J u n e  R u s s e l l ' s   H e a l t h  F a c t s

This is an article by June Russell, a retired health educator, writer and researcher.  She has a most informative site that we highly admire.  June has graciously allowed us to present this article to our visitors.  Please make sure to visit June's web site at: http://www.jrussellshealth.org/

 Chemical Sensitivities and Perfume

Fragrances are now used in almost every cleaning, laundry, and personal-care product on the market. Since people have been using perfumes for hundreds of years. It’s reasonable to wonder why the problem of using scents has surfaced only recently. Until the 20th century, perfumes were made from natural ingredients derived directly from plants and animals, and as fragrances became cheaper and more widespread, they also became more synthetic. The National Academy of Sciences reports that 95% of the chemicals used in fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including known toxins capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions. We have been brainwashed by the industry to feel we must cover up our natural scents with toxic chemicals. Many of the same chemicals in perfumes are the same chemicals that are in cigarette smoke.


You would think the government would protect people by attempting to regulate the industries that are causing harm; however, the cosmetic industry is self regulated and isn’t required to give formulations, test results, safety data or consumer complaints to the FDA. When you use perfume or cologne, remember you are using powerful chemicals regulated solely by the industry that sells them. Just because they don’t affect you now doesn’t mean they won’t affect someone in line next to you (giving them a migraine or sinus problems), or that you will always be immune to their effects. These chemicals go directly into the blood stream when applied to our skin, and are also absorbed into the skin from our clothing. We also inhale these chemical fumes that go straight to our brains where they can do major harm, and many of these chemical fumes have a “narcotic” effect.
(“Smelling Good But Feeling Bad, Synthetic Perfumes, Colognes and Scents Are Turning Up Noses,” Green Living Your Health, and “The Health Risks of Perfume and Other Scented Products,” emagazine.com - March 2002}  Author's comment: These effects from scents can surface days after the exposure, and many people do not connect the strong perfume/cologne smell on the lady or gentleman next to them at the opera to their headache or upset stomach days later.



One of the big toxic offenders is perfume and other scented products. Did you know that many of the ingredients in your perfume are the exact same ingredients found in gasoline???!! The scary thing is that the perfume industry is not regulated at all, and they can put any number of chemicals in fragrance without revealing what those chemicals are, and how they affect humans. We humans are all participating in a giant “lab” experiment against our knowledge and against our will, and it is making some of us very sick.
{“Multiple Chemical Sensitivity - Environmental Illness,” www.ourlittleplace.com place.com - April 2002}


Fragrance-free policies are beginning to take hold in work places across the United States and Canada. Here are just a few examples:

  • Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, asked its employees and students to refrain voluntarily from wearing scented products.

  • The entire Halifax Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia has a “scent-awareness” program that urges the use of unscented products only.

  • Alacrity Ventures, a Berkeley, California-based venture-capital firm, not only encourages its employees to go fragrance-free but also uses only unscented janitorial products.

Many businesses, at the request of their employees, are voluntarily creating fragrance-free policies, says Tracie Saab, a consultant with the “Job Accommodation Network,” a Morgantown, West Virginia group that educates disabled workers and their employers. These policies are applauded by people with asthma, allergies, and the controversial disorder called multiple chemical sensitivity, in which even low levels of exposure to chemicals (from pesticides to perfumes) can trigger headaches, fatigue and other symptoms. “It is easier for businesses to enact these policies than to risk legal action somewhere down the line,” says Saab.
{“Stink-Free Office Mates,” Natural Health, Nov./Dec. 2000}


Many migraineurs are so sensitive to fragrance that people wearing perfumes and colognes around them trigger an immediate and severe migraine attack. You can make your house a fragrance-free zone, and if you have a visitor who is either not aware of this or forgets, most of the fragrance can be removed with alcohol wipes if it has been put on the skin and not the clothing.
{“Fragrance Triggers,” Teri Roberts: Beating Headaches, on Headaches/Migraines on About.com - Dec. 2001}


Fragrance Sensitivity — A growing number of people are claiming that exposure to certain fragrances, including perfumes and scented products, adversely impacts their health. More than 5,000 different fragrances are in products that are used on a daily basis. These products include health and beauty aids, laundry aids, household cleaners, paper products, oils and solvents, drugs, paper products, plastics, industrial greases, and even foods. Since fragrance formulas are considered trade secrets, manufacturers only have to state fragrance on the label and do not need to identify the chemical makeup.

