“Fragrance” or “parfum” on an ingredients list is a term used for a collection of chemicals that gives a scent. There are over 3000 chemicals that can be used to make up fragrances. As defined by the American FDA, fragrance is a combination of chemicals that gives each perfume or cologne (including those used in other products) it’s distinct scent. Here’s the catch – as fragrance can be considered a proprietary blend, manufacturers are not obligated to disclose the chemicals used in that blend. Many of these unlisted ingredients have not been tested for toxicity, either alone or in combination. Fragrance ingredients may be derived from petroleum or natural raw materials. In addition to the “scent” chemicals used to create a fragrance, the mixture also requires solvents, stabilizers, UV-absorbers, preservatives and dyes. So how do you know what’s in a fragrance? The short answer: you don’t.
- soap and body wash
- make up
- exfoliating scrubs
- laundry detergent & softeners
- cleaning products
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Fragrance, perfume, parfum, essential oil blend. aroma.
Sensitivities: A random sampling of US residents from a 2016 study noted that over 99% of participants are exposed to fragranced products at least once a week. Participants of this study also reported an extensive list of health concerns when exposed to fragrance, including migraines, asthma, gastrointestinal issues, and cardiovascular problems (1).
Bio Accumulation: Synthetic musks used in fragrances are of environmental concern. Several compounds found in musk build up in the fatty tissue of aquatic animals. Heightened levels of synthetic musk have been found in fish within the Great Lakes, and in sediment. Synthetic musks have been categorized as toxic and bio-accumulative by Environment Canada.
Unlisted Fragrance Ingredients and Their Risks:
Acetaldehyde: suspected toxicity to nervous and respiratory systems (2).
Benzophenone: endocrine disruption and organ toxicity (3); tumours (4)
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA): Endocrine distruption (5); carcinogen (6)
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT): skin and eye irritation, affects growth rate and liver (7); respiratory irritant (8)
Benzyl Salicylate: allergen and potential endocrine disruptor (9)(10)
Benzyl Benzoate: skin and eye irritant (11)
Butoxyethanol: skin, eye, nose and throat irritant. Exposure ca lead to blood in urine, vomiting, nausea, and damage to kidneys, liver, lymphoid system, nervous system, respiratory system, and blood cells (12)
Butylphenyl methylpropional: skin sensitization (13).
Chloromethane (methyl chloride): affects nervous system, liver, kidney and skin (14); developmentally toxic (15)
Dichloromethane (methylene chloride): linked to mammary gland tumours in experimental animals (16); may be human carcinogen (17)
Diethyl phthalate (DEP): irritant of eyes, skin, and respiratory tract; potential endocrine disruptor (18) (19)
Essential Oil Mixtures: Despite the ingredients being of natural origin, some essential oils are allergens (20); essential oils may contain ingredients such as pulegone or methyleugenol that may be carcinogenic and alter endocrine function (21)(22)(23)
Eugenyl methyl ether (Methyleugenol): Affects multiple endocrine systems (24); causes mammary gland tumours in experimental animals (25); possible human carcinogen (26)
Formaldehyde: known human carcinogen (27)
MEA, DEA, TEA – ethanolamines: When ethanolamines are used in the same products as certain preservatives that break down into nitrogen, the can turn into nitrosamines. Nitrosimines is a group of chemicals which has been listed as possible and known carcinogens (28)
Methanol: Developmental toxicant (29)
Oxybenzone (BP-3): Possible endocrine disruptor (30); Oxybenzone can accumulate in the blood, kidneys and liver, and may be toxic to liver cells (31)
Propyl paraben (Propyl p-hydroxybenzoate): Possible endocrine disruptor (32).
Resorcinol: Resorcinol adversely affects cardiovascular and nervous system, while changing liver, kidney, and spleen function (33); possible endocrine disruptor (34).
Styrene: When ingested orally, styrene is toxic to red blood cells and liver, and toxic to central nervous system when inhaled (35)
Synthetic Musks (Tonalide , Galaxolide, Musk Ketone, Musk Xylene): Highly bioaccumulative and have been found in breast milk, body fat and cord blood of newborn babies (36)(37)(38)(39); endocrine disruptor (40).
Titanium dioxide (TiO2): Damages respiratory system and may be a carcinogen (41)
1,4-Dioxane: suspected to cause cancer and birth defects (42)
Ethylbenzene: Classified as possible carcinogen and cancer causing (43)
Vinyl acetate: Possible carcinogen (44); inhalation may cause eye irritation and upper respiratory tract irritation (45)
- Coal Tar Dyes
- Dibutyl Phthalate
- PEG Compounds
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate
- Steinemann A. Fragranced consumer products: exposures and effects from emissions. Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health. 2016:1-6.
- CDC. Acetaldehyde. NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, 2015. Available online:http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd0001.html.
- OEHHA. Proposition 65. CA.gov, 2015. Available online http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65/prop65_list/Newlist.html
- Rhodes MC., et al. Carcinogenesis studies of benzophenone in rats and mice. Food Chem Toxicol, vol. 45, no. 5, pp 843-851, 2007.
- European Commission on Endocrine Disruption. Annex 1 Candidate list of 553 substances. Available online:http://ec.europa.eu/environment/archives/docum/pdf/bkh_annex_01.pdf
- California Proposition 65. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, 2015. Available online:http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65/prop65_list/Newlist.html.
- Butylated Hydroxytoluene. NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, 2014. Available online:http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd0246.html Environmental Working Group, “Skin Deep.
- Butylated Hydroxytoluene,” [Online]. Available:http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/700741/BHT/.