I have devoted my life and private practice to victims of chemically-induced immune system disorders—counseling those whose immune systems can no longer protect them from chemicals. I believe that it’s a matter of decreasing tolerance—the more you’re exposed to the less the organs of detoxification can process and eventually we become allergic to substances we previously tolerated.
Use the following information for your health, those around you and the health of the planet. Remember also that your perfume could be someone else’s poison when they’re immune system is already compromised.
No one group works harder at consumer education than the Environmental Working Group (EWG); I have supported and followed their research for many years. The incidents described below were reported by the EWG and provided for your education with full credit.
When sprayed or applied on the skin, many chemicals from perfumes, cosmetics and personal care products are inhaled. Others are absorbed through the skin. Either way, many of these chemicals can accumulate in the body. As a result, the bodies of most Americans are polluted with multiple cosmetics ingredients. This pollution begins in the womb and continues through life.
Numerous other products used daily, such as shampoos, lotions, bath products, cleaning sprays, air fresheners and laundry and dishwashing detergents, also contain strongly scented, volatile ingredients hidden behind the word “fragrance.” Some of these ingredients react with ozone in indoor air, generating many potentially harmful secondary air pollutants such as formaldehyde and ultrafine particles (Nazaroff 2004).
People have the right to know which chemicals they are exposed to. They have the right to expect government to protect them, especially vulnerable populations, from hazardous chemicals. In addition to required safety assessments of ingredients in cosmetics, the laws must be changed to require the chemicals in fragrance to be fully disclosed and publicly accessible on ingredient labels.
Product tests initiated by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics [safecosmetics.org/] and subsequent analyses, detailed in this report, reveal that widely recognized brand-name perfumes and colognes contain secret chemicals, sensitizers, potential hormone disruptors and chemicals not assessed for safety:
- SECRET CHEMICALS: Laboratory tests revealed 38 secret chemicals in 17 name-brand products, with an average of 14 secret chemicals per product.
- MULTIPLE SENSITIZERS: The products tested contained an average of 10 chemicals that are known to be sensitizers and can trigger allergic reactions such as asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis. All of these were listed on product labels.
- MULTIPLE HORMONE DISRUPTORS: A total of 12 different hormone-disrupting chemicals were found in the tested products, with an average of four in each product. In each product, six of these chemicals mimic the hormone estrogen, and the seventh is associated with thyroid effects. Some of these potential hormone disruptors were listed on labels; others were undisclosed and were uncovered in product testing.
- WIDESPREAD USE OF CHEMICALS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN ASSESSED FOR SAFETY: A review of government records shows that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not assessed the vast majority of fragrance ingredients in personal care products for safety. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an industry-funded and self policing body, has assessed only 19 of the 91 ingredients listed on labels or found in testing for the 17 products assessed in this study. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM), which develop and set voluntary standards for chemicals in the “fragrance” component of products, have assessed only 27 of the 91 ingredients listed on labels or found in testing for the 17 products assessed in this study, based on a review of assessments published in the past 25 years.
Products in these samplings were tested by Analytical Sciences, an independent laboratory in Petaluma, California. The lab found, in all, 40 chemicals in the tested fragrance products. Thirty-eight of these were secret, or unlabeled, for at least one of the products containing them, while the other two were listed on all relevant product labels. Ingredient labels disclosed the presence of another 51 chemical ingredients, giving a total of 91 chemical ingredients altogether in the tested products, including hidden and disclosed ingredients combined. Of the 17 products tested, 13 were purchased in the U.S. and four in Canada.
Thirteen Most Common Chemicals Found in Fragranced Products
(based on EPA study)
Found in…cologne, dishwashing liquid and detergent, nail enamel and remover.
Facts…On the lists of the EPA, RCRA, and CERCLA as Hazardous Waste—“Inhalation can cause dryness of the mouth and throat; dizziness, nausea, loss of coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, and, in severe exposures, coma—acts primarily as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant.
Found in…perfume, cologne, hairspray, laundry bleach, deodorants, detergent, Vaseline™ lotion, shaving cream, shampoo, bar soap, and dishwasher detergent.
Facts…Narcotic. Sensitizer. Local aesthetic, CNS depressant. Irritant to the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, lungs, and GI tract—causing nausea and abdominal pain. May cause kidney damage. Do NOT use with contact lenses.
3. BENZYL ACETATE
Found in…perfume, cologne, shampoo, fabric softener, stickup air fresheners, dishwashing liquid and detergent, soap, hairspray, bleach, after shave and deodorants.
