Fragrance: The New Secondhand Smoke
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Have you ever walked into a bath and body store, full of scented bath bombs and candles, and left with a headache, sore throat, or itchy nose? Those of us who are more sensitive may have already connected the dots between artificial fragrances and feeling foggy. While scented products are generally used with the positive intention of changing the scent of a person or a room, many people don’t realize the consequences. For the more sensitive among us, reactions can be immediate, but we are all at risk for the long-term effects of toxic fragrances.
What is “Fragrance”?
“Fragrance” (or “parfum”) is listed as an ingredient in practically everything these days: body wash, shampoo, soap, perfume, laundry detergent, fabric softener, hairspray, dish soap, household cleaning products… the list goes on and on. While any of these may list the ambiguous “fragrance” as an ingredient, they all have very different scents. Which leads us to the question: what exactly does “fragrance” mean?
Seeing the word fragrance or parfum on an ingredient list indicates a “trade secret” recipe that can be composed of hundreds of synthetic chemicals, selected from a database of 5,000 various components. Not only are companies not required to disclose which chemicals they use, none of these thousands of chemicals has to be tested for safety. There are some that have been studied, and the health effects are seriously scary. Reproductive harm, respiratory issues, and some of these fragrance chemicals are known neurotoxins.
Fragrance has been linked to:
- Endocrine disruption
- Hormone imbalance
- Brain fog
- Memory and concentration issues
- Headaches and migraines
- Respiratory problems
- Birth defects
- Damaged sperm
One example we can look at are phthalates, which help chemicals absorb into the body (alarm bells are already ringing). What are the associated risks? Reproductive system birth defects, hormonal changes, reduced sperm motility and concentration, increased damage to sperm DNA, obesity and insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, thyroid irregularities, asthma, and skin allergies, miscarriage, and infertility, to name a few.
EWG product testing found phthalates in nearly 75% of name-brand products, while not a single product listed phthalates as ingredients. This is because phthalates fall under the umbrella of a secret ingredient, and can be slipped into the chemical cocktail that results in one simple word, fragrance, on the ingredients list.
Think about the potential health effects linked to using phthalates that we listed above. This is just one of 5,000 ingredients that are mixed together to create a product’s fragrance. None of these chemicals are required to be tested for safety, yet we are exposed to them every single day!
Some of us are more sensitive than others and have an immediate reaction to scented products, and will avoid purchasing them. However, the majority of the population (unwittingly) still uses these toxic products. Perfume, scented laundry, hair products, air fresheners… Just like cigarette smoke, these fragrances create an aura of fragrance that pollutes the air. At their core, second-hand smoke and today’s fragrance epidemic are both battles over indoor air quality.
What Can We Do?
Shop with your dollars, and purchase products that are fragrance-free or contain truly natural ingredients, like pure essential oils. In fact, essential oils can take the place of a variety of scented products. doTERRA On Guard Cleanser is made of pure essential oils, including cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, and wild orange. A lavender essential oil can be mixed with a carrier oil (coconut, avocado, olive, rosehip, etc.) to create a natural moisturizer. Shopping for fragrance-free products is not hard, but making them yourself adds an extra layer of fun & personalization!