Fragrances are found in practically everything. The FDA requires that ingredients are listed on their products, however 'fragrance' is a general clumping of any one of 4,000 chemicals (mostly synthetic) used to scent products. This unknown fragrance mixture can contain potentially hundreds of toxic volatile organic compounds, some of which have been shown to cause cancer.
The Problem With Fragrance
The US Environmental Protection Agency found that 100% of perfumes contain toluene, which can cause liver, kidney and brain damage as well as damage to a developing fetus. Other symptoms when exposed to fragrances include: headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, coughing, vomiting and allergic skin reactions. Fragrances also can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, irritability and other behavioral changes.
"We're exposed to these chemicals continuously, but people may not realise they're being harmed until it's too late, and then they have chemical sensitivity," says Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, who conducted the survey.
Fragrance has become one of many causes of environmentally related pseudo-illnesses that include multiple chemical sensitivity, also known as idiopathic environmental intolerance, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
A healthy person's body responds much differently to environmental toxins than that of someone with Chemical Sensitivities. Many healthy people can be around dangerous chemicals with mild symptoms or none at all because their bodies are able to effectively detoxify during and after the exposure. But a person with CS does not have that ability, or if they do, the detoxification process is dramatically slower for them. Their symptoms will be much more severe and will take a lot longer to go away. They will react very strongly to even very minute amounts of fragrances and chemicals in the environment. Many become severely debilitated or even permanently disabled by this illness.
One study in the U.K. of 14,000 pregnant women showed a link between the use of air fresheners and aerosol sprays and an increase in headaches and depression in the mothers, as well as ear infections and diarrhea in their babies. In homes where air fresheners and aerosol sprays were used on most days, women experienced 25% more headaches and 19% more post-natal depression than women in homes where such products were used less than once a week. Babies under six months old who were exposed to air fresheners on most days had 30% more ear infections and a 22% greater chance of diarrhea than babies exposed less than once a week.
Back in 2002, less than 3 percent of respondents to a similar survey said they had been medically diagnosed with sensitivity to such chemicals. But in the latest survey, this has risen to 13 percent, with 26 percent diagnosing themselves as experiencing physical reactions to chemicals.
Asthmatic problems were most prominent, reported by 71 percent of those with medically diagnosed sensitivity and 59 percent of the self-reporters. Migraines, skin problems and shortness of breath were also commonly reported symptoms.
A report that was released in September of 2007 by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that 12 of 14 brands of common household air fresheners contained phthalates
. Phthalates are chemicals that are used to prolong the length of time that scented products maintain their fragrance. Regular exposure to phthalates can increase your risk of experiencing endocrine, reproductive, and developmental problems. Amazingly, some of the brands that tested positive for phthalates did not include phthalates on their lists of ingredients; some of these brands were even labeled as being "all-natural" and "unscented."
Smelly Bathrooms and Offices
Of the 145 respondents with medically-diagnosed sensitivity, almost 60 percent said they could no longer bear to visit public restrooms that use air fresheners, deodorisers or scented products. More than half--55 percent--couldn't wash their hands if soaps contained fragrances.
Of those who had been medically diagnosed, 58 percent were men, and 42 percent were women. The most sensitive age group in men was ages 25 to 34.
The survey found that 71 percent of those with medically-diagnosed sensitivity support fragrance-free policies in workplaces, with 82 percent supporting a ban in healthcare facilities. "My studies have found that many more people prefer hotels, airplanes, workplaces, healthcare facilities and business premises that are fragrance-free," says Steinemann.