Heavily scented cosmetics and body care products dominated the scene in the eighties, nineties and at least the early 2000’s. We seem to have had somewhat of an awakening in the past several years though.
Increasing attention has been given to the safety and long term implications of using beauty, body and hair care products that are heavily scented (artificially). The chemicals that are often used to formulate these scents are toxic to the human body over time.
There are plenty of people now who are scent-sensitive. But why is that? And why are more people reporting that these heavily scented products are inducing headaches and other unpleasant side effects?
Most of the artificial scents on the market today contain chemicals that are known to cause irritation of the nose, eyes and throat. These chemicals are found in artificially scented air fresheners, soaps, detergents and cleaners, deodorants, lotions and perfumes.
The Petroleum Connection
The majority of the chemicals used to formulate certain aromas are actually petrochemicals. Petrochemicals are derived from natural gas and petroleum. Benzene, toluene, xylenes, and methanol are just some of the common petrochemicals used in these aromatic concoctions.
So, how pervasive are petrochemicals in artificial scents? It has been estimated that 95% of the synthetic fragrances on the market today are derived from petroleum by-products. Trademarked scents like name brand perfumes are protected by the law as a “trade secret”.
These protected fragrances are not required to list the concoction of chemicals on the product label. They are only required to list the term “fragrance”, and so are so many of the other offshoots of perfumed products like lotions, creams, hair care products and other beauty and personal care products that use artificial scents.
Petrochemicals, like so many other chemicals applied to the skin, build in the body over time. Petroleum by-products are used in pesticides, plastics, detergents, soaps, and much more. Repeated exposure has been linked to endocrine disruption and several types of cancer.
Chemicals from the phthalate family are also commonly found in synthetic fragrances. You can find these in labels under the names Di-ethyl phthalate (DEP), Di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) and Benzyl butyl phthalate.
Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors and are listed as a suspected carcinogen. They often accompany artificial scents in perfumes and body care products such as scented lotions. They are unfortunately often inhaled as well as absorbed through the skin. The chemicals enter the blood stream or are absorbed into the body via the lungs.
One study linked Di-ethyl phthalate to developmental abnormalities in the fetuses of exposed mothers. It has also been linked to later learning disabilities in children of exposed mothers.
Other Interactions of Concern
Other studies have shown that repeated use of synthetically fragranced air fresheners, cleaners and detergents produce toxic chemical interactions. The air can be contaminated by the interactions of these types of products.
The other lesser known issue is that the process by which some of the synthetic fragrances on the market are made can produce unintended toxic chemical offspring. Often times toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, dioxin and other volatile chemicals are produced from their interaction.
The human sense of smell is powerful and evocative, so it is no wonder people tend to love their favorite perfumes and other scented products like air fresheners and candles. These scented products capitalize on the emotions that go with smell. The production of artificially scented products has increased substantially just over the past few decades as scented products have become a staple in most American households.
With this increase we’ve also seen a leap in allergies. This is not surprising considering thousands of chemicals are used to make these synthetic scents. Common symptoms of exposure include ear nose and throat irritation, nausea and headaches.
But there are better, more natural ways to scent your home and your body. There are plenty of healthfully responsible companies making more natural, nontoxic alternatives for just about every scented product niche you can think of. You may pay a little more for these products since they use real essential oils and other natural scent derivatives. However, your lungs will definitely thank you!
If you see any of the mentioned chemicals in the ingredients list, then try going for a more natural alternative. If something is heavily scented it is wise to avoid it. Also, use the best common sense advice every given - avoid products where the list of ingredients is a mile long and contains multiple unrecognizable chemical names.