If you smell it, you are exposed to it. That’s what my organic chemistry teacher admonished us in the lab many years ago. We knew it then and we know it now – fragrances in cleaning products, cosmetics and other personal care products contain hundreds of known toxins that you are using on a daily basis.
Even green or organic cleaning products have been found to have toxic chemicals. The industry has no regulations that require them to disclose exactly what is in their products.
Because I am chemically sensitive, I actually hate perfume. I like to smell good, but using perfume, or any scented personal care item is out of the question for me.
Standing next to anyone with a strong perfume, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner or gel, or even someone who uses scented laundry detergent can give me a migraine. I prefer body odor over most perfumes.
What this translates into is this – if I happen to be next to someone using a strong scent in a theater, at the gym, on line at a store, etc. I am at risk for ruining my day with a headache.
The scent travels right up the sinuses into the brain and activates cytokines and other inflammatory chemicals that cause symptoms.
Perfume generally has a perfume portion and a base portion, plus hundreds of other chemicals.
The perfume base, which accounts for 50% to 80% of a fragrance, is generally made from liquids such as alcohol and water. The base also includes a variety of stabilizers, which are used to fix a perfume’s scent and ensure that ingredients do not separate.
An oil-based perfume is free of stabilizers. The oils used for these bases are clearly identified. Oil based perfumes must be applied with the fingertips or with a roller ball and are not available in spray-on form.
The perfume portion – which can be 20% to 50% – could be made with essential oils, but they also have synthetic blends made in a lab.
The non-oil bases – which can be 50% to 80% – are made from liquids such as alcohol and water. The base also includes a stabilizer, so the product doesn’t separate and the scent remains stable. These include can benzyl benzoate, pthalates and other harmful chemicals.
According to this study published in the journal of Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, researchers found that 100% of goods labeled natural, organic, non-toxic, or certified as green, included in the study, gave off at least one potentially toxic chemical.
We now know (via EPA) that indoor air pollutants may be two to five and, at times, even 100 times greater than outdoor air pollutants.
This is due to the great amount of consumer products that are in the home. There are hundreds of chemicals in an average home that you are exposed to every day.
The research was led by Dr. Anne Steinemann, Professor of Civil Engineering, and the Chair of Sustainable Cities, from the Department of Infrastructure Engineering, Melbourne School of Engineering, a world expert on environmental pollutants, air quality, and health effects.
Dr. Steinemann researched and compared volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from 37 different products, such as air fresheners, cleaning products, laundry supplies, and personal care products, including those with certifications and claims of green and organic. Additionally, products with fragrance and fragrance-free products were tested.
The research found 156 different VOCs emitted from the 37 products, with an average of 15 VOCs per product. Of these 156 VOCs, 42 are classified as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws, and each product emitted at least one of these chemicals.
Dr. Steinemann et al also found that emissions of carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants from green fragranced products were not significantly different from regular fragranced products.
In total, over 550 volatile ingredients were emitted from these products, but fewer than three percent were disclosed on any product label or material safety data sheet (MSDS).
Clearly, any fragranced product, green or not, are potentially carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants that you are breathing in your home and/or on your person.
Why not just use fragrance free products?
Ingredients in consumer products and in fragrance formulations, are exempt from full disclosure to the public.
Here again, consumers are not getting all the information they need to make choices.
For laundry products, cleaning supplies, and air fresheners, labels do not need to list all ingredients, or even the presence of a fragrance in the product.
For personal care products and cosmetics, labels need to list ingredients, except the general term fragrance or parfum may be used instead of listing the individual ingredients in the fragrance. As shown above, there can be hundreds of chemicals in one fragrance.
For all products, material safety data sheets do not need to list all ingredients. Furthermore, fragrance ingredients are exempt from full disclosure in any product, not only in Australia and the US but also internationally.
If you like the idea of having a scent for your personal care products you might want to consider making your own with essential oils.
Essential oils are generally safe, as they are made from plants. Try to get organic essential oils when you can.
Note: If you are chemically sensitive, even some of the essential oils can be irritating. I went to the local health food store where they have samples to smell to figure out which essential oils were irritating to me before I purchased any.
Resources for DIY Home and Personal Care Products:
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