—A Growing Health and Environmental Hazard
Klaus Ferlow, HMH—09/2007
Most of us love the smell of a good fragrance, without realizing that these ubiquitous chemical cocktails can damage our health in many different ways and pollute the environment.


Especially vulnerable are fetuses, children, reproductive-age people, and asthmatic, allergic and chemically-injured people (MCS = Multiple Chemical Sensitivity).

Your skin, your body's largest organ, absorbs fragrance chemicals by direct application, by contact with fragranced items, and by exposure to air containing fragrances. Today's fragrances make you think they are made from flowers and fragranced products provide constant source of fragrance chemicals, that are absorbed by your skin and inhaled as vapours. Did you know that 95% of the chemicals in fragrance are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum? Many of the chemicals in perfumes are the same chemicals in cigarette smoke, and yet there are no regulation of the fragrance industry. A study by Greenpeace in 2005 discovered that at least 36 well-known perfume brands contained two toxic man-made chemicals "phthalate esters and synthetic musks." It is not acute poisoning, but it is chronic, it stays in the system and accumulates in the fatty tissues of living organisms. Phthalates have a bad effect on the DNA, male sperm and restricts lung function in men. Synthetic musks can attack living tissues. The names of the perfumes, some of them very famous names can be checked on the website: www.ourlittleplace.com/perfume.html.

Some fragrance chemicals can alter the skin's surface tension, which greatly facilitates the absorption of other chemicals into the skin.

  • Fragrances can be skin allergens, irritants and photosensitizers.
  • 1-2% of the population may have a skin allergy to fragrances.
  • There is a direct correlation between use of scented products and development of skin allergy to fragrance.
  • Contact dermatitis can be caused by contact with fragrance materials in the air or on surfaces. Fragrances easily volatilize and linger a long time in the air. They settle and stick to your skin, hair, clothes, furnishings, furniture, food…everything!
  • Everyone, especially those with eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions, should avoid exposure to fragranced products.

Clothing and bedding washed and dried with fragranced products provide a constant exposure to fragrance chemicals that are absorbed and inhaled. Infants' skin is especially susceptible to absorbing fragrance chemicals directly from clothing, diapers and bedding, and indirectly from the air.

  • Manufacturers specifically make fragrances to be long-lasting. They do not break down easily, and their breakdown products can be more toxic than the original substances.
  • Laundry products fragrances accumulate in fabrics and are very difficult to remove from them. If you use laundry facilities where other people use fragranced products, your laundry will absorb their fragrances.

Neurological Effects

Fragrance chemicals affect the brain and nervous system, with some effects being immediate and transitory, and other effects being chronic and long lasting. Effects on the nervous system can occur from chemicals absorbed, inhaled, or ingested.

  • Fragrances can: modify brain blood flow, alter blood pressure, pulse and mood and trigger migraine headaches.
  • AETT and musk ambrette, fragrance chemicals used for decades, were found to be neurotoxic.
  • Several common fragrance chemicals, when inhaled, have potent sedative effects.
  • Fragrances are specially formulated and used for public behaviour control.

Respiratory Effects

Fragrances can induce or worsen respiratory problems. A majority of known fragrance chemicals are respiratory irritants and some are respiratory sensitizers. Respiratory irritants, which cause inflammation and increase mucus production, make the airways more susceptible to injury and allergens, as well as trigger and exacerbate such conditions as asthma, allergies, sinus problems, and other respiratory disorders.

  • Fragrances can trigger asthma in school-age children and asthma is now the leading serious chronic illness among youth, afflicting nine million  American children.
  • 15% of people experience lower airway irritation from fragrance exposure.
  • 72% of asthmatic cite fragrance as a trigger and one in fourteen adults suffers from asthma, and asthma rates have doubled since 1980.
  • A severe asthmatic reaction from acute fragrances exposure may even cause death.

Hormone-Disrupting Effects

Every year more and more commonly-used chemicals are found to be hormone disrupters, and it is presently unknown what percentage of the hundreds of fragrance chemicals have these properties. Fragrances often contain large amounts of phthalates, a group of toxic chemicals, that are known oestrogen and testosterone hormone disrupters. Phthalates are used to impart an oily moisturizing film and to help dissolve and fix other ingredients in fragrances.

