Fragrance: The New Second-Hand Smoke?

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Love the fragrance of your favorite perfume or shampoo? Unfortunately, scents can be deceiving. There’s a good chance that while you are inhaling that luscious scent, you may actually be harming your body. Is fragrance the new secondhand smoke? In high school, I used to love the scent of Herbal Essence shampoo, and Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific conditioner. Little did I know then I was damaging my hormones by using those products!

By definition, the term “fragrance” indicates that it’s a synthetic scent, manufactured from petroleum or coal tar via a chemical processes1. Conversely, natural scents are called Essential Oils and are distilled from actual plants.

Maybe you don’t wear any perfume, and think you’re fine? Might want to check your health and beauty products, your household cleaners, laundry soap, dryer sheets, scented candles, air fresheners, and even garbage bags. If you see the word “fragrance” or “parfum” listed in the ingredients, that’s a big red flag that those products are likely harming your hormones too.

What the perfume industry doesn’t want you to know

Did you know the words “fragrance” and “parfum” are just euphemisms for “trade secret” fragrance recipes that do not have to be disclosed to the public or tested for safety2? They don’t have to tell us what chemicals they are using inside their “fragrance.”

And “fragrance” can be comprised of hundreds of synthetic chemicals3 selected from a pool of more than 4,0004 chemicals exempt by law. You may be hard-pressed to find products that don’t contain these ingredients.

According to a 2009 study by University of Maryland researchers Christy De Vader and Paxson Barker, called Fragrance in the Workplace is the New Second-Hand Smoke5, the issue with “fragrance” is not the scent itself, but the fact that it’s derived from petroleum and tar: “Only 800 of the approximately 4,000 chemicals used as fragrances have been tested for toxicity, either alone or in combination with others. These chemicals are so bad that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has grouped fragrances with insecticides, heavy metals, and solvents as categories of chemicals that should be given high priority for neurotoxicity testing.” Shocking, right?

Why fragrance is the new second-hand smoke

It’s no wonder that fragrances and parfums have been called “The New Second Hand Smoke.” They are pervasive, everywhere you go from office buildings to airports, and friend’s houses to shopping malls you’re likely breathing in fragrances and parfums. Whenever I walk past a candle shop or Bath & Body Works shop in the mall, I feel bad for those kids working there. Not to mention the employees and pets in PetCo, unconscionable! Those scents are all toxic. You can’t get away from fragrance and parfum. Their workplace is harming their health, and your pets if you take them into PetCo.

Recently I was in a public restroom at a resort hotel. Two young women were spraying themselves with perfume and hairspray in front of the mirror. I held my breath as I washed my hands and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible. As I opened the door to leave, another 20-something walked in and said “Ohhh, it smells SO YUMMY in here!” If only those girls understood that they were poisoning their bodies. Yikes!

Here in Mexico, they love their scented products, the more the better, or so it seems. Every taxi and Uber has noxious air fresheners. And most of the toilet paper in Mexico is scented too. The LAST place you want to put anything scented is near your coochie! No Bueno!

Fragrance The New Second-Hand Smoke

How do fragrance and parfum harm you?

Here are some of the side effects that can be caused by inhaling fragrances: exhaustion, weakness, “hay fever” symptoms, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, confusion, headaches, rashes, swollen lymph glands, muscle aches and spasms, heart palpitations, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, asthma attacks (inability to breathe), neuromotor dysfunction, seizures, and even loss of consciousness – and those are the “good” side effects.6

So what are the bad side effects? These toxic fragrances and parfums also contain phthalates, known as endocrine (hormone) disruptors. And phthalates have been linked to diabetes, obesity, liver cancer, and breast cancer. And hormone disruption also affects fertility, and childhood development, and is linked to ADHD and Autism.7

An article in the Huffington Post states, “Perfumes and fragrances are the single largest category of cosmetic and personal care products, especially hair, facial, and eye. These products represent nearly 50 percent of all prestige beauty dollars now spent in the US. Fragrances are also extensively used in a wide range of everyday household cleaning products.”

So what can you do?

Sadly, the Perfume industry also has one of the strongest lobbyist groups, and they are fighting tooth and nail to ensure that they don’t have to disclose any of this information. The perfume business is BIG business, to the tune of over $30 Billion a year. You can fight back by putting your money where your mouth is. Once people realize the dangers and stop purchasing products containing these ingredients, the perfume industry will wake up.

And unfortunately, products labeled “unscented” or “fragrance-free,” can still contain “fragrance” or “parfum”. Why? Because the FDA doesn’t regulate the use of these words, so companies actually use masking fragrances to “neutralize” a scent so they can call it “unscented.”

What about unscented products?

The ONLY way to be sure that your products are truly unscented, is to ensure that the words “fragrance” and “parfum” do not appear anywhere in the ingredients list. And there’s a lot of green-washing going on these days too. So products may say “with Essential Oils”, and sure enough, there are essential oils listed in the ingredients…but “fragrance” and “parfum” are listed as well. If it says “Natural fragrance” that is supposed to mean essential oils, however, who’s policing that? Your guess is as good as mine.

My challenge to you:

If you’ve read this far, I know you care about your health and well-being. Do your body and future well-being a favor, read the labels on all your products (including personal care, household cleaners, and laundry products), and ditch anything that contains the words “fragrance” or “parfum.”

Your reward:

A healthier YOU! I know, you might initially be thinking NOW WHAT do I use? I feel you… I’ve been in your shoes. I literally threw away everything that contained the word “fragrance” over 10 years ago. And then I made it my mission to find healthy versions of products, that actually work.

So if you’re looking for truly organic products that contain zero fragrance or parfum or any other toxic chemicals I’d love to introduce you to Neil’s Yard Remedies. I’ve been using and selling these toxin-free, family-owned and operated, UK-based products for over a decade.

I also make my own DIY fragrance-free household cleaning products, which work great. And we use Dr. Bronner’s soaps for dishes and laundry.

Please leave a comment to let me know your biggest takeaway after looking at the ingredients lists on your favorite products?


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