous properties,” the report said. See link at the bottom of this article to access the full study.
How is it possible that brands can put out products with chemicals that can potentially harm your health? Well, there’s a loophole in the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973, which requires companies to list cosmetics ingredients on labels, but not fragrance. This is because a company’s fragrance blend is a trade secret; and, hey, I get it, they don’t want their competitors stealing their formulations. By the way, ever notice the word “fragrance” on your scents and personal care products? (May also be listed as perfume, parfum, or aroma).“Fragrance” can contain thousands of different chemicals and companies are not required to list them all. P.S. the FDA has no authority to test and regulate products before they are brought to market. So, fragrances can contain virtually anything from formaldehyde to petroleum (may be listed as crude oil).
This all said, is there hard core proof that fragrances are harmful? The short answer is, we are currently guinea pigs. No one has figured out what the safe doses are of known carcinogens, so we’re along for the ride until someone has a terrible reaction that is alarming. The good news is, many companies including J&J and Walgreens have committed to disclosing the fragrance labeling on their products, so that consumers can make informed purchase decisions.
So, to bring this all together, what’s one to do to stay safe?
There’s the obvious solution, which is not to wear any colognes or perfumes, but that’s unrealistic in today’s society, so keep reading.
I a few helpful tips from Made Safe (see link at the bottom of this article) such as avoiding purchasing products that contain the word “fragrance” on the label, and look for products that contain the words “fragrance free” vs “unscented” (unscented actually means that there are chemicals used in the product to mask its scent).
Read labels. But, to be honest, you would need an encyclopedia if you were to stand in a store to try and identify all the toxins listed. For reference here are just a few to look out for: acetone, DEP, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, camphor, ethanol, ethyl acetate, limonene, linalool and methylene chloride. Before I buy a product, I look up each ingredient on the EWG’s website to see it’s safety rating.
If you must wear perfume, I recommend spraying it on your clothes and waiting for it to dry before you put it on. That way, you don’t have to worry about the chemicals getting onto your skin (you’ll obviously still have the respiratory risk). Also, maybe try saving it for special occasions, instead of everyday use to cut down on your toxin exposure. This is not just for your potential safety, but for the safety of the others around you that you are exposing to the chemicals.
Organic essential oils are an option, but note that some essential oils, evet though they are “natural” are linked to respiratory issues, so it’s important to do you research before mixing up a DIY concoction.
Also, it’s important to recognize that even if you stop using fragrances, there’s no way to control the amount you inhale from second-hand sources when in public and at work…unless you don’t mind wearing a wearing a mask.