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Is it perfume or poison?





Copyright © 2007 Ainsley Laing


Here's the scenario: you are on an elevator. The elevator stops and in walks someone with WAY too much cologne on and the smell overpowers you. Your sinuses start to hurt and you get a bit sick to your stomach. The smell of the cologne stays with you, in your hair, clothes and nose for quite a while after – hence the sick feeling does too. Yuk. It's hard not to think how inconsiderate this person is.

It's not just the smell that is inconsiderate. Have you ever thought about the chemicals that are used in fragrances? Many of them are not good for you to breathe or to put on your body!

This week Time Magazine did an article on air fresheners and how many brands have been removed from the market due to high levels of phthalates. Phthalates are estrogenic in nature, which is believed to contribute to certain cancers. Phthalates are used to dissolve and carry fragrances and soften plastics, sealants and similar compounds. They are commonly found in cosmetics, paint, nail polish and plastics.

This peaked my interest on fragrances in general – so, as usual, I did some research. Although fragrances have been used for centuries, they were made from plant and animal sources. Modern fragrances are primarily synthetic materials developed since World War II.

Did you know that 600 or more chemicals may be used in a single fragrance, and 95% of chemicals used in them are derived from petroleum? Why? Petro-chemicals in perfumes are less expensive and more easily available than the natural ingredients.

Many chemicals used in fragrances are considered hazardous waste disposal chemicals! Synthetic fragrance compounds accumulate in human tissue and are found in breast milk.

An EPA study in 1991 listed the 20 most common chemicals used in "fragrance products" which are used not only in perfumes but to scent shampoos, soaps, deodorants, lotions, creams and other beauty products. Here's the list – it speaks volumes on its own:


There are relatively few studies available concerning the use and exposure to fragranced products. Testing by the cosmetics/fragrance industry focuses on skin effects without taking into account respiratory, neurological, or systemic effects. There is little regulation of fragrance by regulatory agencies. Not only is too much perfume often offensive to many, more and more people consider it to be an indoor air pollutant. Some are quite vocal about their opposition to the use of perfumes. For years, I thought I was the only one who got headaches from strong perfume!

There is a movement afoot to curtail the use of fragrances in the work place. Many businesses, at the request of their employees, are creating fragrance-free policies. Given that many people are highly affected by allergies, this makes sense (pun intended, get it? ... sense...scents...).

But seriously, given that we are bombarded by more and more hazardous chemicals and pollution, having less on our bodies, homes and in our workplaces must be better for ALL of us. Breathe deeply and live well!



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Sources: Neurotoxins: At Home and the Workplace, (Report by the Committee on Science & Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, Sept.16, 1986. (Report 99-827). "Living Healthy in a Toxic World," David Steinman 1996. "Stink-Free Office Mates," Natural Health Magazine, Nov./Dec. 2000. "How Fresh is the Air Freshener?",8599,1664954,00.html?cnn=yes

About the Author: Ainsley Laing, MSc. has been a Fitness Trainer for 25 years and writes exclusively Body for Mind eZine. She holds certifications in Group Exercise, Sports Nutrition and Personal Fitness Training. She is also a professional engineer and mom. To see more articles by Ainsley visit or the blog at


People in this conversation

  • United Kingdom

    Hi Maya. Many of these chemical / fragrances are naturally occurring e.g. limonene is found in citrus fruits and most of the others are found in essential oils. The important thing to understand is that whether synthetic or naturally occurring, any fragrances giving off VOCs will cause problems for those suffering from EI / MCS. It's often suggested essential oils are not a problem and are even often promoted as being beneficial but this is simply not the case for those with chemical sensitivities. It is best to avoid anything at all that contain fragrance in order for sensitivity to reduce and recovery to become possible. I hope this clears a few things up and helps you.

  • Guest - Maya

    Those fragrances camphor, ethanol, ethyl acetate, limonene, linalool, a-pinene, g-terpinene and a-terpineol etc... are these syntheticaly produced or are they actually natural essential oils?

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