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Since 1993

Are Fragrances Harmless?

In 1992 the National Academy of Sciences recommended to Congress that fragranced products along with pesticides and solvents be given high priority for neurotoxicity testing. Why?

Millions of pounds of fragrance chemicals are used in the U.S. each year. These materials are additives in the vast majority of cosmetics and consumer products. Yet there is little scrutiny or regulation. Materials used in fragrances do not have to be disclosed to anyone including regulatory agencies such as the EPA, Consumer Product Safety commission, or FDA.

Here are some of the health issues connected with fragrance chemicals:

Phthalates are commonly used in fragrances (diethyl phthalate and dibutyl phthalate) Metabolized chemicals from phthalates are found in the tissues of women of childbearing age. Some phthalates are hormone disruptors.

Synthetic musk compounds accumulate in human tissue and are found in breast milk. They also found in waterways and aquatic wildlife worldwide.

With most of these current materials the long-term impacts on humans or the environment are not known. However, two fragrance materials that had been used for decades were found to be neurotoxic:

The additive AETT was used for over 20 years before it was found that it turned the internal organs of mice blue and was severely neurotoxic.

Musk ambrette was used for over 60 years before it was found that 38% of this material absorbed through the skin. It was neurotoxic, photo toxic, a sensitizer, and caused atrophy of the testicles in rats.

While the industry "voluntarily" withdrew both of these materials from use, there was no recall of products on the shelf, nor any warning for consumers that they could be using products that could be harmful.  Musk ambrette was still being found in products on the shelf six years after the "voluntary" recall.

Despite this experience, screening of fragrance materials for neurological effects is not part of current safety testing procedures.

The use of scented products is known to cause skin allergies.  Some 1-2% of the population is estimated to have skin allergies to fragrance. Most pediatricians recommend scented products not be used on children because of the potential for children to develop allergies. Yet many products formulated for children contain known skin sensitizers.

While the industry claims their products are safe and that they follow all existing regulations, this is simply not true. They do not know if their products are safe and they ignore the few regulations in place. For example, the law clearly states that if the safety of all ingredients and the final product has not been substantiated, a warning label is required.  Virtually no fragrance products carry a warning label.

The FDA declared in the mid-1970s that products should be safe for intended use and for any reasonably anticipated exposures from use. The purpose of fragrance is to impart an odor to a product or to cover up the odor of other materials in the product. Odor detection involves exposure via olfactory pathways to the brain. Fragrance materials must be airborne to be detected. This means airways and lungs are also exposed. Yet neither respiratory effects nor neurological effects are part of routine fragrance testing.

One of the most frequently cited triggers for asthma attacks are fragrances.  Asthma rates in children have gone up 40% in 10 years.  Asthma among adults has increased substantially.  Asthma can be life threatening and should be a serious health concern. This serious concern has yet to be addressed by this 'self-regulated' industry.

Fragranced Products Information Network, 12602 Reed Rock Road, Amelia, VA, 23002 More info? www.fpinva.org

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