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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Toxins Aren't Sexy: Know What's In Your Fragrance!

Multi fragrancesImage via Wikipedia

Do you know what's in your perfume?  Most of us who are trying to live a greener, healthier life don't consider our fragrances to be a problem.  Personally, I admit that I don't like to think about it, being a self-proclaimed "fragrance junkie."  When asked to do a product review for Agape & Zoe Naturals, I read founder Patricia Malemes story on how she was inspired to create all-natural fragrances, which prompted me to take another look.

Did you know that since fragrance is considered a "trade secret", companies don't have to tell us what's in it?  This is scary, especially since there are often hundreds of synthetic chemical compounds found in fragrances.
Even so-called "unscented" products may contain chemicals that are used to cover up the odor of other chemicals.  These are called "masking" fragrances.

The folks at The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have provided a list of some of the hidden toxins that may be present in products containing synthetic fragrances.  They include:

Allergens and sensitizers:  1 in 50 people may become sensitized and suffer damage to their immune system due to exposure to synthetic fragrance, according to the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-food Products.  Once a person becomes sensitized to an ingredient, they can remain that way for their lifetime, which means they will have to endure allergic reactions every time they are exposed to it.  Fragrances are among the top five known allergens and have been known to trigger asthma attacks.

Phthalates (pronounced "thal- ates"): This class of chemicals is mainly used as plasticizers (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, durability and longevity), but are also used in air fresheners, detergents, cosmetics, etc. to hold color and scents.  They've also been found in nail polish.
Most phthalates are being phased out of cosmetics due to pressure from consumer groups, but diethyl phthalate (DEP) is still being used in many products, including fragrances.  Check out the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics's "Not So Sexy" report for more information regarding studies that have been performed.
Bottom line is, these chemicals have been shown to cause a range of health problems, including sperm damage in men.  Hello?  That's a direct link to infertility!  Again, most of the time DEP and other phthalates aren't listed on labels, they're hidden under the term, "fragrance."  

Synthetic musks (aka white musks): This class of synthetic aromachemicals (chemical compound that has a smell or odor) is created by a chemist and/or fragrance companies to imitate the scent of deer musk or other natural musk.  Synthetic musks are wide-ranging, poorly studied, and often added as scents to cosmetics, e.g., perfumes, lotions and several other personal care products.
Several studies suggest that synthetic musks may trigger skin sensitization when exposed to UV light, as well as causing disruption to hormone systems.  A 2009 study performed by the Environmental Working Group found synthetic musks in the cord blood of newborn babies, as well as in breast milk, body fat and blood.

Neurotoxins:  Okay, the term "neurotoxins" sounds scary enough, right?  Well it should!  Neurotoxins are
chemicals that are toxic to the brain.  The bad news is, as early as 1986, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences classified the ingredients in fragrance as one of the six categories of neurotoxins that should be thoroughly researched for impacts on our health.  However, the FDA has not taken any action on a petition that was submitted back in 1999 asking that fragrance ingredients be listed on labels.

So, now that I've shared this information with you, you're probably wondering what the heck do I do now?

Here's what I suggest:
  • Choose products with no added fragrance.  You can use the Skin Deep advanced search to find these products.
  • Less is definitely more in this case.  Let's face it: some of us (who will remain nameless) are very attached to our fragrances. If you can't give up your favorite perfume, then consider making all of your other personal care products non-fragranced, or use your perfume less often.  This will lessen your exposure to these chemicals.
  • Take action!
  • Spread the word!  Please feel free to email, tweet, or otherwise share this post with your family and friends.  Knowledge is power!
Elena White is the founder and editor of  Life The Green Way, corporate sustainability coordinator at her day job, and a "rurban" wife and mother.  Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @Lifethegreenway.
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