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Why are fragrances so toxic?


Why Are Fragrances So Toxic?

Way back in 1986, the National Academy of Sciences recommended Congress test fragrances for neurotoxicity. Unfortunately we are still waiting on that study, however, other studies have been done. The EPA tested fragrances for chemicals in 1991 and found a list of the following toxic perfume chemical ingredients: acetone, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, camphor, ethanol, ethyl acetate, limonene, linalool and methylene chloride – usually in some combination. According to, these chemicals can cause central nervous disorders, kidney damage, respiratory failure, ataxia and many less serious but still troubling symptoms such as GI tract irritation, dizziness, fatigue and more.

In 2010, Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) performed and analyzed lab tests on 17 popular fragrances. This study revealed the presence of the following toxic perfume chemicals in just this small selection of brands:

  • Endocrine disruptors and phthalates. Last year, the Washington Post reported on a study from that linked phthalates and endocrine disruptors to a more than 6 point drop in IQ for children whose mothers were exposed to phthalates during their pregnancy. If you are pregnant, you would do well to stay away from all products with fragrances, phthalates or endocrine disruptors to protect your baby.
  • They also found diethyl phthalate, which has been to linked to sperm damage in studies.
  • Musk ketone was discovered, which can be a skin irritant. According to EWG, studies have shown this chemical to concentrate in both human fat tissue and breast milk. It is also suspected to be another hormone disruptor.
  • A large percentage of the chemicals that were found in these fragrances had not been assessed for safety as of the date of the study. In fact, the only limitation on fragrance manufacturers is that they cannot use banned substances.
  • Ingredients found in fragrances, such as phthalates, are considered “Obesogens” which means they CAN cause you to gain weight independent of what you eat or the activity you get.

Other studies have been done reporting a range of toxins, many undisclosed, in popular fragrances. For example, styrene was determined to be “a reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” in 2011 by both the National Toxicology Program and the National Academy of Science, and can be found in some fragrances.

So, to put it all together:

  • Fragrances contain chemicals that can cause reactions which range from allergic reactions and weight gain, to severe damage, conditions or illnesses.
  • Many substances that have been discovered in fragrances have not specifically been tested for human safety.
  • Companies are not required to list or reveal the chemicals they do use.


Toxic Fragrance, Enliven Bed and Breakfast

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