Facts…Carcinogenic (linked to pancreatic cancer). Dangers from vapors: irritant to eyes and respiratory passages, produces cough. In mice: hype-anemia of the lungs. Is absorbed through the skin causing systemic effects. Do not flush into the sewer or septic tank.
4. BENZYL ALCOHOL
Found in…perfume, cologne, soap, shampoo, nail enamel and remover, air fresheners, laundry bleach and detergents, Vaseline lotion, deodorants, and fabric softeners.
Facts…Irritant to upper respiratory tract. Other symptoms include: headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, central nervous system depression, and death, in severe cases, due to respiratory failure.
Found in…perfume, shaving cream, nail enamel, fabric softener, dishwasher detergent, nail color, and stickup air fresheners.
Facts…Local irritant and CNS stimulant readily absorbed through body tissues, irritant to eyes, nose and throat, causes dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles and convulsions. Avoid inhalation of vapors.
Found in…perfume, hairspray, shampoo, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid and detergents, laundry detergents, shaving cream, soap, Vaseline lotion, air fresheners, nail color and remover, paint and varnish removers.
Facts…showing symptoms that include: fatigue, irritant to eyes and upper respiratory tract even in low concentrations. Inhalation of ethanol vapors can have similar to those characteristic of ingestion. These include an initial stimulatory effect followed by drowsiness, impaired vision, ataxia, and stupor. Known to cause CNS disorders.
7. ETHYL ACETATE
Found in…after shave, cologne, perfume, shampoo, nail color, nail enamel remover, fabric softener, and dishwashing liquid.
Facts…Narcotic. On the EPA Hazardous Waste List warning of the following health effects: irritant to the eyes and respiratory tract, headache and narcosis (stupor), defatting effect on the skin and may cause drying and cracking, may cause anemia with leukocytosis and damage to liver and kidneys. Wash thoroughly after handling.
Found in…disinfectant sprays, bar soap, shaving cream, deodorants, nail color and removers, fabric softeners, dishwashing liquid, air fresheners, after shave, bleach, paint and varnish removers.
Facts…Carcinogenic. Warnings include: prevent contact with skin or eyes because it is an irritant and sensitizer, wash thoroughly after using this material and before eating, drinking, or applying cosmetics, do not inhale limonene vapor.
Found in…perfume, cologne, bar soap, shampoo, hand lotion, nail enamel remover, bleach powder, fabric softeners, shaving cream, after shave and solid deordorant.
Facts…Narcotic. Causes respiratory disturbances, attracts bees, depressed heart activity and causes CNS disorders. In animal tests: ataxic gait, reduced spontaneous motor activity, depression, development of respiratory disturbances leading to death.
10. METHYLENE CHLORIDE
Found in…shampoo, cologne, paint and varnish removers.
Facts…It was banned by the FDA in 1988, yet no enforcement is possible due to trade secret laws protecting the chemical fragrance industry. It’s on the Hazardous Waste lists on the EPA, RCRA, and the CERCLA. When absorbed, it is stored in body fat, metabolizes to carbon monoxide, reduces oxygencarrying capacity of the blood, causes headaches, giddiness, stupor, irritability, fatigue, tingling in the limbs, and CNS disorders.
Found in…bar and liquid soap, cologne, perfume, shaving cream, deodorants, dishwashing liquids, and air fresheners.
Facts…Sensitizer (damaging to the immune system).
Found in…cologne, perfume, soap, shaving creams, deodorants, and air fresheners.
Facts…Causes asthma and CNS disorders.
Found in…perfume, cologne, laundry detergents, bleach powders, laundry bleaches, fabric softeners, stickup air fresheners, Vaseline lotion, cologne, soap, hairspray, after shave, and rollon deodorants.
Facts…Highly irritating to mucous membranes, aspiration into the lungs can produce pneumonitis or even fatal edema, causes excitement, ataxia (loss of muscular coordination, hypothermia, CNS and respiratory depression, headaches, and repeated or prolonged skin contact can cause serious skin disorders.
WHAT’S IN A LABEL?
Since companies can get away with incomplete labeling, follow these guidelines to ensure healthy choices.
- Choose products that list all ingredients, not generalized ones.
- Examine the list of ingredients to check that the word fragrance does NOT appear. Essential oils should be listed separately.
- Be prudent because even if the label advertises “un-scented,” most manufacturers use masking agents that block our ability to perceive odors; so not only is the fragrance still in the product, but even more chemicals are present to mask other chemicals.
- Avoid phthalates and parabens (often listed as methylparabens), they disrupt reproductive and thyroid function.
- Always inspect labels because formulas change.
- Since no legal definitions exist for natural, nontoxic, and hypoallergenic, those words don’t signify a healthier product unless every ingredient is identified.