Are you inhaling toxic fragrances?
A young woman I know washed her hands in the restroom of a car dealership. The hand soap's aroma was so overwhelming that she gained an instant headache. Once home, she washed her hands at least 20 times to remove the odor. Why, oh, why do companies think we want scents in our lives?
Pro tip: Fragrances can be an allergen, much like pet dander is an allergen.
Unfortunately, fragrances are ubiquitous in our society
Scents and fragrances are found in everything from the unmistakable such as perfumes and colognes, to laundry detergents, dish soap, and air fresheners.
Try this mind-blowing experience on for size; check out this partial list of products that contain fragrances.
Products for use in and around the home
HVAC air filters
litter box liners
puppy and dog pads
steel wool pads for cleaning dishes
wet mopping cloths
counter top cleaner
hard surface cleaners
toilet bowl cleaners
bathtub and sink cleaners
mildew and mold stain removers
Personal care products
diaper liners for diaper pails
flushable personal wipes
hand sanitizing spray
hand sanitizing wipes
sensory, squishy toys
What's a little harm in inhaling a few fragrances?
It's estimated there are over 10,000 different fragrances in use today. The problem lies in the chemicals used to create fragrances. They are considered volatile organic compounds (VOCs), linked to various health issues. These chemicals can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or ingested. They can then enter the bloodstream and be distributed throughout the body, where they can cause a variety of health problems. These chemicals have been linked to birth defects, allergies, nerve damage, and cancer. Here is a list of possible outcomes if you decide to live with fragrances.
Short-term problems from fragrance products
Include headaches, dizziness, nausea, respiratory issues, and skin irritation. Some people may also be allergic to certain fragrances, and exposure can trigger asthma attacks or other severe health reactions.
Some fragrances contain harmful toxins that can damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.
What many people don't realize is that fragrances can have a significant impact on our hormone levels. Studies have shown that certain fragrances can disrupt the body's natural hormone balance, causing various problems, including reproductive and thyroid problems. For example, endocrine-disrupting phthalates can interfere with the body's hormones and have been linked to early puberty in girls and decreased sperm count in boys. As a result, the European Union has banned certain fragrances in cosmetics because they could cause hormone disruption.
Potential cancer risk
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO). IARC studies different agents to determine if they are carcinogenic or cancer-causing. For example, the IARC has classified several fragrance ingredients as possibly carcinogenic to humans. These ingredients are found in various products, including perfumes, colognes, air fresheners, and laundry detergents. Studies have shown that exposure to these chemicals can increase the risk of certain types of cancer, such as leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
A few fragrance ingredients that have cancer-causing potential are musk xylene 2. Other cancer-causing chemicals found in fragrance products include diethyl phthalate, Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate 3, and benzophenone. 4
Styrene is also a potentially cancer-causing ingredient. It's a compound used in producing plastics, rubber, and insulation. It is also a common ingredient in fragrances. Although styrene is considered safe when used in small amounts, it has been classified as a possible human carcinogen again by IARC. In animal studies, exposure to styrene has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in the blood and lymphatic system. Styrene can also cause damage to the liver, kidney, and nervous system. 5
One woman in my community had an infant boy who was hospitalized. After arriving home with the newborn, she scoured her house and promptly threw out her plug-in air fresheners; why? Because fragrances can harm our gut health and our immune system.
The gut is home to a complex and diverse ecosystem of microbes essential for gut health. However, outside factors, including synthetic fragrances, can easily disrupt this delicate balance. When these fragrances are released into the environment, they can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Once they reach the gut, they can alter gut microbiota composition, leading to gut dysbiosis. This can lead to several health problems, including gastrointestinal distress, fatigue, skin problems, immune system dysfunction, and even depression. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of fragrances' potential gut health risks.
The skin is the largest organ in the human body and plays a vital role in protecting us from the outside world. However, the skin is also susceptible and can be easily irritated by harsh chemicals and fragrances. This can be a significant problem for people with skin conditions like eczema. Did you know fragrance ingredients are one of the most common causes of eczema flare-ups? Eczema is a condition that causes the skin to become red, itchy, and inflamed, and it can be extremely painful and uncomfortable. Chemicals in fragrances can trigger flare-ups and make existing symptoms worse. In some cases, they can even cause new skin problems to develop. Once, our washer was on the fritz, so I trekked to the laundromat. I noticed they only had fragrance-free laundry soap. So I asked the proprietor why and he said people doing their laundry always request fragrance-free brands because other soaps bother their skin. So obviously, for people with sensitive skin, it's essential to avoid products that contain fragrances.
Psoriasis is a common skin condition that affects millions of people worldwide. While there is no cure for psoriasis, there are treatments that can help to lessen the symptoms. However, one potential trigger for psoriasis flare-ups is fragrances. Many perfumes, colognes, and other scented products contain chemicals that can irritate the skin, making psoriasis worse. In addition, fragrances can also trigger headaches and migraines in some people.
So what's a consumer to do?
Have you heard of SmartLabel? It's an app designed to help consumers decipher the ingredients of everyday household products. Food such as bread and veggies, cleaning products, and more are found on the site. Nutrition, allergens, and info about the company are also included on the site.
Just for fun, I looked at a lavender-scented multi-purpose cleaner found in grocery stores, and it had a whopping 28 different ingredients in its fragrance! This doesn't include the rest of the ingredients. And a seasonal plug-in's fragrance ingredients contained 38. (The NCBI wasn't kidding when they mentioned fragrances could have several dozen chemicals in one fragrance.) While we applaud the effort, some chemicals are not easy to pronounce or determine what harm they could do to your body. You'd have to be a research scientist to determine what the chemicals do. The maze of understanding each chemical ingredient in fragrance products is frustrating and so time-consuming the average user would throw in the towel.
Is there a difference between fragrances and scents?
When it comes to household products, fragrances and scents are often used interchangeably. However, there is a significant difference between the two. Fragrances are created artificially using a combination of chemicals. On the other hand, scents are derived from natural sources, such as essential oils. As a result, fragrances can be much stronger than scents.
The choice is yours
Overall, the health risks of fragrances are significant and should not be ignored. Be cautious when choosing fragrance products, and avoid products that contain cancer-causing chemicals.
Why did we include a fragrance-free article on our website? We produce an allergen spray product, after all. Allergy Defender's Allergen Spray is fragrance and scent free for good reason. Good health is essential.
And the female with the smelly hands? Even after so many washings, the odor lingered.