by Lynn Tondat Ruggeri, Ph.D.

·    Up to 95% of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum and coal tar.  These include VOCs (volatile organic compounds) such as benzene derivatives, aldehydes,  ketones, alcohol denaturants and other known toxics & sensitizers - capable or suspected of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders & allergic reactions. 1-7

·    Research now shows that chemicals including VOCs have direct, quick access to the brain through the nasal passages.8,9 Drug companies developing intranasal drugs are required to use strict FDA guidelines to prove safety with full ingredient disclosure10, while industries that make fragrances (with a 75-95% VOC content) are self-regulated,  not required to do any safety testing or to reveal any ingredients .5-7

·    A fragrance is typically comprised of 30-500 of the 3,000-5,000 fragrance chemicals in use. 5-7  A non-profit group called Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) 11 which the International Fragrance Association (IFRA)12 and FDA defer to for voluntary safety testing has tested 1,300 single ingredients but only for safety on skin.5-7 Thus, virtually none of these single or combined ingredients are tested for central nervous system safety despite the fact that many of the individual chemicals in fragrances are known to be neurotoxic and/or carcinogenic. 2,5-7

·    Labels such as “unscented,” “fragrance-free,” or “hypo-allergenic” have no legal, safety or regulatory meaning. In fact such products often contain “masking–fragrances” that may not be listed or labeled as a fragrance (which is required by FDA). Furthermore these masking-fragrances have been reported to cause sensitivity reactions in consumers who thought they were buying and using products free of fragrances.5,13-15

·    Examples of the lack of safety, self-regulation and enforcement in the fragrance industry: Two ingredients (AETT and musk ambrette) were found to be neurotoxic by independent researchers. However, AETT had been a “safety tested” ingredient according to RIFM and had already been in use in fragrances for over twenty years.  Musk ambrette which was supposedly voluntarily withdrawn by the industry (and on the “prohibited” list by IFRA) was discovered in fragranced products still being produced and sold 6 to 7 years later. 5-7, 13   

·    There is no “right to know” for fragranced products:  Ingredients in fragrances are considered to be “confidential business information” and  “trade secrets” and do not have to be revealed to the consumer even when the product has been reported to cause human health problems. 3,5-7, 14

·    Fragrance is now recognized as a common trigger of asthmatic attacks, migraine headaches, allergy reactions and sinus problems. 5-7, 13,16-18  Fragrances are now more common than ever in household & personal care products. Recent health reports indicate that asthma, migraine headaches, allergy  and  sinus problems have all increased dramatically in the past 10 years and many organizations speculate that there is likely a causal link between these increases and the increased use of fragranced products.6,13,16-18 Further, fragranced products are now listed as a common source of indoor air and environmental pollution.6,13,19 Even the EPA states that the use of fragrances should be minimized, yet the fragrance industry remains self-regulated and with voluntary standards. 20, 6,7    

Clearly the self-regulatory process for fragranced products is seriously flawed.  At best it is inadequate and at worst dangerously misleading.  Fragrances are used daily in personal care, household and cleaning products by millions of men, women and children and while most may believe they are using safe products the truth is that the actual safety of  fragranced products remains uncertain and largely untested.

1   Neurotoxins: At home & the workplace (1986) Report by Committee on Science & Technology,
     U.S. House of Reps Report 99-827.
2    Environmental Defense
    3      Kosta, L.A. (1998)  Fragrance and Health. Published by Human Ecology Action League (HEAL).
    4    Anderson RC et al (l998) Acute toxic effects of fragrance products. Arch Environ Health 53 (2):138-46.                                                                                                                                
5    Fisher, BE  (1998) Scents & sensitivity  Environ Health Perspect  (106)12.
6    Bridges, B (2002) Fragrance: Emerging health & environmental concerns. Flavour &   
     Fragrance Journal 17 (5): 361-371.
7    Bridges, B (1999) Fragrances and health. Environ Health Perspect 107 (7).
8    Thorne,RG, et al. (1995) Quantitative analysis of the olfactory pathway for drug delivery to  the  brain.
     Brain Res  692 (1-2): 278-282;
9    Inhalant Abuse (2002) NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
   10     Medicines are the only chemicals that have to be proven safe. Why? (2002) CCHE
  11    RIFM- Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (see
  12    IFRA International Fragrance Association www.ifraorg,org
   13    Perfume Hazards Safety & Testing, Health Concerns
   14    Lundquist, P. (2002)  Fragrances: What your nose needs to know. Children’s Health Environment
   15    Scheinman, PL (1997) Is it really fragrance-free? Am J Contact Dermat 8(4): 239-242.
16    AAAAI American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology
  17    American Lung Association (ALA) offers indoor air tips for people with allergies and asthma
   18    Shim, C & Williams, M H (1986) Effects of odors in asthma Am J Med , 80 (1): 18-22.
 19    Common indoor air pollutants (2002) National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,  
 20    EPA , Environmental Protection Agency

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