  • Health Care Without Harm, a research and action group, found phthalates in most of the popular beauty products they tested. Reproductive-aged women buy more cosmetics and personal care products than other Americans and have a greater exposure to phthalates.
  • A recent study suggest that diethyl phthalate, commonly used in fragrances and other personal care products, damages the DNA of sperm in adult men, which can lead to infertility, may be linked to miscarriages and birth defects, and may led to cancer and infertility in their offspring.
  • Phthalates have been associated with thyroid disorders, premature breast developments in baby girls and abnormal sexual development in male fetuses and infants (hypospadias and undescended testicles).
  • Phthalates are found in the blood of pregnant women at levels of concern. They can cross the placenta and are found in breast milk. Women are exposed to phthalates at home, at work, everywhere.
  • 100% of people tested have phthalates in their urine.

Systemic Effects

As fragrance chemicals can be absorbed, inhaled or ingested, they can possibly affect any organ or system. A combination of limited human data and a wealth of animal studies show that phthalates, as only one of many chemicals in fragrances, can impair reproduction and development, alter liver and kidney function, damage the heart and lungs, and effect blood clotting.

  • Some fragrance chemicals are carcinogens. Many air fresheners contain the pesticide paradichlorobenzene, a carcinogen.

Environmental Effects

Indoor and outdoor air quality – Fragrances are volatile compounds and they are constantly released into the air. The widespread use and vast numbers of fragranced products cause extensive indoor and outdoor pollution. Many people find it difficult to enter public buildings, attend public events, stand near people or walk outdoors due to fragrances present in the air. A Norwegian study found synthetic musk fragrance compounds in outdoor air, even in a remote area.

Water quality – Waste water treatment does not remove the constantly increasing quantity and types of fragrance chemicals, many of which are persistent and accumulate in the environment. The documented presence of fragrance chemicals in drinking water, streams and lakes could adversely affect the health of people, animal life and plants.

292 million Americans regularly wash and dry their clothes. Most use fragranced laundry products which pollute the water and the air.

Health Hazards of the most 20 Common Chemicals Found in 31 Fragrance Products

Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) Analysis of the 1991 EPA Study

  • Cancer – death due to respiratory failure
  • Neurotoxic reaction (central and peripheral nervous system), coma, convulsion, headache, depression, dizziness, irritability, confusion, panic attacks/anxiety, memory loss, impaired concentration, drowsiness, insomnia, impaired vision, stupor, spaciness, giddiness, slurred speech, twitching muscles, tingling in the limbs, loss of muscular coordination. The continuous low-level exposure to neurotoxins can lead to progressive and permanent brain damage.
  • Inhalation of fragrance can cause asthma, reactive airway disease, difficulty breathing, coughing, drying, irritation and inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose, sinuses, mouth, throat, and lungs.
  • Eve irritant, drying and cracking of skin, fatigue
  • Damage to the immune systems, kidney and liver damage
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, drop or rise in blood pressures

One in five people experiences health problems when exposed to fragrances.

Intentional Fragrance Exposure in Public Places

Fragrances are dispensed through ventilation systems and by individual units in many public areas, including airplanes and buildings (offices, stores, restaurants, hotels, airports, hospitals, nursing homes etc.) Fragrances are designed to:

  • Add a "pleasant" scent to the air (food smells in shopping malls and floral scents in stores)
  • Cover-up poor air quality and insufficient fresh-air ventilation (odours, cigarette smoke, exhaust, pesticides, mould, and chemicals outgassing from furniture, carpet, equipment, cleaning products etc.).
  • Change the mood and behaviour of people (increase worker productivity, increase retail sales, relax the public in potentially stressful places or situations such as airports, subways etc. and disguise unpleasant odours in hospitals and nursing homes).

 Advertising creates the illusion that fragranced products will make consumers happy, sexually attractive, popular, fashionable, clean and fresh smelling, good moms and dads, and great housekeepers.

To deliberately expose the public to fragrance chemicals, with the intend to alter their mood and manipulate their behaviour, without their informed consent, is unethical.


