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Toxic Chemicals Found in Fragrance

Phthalates, carcinogens, allergens – just what are the fragrance industry’s standards of safety?!
fragrance lab

Toxic Chemicals Found in Fragrance

Exactly what are the fragrance industry’s standards of safety?

The term “fragrance” represents a chemical cocktail that can be made up of hundreds of ingredients. Fragrances are found in thousands of consumer products from cleaners to tampons, yet there are very few regulations over the ingredients used in fragrance.  The current system for fragrance safety is run entirely by the fragrance industry — and this self-regulating program is greenlighting chemicals that reputable authoritative bodies and government agencies have restricted, banned or deemed hazardous.

OSHA Skull and Crossbones
Skull and Crossbones pictogram GHS06
OSHA Health Hazard Logo
Human Hazard pictogram GHS08

Fragrance Chemicals and Hazard Warnings

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is an internationally agreed-up on system, which clarifies the hazard classification of individual chemicals. A review of UN GHS classifications of fragrance chemicals finds that:

  • 190 fragrance chemicals have been assigned the signal word “danger” for their Safety Data Sheet.
  • 1,175 fragrance chemicals have been assigned the signal word “warning”.
  • 44 fragrance chemicals require pictogram GHS06 of a skull and crossbones to indicate acute toxicity.
  • 97 fragrance chemicals require pictogram GHS08 indicating the chemical is a hazard to human health

Fragrance Chemicals with International Warnings

Fragrance chemicals can be found on authoritative lists (that is lists that have been recognized by regulating bodies) of toxic chemicals around the world.

In addition, chemicals in fragrance are also found on lists of chemicals of concern, including the following:

Learn more about the failings of the fragrance industry’s self-regulated safety program – click here.

5 Responses

  1. Joan

    Thank you for posting this. I have been allergic or sensitive to most fragrances for many years. It’s now very obvious to me, why. If there are that many unregulated chemicals just in fragrances it makes me very cautious as to what else is causing so many problems for so many people. No wonder we have such increases in asthma, autism and autoimmune diseases.

  2. Most people I talk with have an issue with fragrance. “I have to move in the theater because someone sits beside me with fragrance.” ” I stepped on the elevator and two men where there. They had on some kind of horrible smelling scent.” “We had to put a note on my husband’s hospital door. Do NOT Enter if you are wearing a scented product. But many of the staff came in anyway. I had to wear a mask while caring for my husband.”
    Some people just don’t know how harmful these chemicals are to themselves and to others.

    I am an advocate for clean indoor air, so I talk about it all the time to other people, and found many, many have breathing problems, asthma, and coughing due to fragrances women and men wear and to all the air fresheners used in business offices and homes.

  3. This is a very informative post. Thanks for sharing. It’s really helpful to be aware of the chemicals that may be found in fragrances. People should be aware of the things that can harm them and if possible, check out options that are more sustainable and works effectively without harmful side effects.

  4. Sharon

    I found this interesting: http://www.pgproductsafety.com/productsafety/ingredients/Perfume_and_Scents.pdf. Click on the url to see NINETEEN PAGES of possible ingredients used in P&G’s products (including hundreds of synthetic chemicals), over 2,400 different substances. Any combination of these can be put into a product and lumped into the “fragrance” category. The manufacturers are not required to list them on the product, nor make them easily identifiable for consumers.

