Why your perfume is poison

Body Cosmetics

why your perfume is poisonThe first perfume I ever bought was called Pure Poison.

I was fifteen and had a gift certificate for a department store burning a hole in my pocket. I liked the bottle, and so I bought it.

I look back on this and roll my eyes. First of all, the scent was not the best; I’ve always been a sucker for good packaging. Secondly, the name could not have been more appropriate…

To put it simply, perfume pretty much is poison.

In 2010, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics commissioned independent laboratory tests of popular fragrances. They found that:

The average fragrance product tested contained 14 secret chemicals not listed on the label. Among them are chemicals associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety in personal care products. Also in the ranks of undisclosed ingredients are chemicals with troubling hazardous properties or with a propensity to accumulate in human tissues.

Some of the most common chemicals in perfumes cause irritability, mental vagueness, muscle pain, asthma, bloating, joint aches, sinus pain, fatigue, sore throat, eye irritation, gastrointestinal problems, laryngitis, headaches, dizziness, swollen lymph nodes, spikes in blood pressure, coughing, and burning or itching skin irritations. Others pose much more serious threats…


A probable human carcinogen. Animal studies showed that it crosses the placenta to the developing fetus


The chemical industry’s own Toxic Data Safety Sheets list headaches, tremors, convulsions, and even death as a possible effect of exposure.

Styrene oxide

Has been shown to cause depression in animal studies.

Toluene (or methyl benzene)

A a well established neurotoxin that can cause loss of muscle control, brain damage, headaches, memory loss, and problems with speech, hearing, and vision.

Musk tetralin (AETT)

Causes brain cell and spinal cord degeneration.

Diethyl phthalate (DEP)

Has been linked to abnormal development of reproductive organs in baby boys and sperm damage in adult men. Prenatal exposure to DEP has also been associated with increased risk of ADD.

Galaxolide and Tonalide (synthetic musks)

Has been associated with toxicity to the endocrine system (regulates hormones). More troubling, both have been found in the cord blood of newborns as well as breast milk, meaning they easily pass from mother to child.

Most troubling of all…

Is the fact that of the more than 5,000 ingredients used in the fragrance industry, around only 1,300 have been evaluated by the industry’s International Research Institute for Fragrance Materials. Testing is very minimal and restricted to local effects on human skin or short-term toxicity tests in rodents.

The industry’s “trade secret” status is keeping us in the dark

Over 500 chemicals can be used under the umbrella term “fragrance” in products like “air fresheners,” laundry detergents, and candles, in addition to perfumes. Manufacturers are not required to reveal the ingredients that comprise the “fragrance” since they are protected as trade secrets. According to EWG, “Fragrance secrecy is legal due to a giant loophole in the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973, which requires companies to list cosmetics ingredients on the product labels but explicitly exempts fragrance.”

How can you protect yourself?

Ditch your perfume and opt for a natural scent made from essential oils. Check out EWG Skin Deep Database’s fragrance section to 1) see how your scent ranks and 2) find a healthier option. Watch out: many products marketed as “natural” still contain synthetic fragrances, so be sure to pay close attention to labels. If the ingredient label reads “fragrance,” put that baby back on the self. The term “fragrance oils” is also used to trick consumers into thinking the product is scented with essential oils, but this is not the case. If an item is scented with essential oils, it will be clearly labeled as such.


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  1. Good article. I was recently diagnosed (after a week long skin patch test) with multiple chemical allergies. My most obvious reaction is contact dermatitis (specifically hand eczema- blistering eczema is usually a chemical allergy). My allergies are ALL fragrances (including essential oils), tea tree oil, gold and specific blue dye. It’s crazy. But wanted to comment on this article in that regards. Chemical allergies can take up to 2 or more days to cause a reaction. And even the purest of essential oils are not necessarily better- at least not for me. I also get the headaches, fatigue and fogginess.
    Thanks for the article.

  2. I am so, SO sensitive to fragrances and this article makes me feel not so weird about it anymore so thank you! Someone can walk into a room with perfume on and even if they aren’t drenched in it, i almost immediately feel muscle pain in my back and ribs. It’s so strange but fragrance sensitivity is so real. It’s relieving but also terrible to learn that there is so much toxicity in products.

  3. There is a brand of natural essential oil based perfume called Pacifica. Search for Pacifica perfume on Amazon. My mum has the rose one and loves it.

  4. I am severely allergic to the chemicals in perfume, I suffer anaphylactic reactions to them. I can’t begin to explain how drastically this limits my life, as I have to be so careful whenever I leave the house or even with whom I let into my home. My nose is my early warning system but if I get stuck near someone scented (Even some essential oils can trigger a reaction) I will end up in respiratory distress and it will take weeks to get over it. Scents are everywhere, perfumes,deodorant products, personal care products, air fresheners, you’d be surprised at just how many everyday items contain scent. Perfume sensitivity is also the fastest rising allergy in the world today. Next time you go to drench yourself in that sweet smelling chemical cocktail, stop and think about all the people you might be harming as you waft past them, and you will never even know you have done so.

  5. Wow- this has been most insightful. It is part of what I embrace and this will allow me to move even further forward! Thank you

  6. Luckily I figured this out 30 years ago after I could not breathe when I put the perfume on. I have to avoid anyone with perfume or scented laundry soap etc. I now use Young Living Oils and everyone comments on how nice I smell.

  7. I switched to pure essential oils, and they are heavenly! Everywhere I go, people tell me how good I smell. Best of all, I’m getting health benefits from the oils! My favorite is Peace and Calming and Stress Away from Young Living. I also like their Patchouli and Ylang Ylang. You have to order from someone who is already a member of the company, but I am, and I’d love to help anyone who wants to lead a healthier lifestyle with natural fragrances. It’s important to know that other things such as candles, room sprays, and plug in scents all have harmful ingredients. I use a diffuser to diffuse essential oils in my home, and I use an all natural cleaner made from their THIEVES oil which is made from just Cinnamon, Cloves, Eucalyptus, Lemon, and Rosemary. I recently threw out all of my other cleaners, and I clean everything with this!! It saves money and makes me feel so healthy! Can you tell I’m a believer??

  8. I haven’t worn perfume for 15 years, ever since I discovered Young Living Essential Oils. I smell Great and I get only health benefits from using oils.

  9. Wow thank you so much. I love EWG but have never heard of this specific report before. No wonder I am so sensitive to scent (makes me nauseous and gives me a huge headache!). I’m so glad I came across your site – lots of helpful information! Thanks again.

  10. I like love & toast, not sure if they have the best ingredients but they are a good step away from the typical perfume.

  11. Hi, Ashley. I just included a direct link to EWG’s Skin Deep Database in the post to help find some options!

  12. Hi, Katie. I add a few drops of ylang ylang to my body lotion for scent, but I just included a direct link to EWG’s Skin Deep Database in the post to help find some options!

  13. Where do you find scents made with essential oils? I mean, other than just the essential oils themselves.