Perfumes and fragances

Fragrances and perfumes are used excessively to add scents to many different products (creams, shampoos, gels etc.) using perfumes or eaux de Cologne, meaning we are also exposed to them.

Commercial laws make it very difficult to know the exact make-up of this chemical mixtures in order to ascertain the presence of harmful substances, and this is one of the issues that researchers are worried about.

Research carried out by Greenpeace several years ago showed some famous perfumes (Chanel No.5, Eternity Eau de Toilette by Calvin Klein and Poison Eau de Toilette by Christian Dior) to contain chemicals such as phthalates or artificial musks.

Very recently, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) published a list of all the chemicals they use, after many years of pressure to do so.

Evidently, they did not want to say what exactly in the product labels contained so many substances, which is an obvious violation of the consumers’ rights to be fully informed.

However, the list did show that the vague description of “fragrance” that featured on many labels included no less than 3163 different chemical products. The US Environmental Working Group established that one in every 20 substances (about 160) was considered to be a big risk and one in 6 (about 530) was considered as a fairly moderate risk (meaning at least 700 entailed some known risk). Regarding the risks found by studies of isolated chemicals, the risks in some cases were higher because of the mysterious mixtures perfume companies may use in each of their products.

Amongst the listed chemicals, there are 25 very important ones, some of which have been linked to cancer: aniline, BHA (hydroxibutylanysol) , cyclohexanone, dibutyl phthalate, dietylhexyl phthalate hydroquinone, MIBK (methyl isobutyl ketone), titanium dioxide, zinc nano-oxide (20-60nm), octoxynol-6 (and other octoxynols: 7, 11, 12, 13, 16, 20 , 25, 30, 33, 40, 70) , PEG-3 sorbitan oleate, PEG-6 sorbitan oleate, resorcinol.

Fragrances are a huge source of worry for many scientists, firstly due to the large number of products in which they are found (laundry detergents, cleaning products, air fresheners, pesticides, soaps, creams etc.) but also because the labels do not state exactly which chemicals are used (as the law does not obligate them to do so). Another reason is that many of the chemicals used can be dangerous.

A study carried out in the United States analysed 25 products that contain fragrances. The products belonged to different categories (air fresheners, laundry products, cleaning products and personal hygiene products) and had all been biggest sellers and, in many cases, had claimed to be “natural”. 133 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were found with an average of 17 VOCs per product. 24 of the VOCs found were classified as toxic or dangerous by US federal law. Almost half of the products emitted one or more dangerous, carcinogenic air pollutants (e.g. 1.4-dioxane, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde or methylene chloride) which had no established ‘safe’ levels of exposure, according to the regulations of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Ultimately, without being warned about them and their risks, consumers are exposed to harmful chemicals on a daily basis. Only one of these substances appeared on the product labels, and only two of them appeared on the chemical safety factsheets.

Results of this calibre show that we should be extremely vigilant regarding the chemical contents of the fragrances and fragrance products we use at home.

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