  5. From Canada
    Environmental Health Association of Ontario

    Health Risks of Fabric Softeners
    © Echo/Ecological Housing, 1998
    There are many potentially dangerous products used in the home. To list the
    chemicals in each of them and the health risks for each of these would produce a
    truly huge volume. We have chosen fabric softener as the prime illustrative
    example for a number of reasons.
    It is the most toxic product produced for daily household use. It has been
    found to be associated with numerous illnesses and chronic conditions.
    1. It is widely advertised, widely used.
    2. The effects of its toxicity are insidious; a user becomes
    “chronically maladapted” to it. The exposure is so constant
    that it can be difficult to connect the product with the signs
    of reactivity it causes. Neurostimulant/irritants and
    central nervous system toxins used in these products
    are known to produce an addictive-type response that may
    cause the user to experience a feeling of pleasure when
    the product is directly inhaled. Regular users of fabric
    softeners (and perfumes) also often claim they “can hardly
    smell it”. This too is an effect of chemical ingredients on
    neural receptors.
    3. The product is designed to impregnate fibres and slowly rerelease
    for an extended period of time. That re-releasing
    affects the health not only of users, but those around
    The following information contains a partial list of the chemical ingredients of fabric softeners and
    the potential effects of exposure to them as quoted from manufacturers’ Material Safety Data
    Sheets. For the purposes of this document, Central Nervous System has been abbreviated to CNS.
    CNS toxin exposure symptoms include: dizziness, disorientation, nausea, headaches, mood
    swings, numbness in face or extremities, pain in neck or spine, memory loss, aphasia (difficulty
    speaking), confusion, irritability. CNS disorders include: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Dementia,
    Seizures, Multiple Sclerosis, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Hyperactivity, Strokes, Attention Deficit
    Disorder, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
    A good alternative to fabric softener or fabric softener sheets is a piece of aluminum foil.
    Risks of Perfumes and Scented Products
    The chemicals listed on the following page (along with Methylenechloride, Ethanol, Formaldehyde,
    and other petrochemicals and neurotoxins) are among the 4,000 chemical ingredients used in the
    manufacture of perfumes and scents. The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) collected
    samples of every perfume sold in North America in 1993. Every sample contained Toluene (a
    proven carcinogen and neurotoxin designated as Hazardous Waste worldwide). Many also
    contain chemicals to mimic the pheronones (sex hormones) of insects, musk ox, apes, and
    pigs. (Sounds romantic, doesn’t it) The health risks of these products are so varied and extreme it
    almost defies comprehension.
    Chemical Ingredients in Fabric Softeners/Dryer Sheets:
    Alpha-Terpineol: “Causes CNS disorders. Highly irritating to mucous membranes. Aspiration into
    lungs can produce pneumonitis or fatal edema. Lesser exposures can cause decreased circulation,
    headache, depression of CNS and/or respiratory function, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination),
    behavioral changes. Prevent repeated or prolonged skin contact.”
    Benzyl Acetate: “Carcinogenic. Vapors irritating to eyes and respiratory passages, exciting cough.
    In mice, pancreatic cancer, hyperanemia of the lungs. Can be absorbed through skin causing
    systemic effects. Do not flush to sewer system.”
    Benzyl Alcohol: “Associated with CNS disorders. Irritating to upper respiratory tract. Can cause
    headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sudden drop in blood pressure, CNS depression, death due
    to respiratory failure.”
    Camphor: On E.P.A.’s Hazardous Waste list. “Avoid contact with eyes, skin, clothing. Do not
    breathe vapours. Inhalation can be fatal. Properties: anesthetic, neurotoxic, carcinogenic. Chronic
    effects of exposure may include liver and/or kidney damage. Medical conditions aggravated by
    exposure. Kidney disorders, liver disorders, heart disorders, skin disorders, allergic or respiratory
    conditions. May cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory
    tract, loss of consciousness. Conditions to avoid: heat”.
    Ethyl Acetate: On EPA.’s Hazardous Waste list. “Narcotic, may cause headache, narcosis, stupour.
    Irritating to eyes and respiratory tract. May cause anemia with leukocytosis and damage to liver and
    kidneys. Wash thoroughly after handling.”
    Limonene: “Prevent contact with skin or eyes. Properties: irritant, sensitizer, carcinogenic. Always
    wash thoroughly after using, especially before eating, drinking, applying cosmetics. Do not inhale.”
    Linalool: “Narcotic. Associated with CNS disorders and respiratory disturbances. Attracts bees. In
    animal testing: ataxic gait, reduced spontaneous motor activity and depression, depressed heart
    activity, development of respiratory disturbances leading to death.”
    Pentane: “Danger: Harmful if inhaled. Inhalation of vapor may cause headache, nausea, vomiting,
    dizziness, irritation of respiratory tract and loss of consciousness. Contact can cause eye or skin

    Thank you very much for all this information regarding the dangers and harmful effects of chemicals that are abused .

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