Consider how much they can contribute to the following grim statistic:

  • One out of every 2.18 people will develop cancer
  • 62% of Americans are overweight or obese, 31% of adults (59 million) are rated obese, 15% of 6-19 years old (9 million), and 10% of 2 -5 year old were seriously overweight
  • 16 million Americans have diabetes, and there is an epidemic of type 2 diabetes in youth
  • 25 million have chronic liver disease, 8-9 million have end stage liver disease, and 4-5 million have liver failure in the US
  • 20 million have chronic kidney disease
  • 17.3 million Americans have asthma, asthma and asthmatic related deaths have increased 75% since 1980
  • 21 million have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • 25 million people have migraines, and 45 million have chronic, severe headaches
  • one in six children in the US suffers from neurological problems such as autism, aggression, dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • an estimated 25% of American couples are infertile. The sperm count in men has dropped in half over the past 50 years.
  • approx. half of all pregnancies in the US result in prenatal or postnatal death or in a less than healthy baby
  • 49% of Americans can't fall asleep or stay asleep
  • 40% of US adults suffer from hypothyroidism, thyroid problems
  • 35 million Americans have chronic sinus problems, 9 million have rhinitis
  • 20% of all Americans have allergies
  • s13% of US adults have anxiety disorders, the #1 mental health problem (NIMH)
  • 25% of adults have high blood pressure

For people who are chemically injured, fragrance exposures may be debilitating or even life-threatening. For everyone, exposure to fragrance chemicals adds to their "total body load" of synthetic chemicals, which can greatly increase the chance of developing health problems.


  • 30% or more of the US population reacts to one or more synthetic substances
  • Between 80-100.000 synthetic chemicals are in use today and approx. 1000 new ones are added on every year, most of which have not been tested individually or in combination for their effects on human health.
  • Continual exposure to these common, pervasive, low-level chemicals can cause an initial reaction and then a spreading effect where one then reacts to many other kind of chemicals.
  • Environmental illness and chronic disease caused by exposure to chemicals is widespread. an increasing rapidly at an alarming rate.
  • Chemicals are everywhere, so it is of utmost importance to choose "non-toxic" alternatives in all aspects of live.


Fabric softeners, laundry detergents, soaps (bar, liquid), dishwashing detergents, bleach and bleach powders, air fresheners and deodorizers (in buildings, cars etc.), disinfectant sprays, pesticides, candles, potpourris, tissues and toilet papers, plastic bags, trash from kitchen, diapers, clothing and fabrics, toys, books, hair products (hair sprays, shampoos, conditioners, gels, cosmetics, hand and body lotions, bath powders and oils, deodorants, anti-perspirants, shaving cream, after shaves, perfumes, colognes, nail polish and polish remover, advertising materials, scented papers and magazines, marking pens, food additives, kitty litter etc.

From 1980 to 1989 (and you can imagine that this trend has dramatically accelerated from there on), industry sales doubled for fragrance materials used to scent products! The present proliferation of fragranced products now contain more powerful, more volatile and longer-lasting fragrances, which means your exposure to toxic fragrance chemicals has dramatically increased!!

You are not protected by the government from exposure to fragrance chemical products.

Despite the widespread , constant exposure to an unknown number of fragrance chemicals in thousands of products, there is minimal government regulation and monitoring of their safety.

  • Trade-secret laws keep toxicity testing and identification of fragrance ingredients from being accurately and truthfully disclosed to anyone, including the FDA and Health Canada.
  • The FDA does not review the safety of cosmetic products or their ingredients, and can't require manufacturers to do safety testing before these products are marketed.
  • Fragrance chemicals do not have to be listed on the product label.
  • The fragrance industry is primarily self-regulated.

A variety of fragrance-free products are available in the market place, just read the product labels carefully.

Misleading advertising words such as: natural, floral, hypoallergenic, natural scent, and the name of flowers make you think the product is safe when it may not be safe. Some unscented and fragrance free products can contain masking fragrance to cover up the smell of other ingredients.




Focus on Fragrance and Health, Louise Kosta
Our Toxic World, Doris Rapp, MD
Death in the Air, Dr. Leonhard Horowitz
Healing the Planet, A Primer in Environmental Medicine,  Jozef J. Krop, MD, FAAM
Dispatches, from the war zone of environmental health, Helke Ferrie, Medical Science Reporter
100.000.000 GUINEA PIGS, Dangers in Everyday Foods, Drugs and Cosmetics, Arthur Kallet & F.J. Schlink
The Cancer Smart Consumer Guide, Labour Environmental Alliance Society, Vancouver,
Acute Toxic Effects of Fragrance Products, Rosalind & Julius Anderson
Less Toxic Alternatives, Carolyn Gorman
www.fpinva.org (Fragranced Products Information Network)