Fragrance – An Undisclosed Chemical Cocktail That Is Making People Sick

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Fragrance – An Undisclosed Chemical Cocktail That Is Making People Sick
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What comes to mind when you picture perfume or fragrance? A spritz of lavender to freshen your house, the spring-like scent of freshly washed clothes, or a waft of cologne before you leave for work. These all sound alluring and lovely, right? On the contrary, artificial fragrances used in cleaning products, fabric softeners, air fresheners, scented candles, colognes, or shampoo are a concoction of potentially dangerous synthetic chemicals.

What Exactly is “Fragrance?”

When we talk of “fragrance,” we’re referring to an undisclosed/unidentified mixture of petrochemicals and synthetic components, such as phthalates, aldehydes, and benzene derivatives, to name a few. Many of the chemicals included in synthetic fragrances are known environmental toxicants, neurotoxic chemicals, endocrine disruptors, respiratory irritants, allergens, and carcinogens – however under labeling regulations, all you will see is “fragrance” and you won’t know which of thousands of possible compounds are in your consumer product. If that doesn’t seem alarming, don’t be too surprised to find several chemicals in synthetic fragrances listed in the EPA Hazardous Waste list. [1]

Despite the clear health risk of some of these ingredients, manufacturing companies are not obligated to disclose the content of their products. This was the result of the 1973 Fair Packaging and Labeling Act that required cosmetic companies to list all ingredients in a product’s label – with the exception of “fragrance.” In a nutshell, “fragrance” manufacturers are legally licensed to play around with thousands of chemicals and include them in products that are being sold to consumers across the globe.

Millions of people are exposed to incompletely tested and undisclosed “chemical cocktails” every day. In an eye-opening study [2] by the Environmental Working Group and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the researchers discovered that there were as many 38 secret chemicals (not listed on the label) in 17 popular fragrance products. Some of these compounds are associated with allergic reactions and hormone imbalance, while others had not been tested for human safety.

Health Impacts of Synthetic Fragrance

Could chemicals in your favorite “fragrance” products be making you sick? In our age of heightened consumer awareness, harmful pesticides and cigarette smoke are nearly a taboo. So, why aren’t “fragrances” awarded the ‘health hazard’ status they deserve? Perhaps it is just a matter of time and public awareness.

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics [3] , phthalates, which are found in 75% of “fragrances,” are associated with endocrine disruption, cancer, and damage to the reproductive system. Although they’re banned in the European Union, phthalates are still used in the United States, among other countries. Other health risks of fragrance, according to scientific research, include cancer [4], brain defects [5], neurotoxicity [6] and breathing problems.

Most of us are conscious of what we eat – reading nutrition labels and eating organic products. But what about perfume bottles, do you ever read the labels? Now that you’re informed on the potential health risks of a significant number of personal care and cleaning products in your households, the ball is your court. We think that it’s not a radical idea to disclose the full ingredients used in a product; however many fragrances are proprietary blends and as such are closely-guarded trade secrets.

Consider safer options such as using products that use essential oils, fresh-cut flowers or herbs, pure beeswax candles, homemade cleaning products, white vinegar, or simply opt for fragrance-free products as far as possible (quite challenging!)


[1] Hazardous Waste | US EPA. (2019). Retrieved 25 October 2019, from

[2] Not So Sexy. (2019). Retrieved 25 October 2019, from

[3] Phthalates – Safe Cosmetics. (2019). Retrieved 25 October 2019,

[4] Personal Care Products – Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP). (2019). Retrieved 25 October 2019,

[5] Kristof, N. (2019). Opinion | Do Toxins Cause Autism?. Retrieved 25 October 2019, from

[6] Anderson, R. C., & Anderson, J. H. (1998). Acute toxic effects of fragrance products. Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal, 53(2), 138-146.

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