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.
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.