Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Synthetic Fragrances aka Fragrance Oils

Synthetic fragrances aka fragrance oils = toxins

What they are:
Fragrance oils (FO) are synthetic (man made) chemicals that are mixed together and are designed to smell like natural materials. They are NOT natural and 95% of the chemicals found in fragrance oils are derived from petroleum. Some of the chemicals found in fragrance oils are benzene derivatives and aldehydes. EVEN UNSCENTED AND FRAGRANCE FREE PRODUCTS CAN CONTAIN CHEMICALS DESIGNED TO MASK THE SMELL OF OTHER INGREDEINTS (and most people think buying unscented means there are less chemicals. Ugg)

There is minimum government regulation and monitoring and there are 80,0000 to 100,000 chemicals being used today with more than 1000 new synthetic chemicals added yearly. Most have not been chemically tested individually or in combination to find out their effects on human health. The fragrance chemicals do NOT have to be listed on the product label because Trade Secret laws keep these secret compounds from being exposed.  (I have been learning that in the health and food industry, secrets are usually not a good thing).

Fragrance oils can be found in body care products (lotions, soaps, hand sanitizers, after shave, sunscreens, hair products, etc), cleaning products, laundry products, perfume, air fresheners, candles, diapers (yikes), and more.

Why they are bad:
Many fragrance oils contain the man-made chemicals phthalate esters and synthetic musk. Phthalates are known estrogen and testosterone hormone disrupters and also effect DNA, male sperm, and restricts the lung function in men. They have also been associated with thyroid disorders, premature breast development in girls, and abnormal sexual development in mail fetus and infants. They have been found in the blood of pregnant women, in breastmilk, and these chemicals can (and do) cross the placenta. They can change people’s mood and behavior and disguise unpleasant odors. Synthetic musk can attack living tissues. Other chemicals in FO include things such as 1 and 4 dioxane, formaldehyde, chloromethane, acetaldehyde.

By altering the skin’s surface tension, some fragrance chemicals allow the absorption of other chemicals into the skin. They affect the brain and the central nervous system  (for example, Cedrol – an ingredient in most sandalwood FO -  inhalation is known to increase parasympathetic activity and decrease sympathetic activity)  can modify brain blood flow, alter blood pressure, pulse and mood, trigger headaches, cause sedateness or hyperactivity, and some are even neurotoxic (such as AETT and musk ambrette). The chemicals in fragrance oils can lead to allergies (a lot of people say perfume bothers them... this is pure fragrance chemicals), eczema, psoriasis, and other skin issues. They can cause or worsen respiratory problems, cause airway irritation, cause increase mucus production and inflammation, and trigger and/or worsen conditions such as asthma, allergies, and sinus problems. Many synthetic fragrances are also suspected carcinogens.

The delicate skin of babies and children are especially susceptible to absorbing chemicals.

The good side:
The only thing I found good about fragrance oils is that they are cheaper than real essential oils (essential oils = the natural oils that nature provided us) and are readily available. Oh and some people prefer the scent of FO because they are chemically made to smell good.

Ideas to help avoid toxic fragrances:
- Avoid air fresheners as they do not clean or disinfect the air but simply add hazardous chemicals to it. Instead use better ventilation, baking soda, better cleanliness, and essential oils as needed.
- choose products that are fragrance free. Although this is not always the best advice (see above where I talk about that even unscented products contain chemicals to mask smells). Or best of all purchase products from reputable businesses (usually small businesses) that you can actually talk to the people making the product and know that they contain NO harmful chemicals.
- make your own cleaner - using Castile soap, white vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, or lemon juice or a combination of those ingredients.
- Be careful about “green” products or even products that say they contain essential oils. Many manufacturers will add a small amount of essential oils in order to say their product contains essential oils, then they will still add fragrance oils without disclosing the added FO (see

Alright, well I think that is enough information on fragrance oils. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll pass on the fragrance oils.

I challenge my readers to stop using them for a while (a week or more) and then smell them again... do you notice the affect they have on you? I did this and they made me sick to my stomach and made my nose burn.  Guess that is my body saying “not good for you” and “stop using them”. I am going to start searching for companies that provide products that do NOT contain fragrance oils. More to come!

References/read more:

Professor Anne C. Steinemann, Civil and Environmental Engineering  and Public Affairs of University of Washington has an awesome website that talks about reducing human exposure to toxins.

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