How fragrances can affect the body — Fragrances can enter the body through the nose by inhalation, the mouth by ingestion, or the skin by absorption. Fragrance chemicals can affect many parts of the skin. The lungs, the nose, the skin, the eyes, and the brain can all be affected. Studies have shown that shortness of breath or asthma-like symptoms have been caused by fragrances. Most of the fragrance chemicals consist of volatile organic compounds that are known to be respiratory irritants.

Being a chemical receptor, the nose can also be affected with sneezing and sinus problems. Studies have shown that inhaling fragrances can also cause circulatory changes and electrical activity in the brain. These changes can trigger migraine headaches, the ability to concentrate, dizziness, and fatigue. The number one cause of adverse skin reactions to cosmetics and laundry products is fragrance. The skin reactions to fragrance chemicals can produce rashes, hives, dermatitis, or eczema. Other symptoms can include watery eyes, nausea, sore throat, cough, and chest tightness. Some fragrance materials, studies have shown, are absorbed by the skin and then broken down into materials that are stronger sensitizers than the original chemicals.

Fragrance free or unscented does not guarantee they do not contain fragrance chemicals: they imply they have no perceptible odor. A product labeled “unscented” may contain a masking fragrance. If fragrance is added to a product to mask or cover up the odor of other ingredients, it is not required to be put on the label. A product must be marked “without perfume” to indicate that no fragrance has been added. Ninety-five percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are petroleum-based synthetic compounds. Here are some principal chemicals found in scented products and the health risks that can be involved:


  • Acetone — when inhaled, it can cause mild central nervous system disturbances such as dizziness, nausea, lack of coordination, slurred speech, and drowsiness. It can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.

  • Alpha-pinene — can be a moderate irritant to skin, eyes, and mucus membranes.

  • Alpha-terpineol — can cause excitement, loss of muscular coordination, hypothermia, central nervous system and respiratory depression, and headache.

  • Benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, benzaldehyde, camphor, ethanol, and others. Most fragrance chemicals are not tested for safety.

{“Fragrance Sensitivity,” allergies.about.com - Sep. 2001}


Six hundred or more chemical ingredients may be used in a single scent, and ninety-five percent of chemicals used in scents are derived from petroleum. Many chemicals used in scents (many designated as hazardous waste disposal chemicals) cause allergies and irritation, as well as cancer, nerve damage, and birth defects. Petroleum chemicals in perfumes are less expensive than the natural ingredients, so guess which one you get? Buy unscented or fragrance-free household products and cosmetics. Even pet products should be fragrance-free, such as kitty litter which may be perfumed.
{“I Smell a Rat,” in the book, “Living Healthy in a Toxic World,” David Steinman 1996}

Studies in California could not find an air filter able to remove perfume particles from the air and have been able to prove that everyone in the building was reacting in some manner to the elevated chemical levels. Studies such as this are revolutionizing people’s ideas about safety and personal hygiene. It is no longer what you choose to do or use, it is what other people are forcing on you through the environment.
{"Recognition of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity," MCS - Immune, 1996}

Even if you choose unscented products, they may still contain fragrances that could trigger a rash or allergic reaction. In a product is labeled “unscented” there may actually be “blocking” fragrances used in the manufacturing process to cover up unpleasant ingredient odors. “The product has no scent that you can smell, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t fragrances in it.” explains Amy Newburger, MD, Prevention’s dermatology advisor and Associate Professor of Clinical Dermatology at Columbia University in New York City.
{“When ‘Unscented’ Labels Are True,” Prevention magazine, Aug. 2001}


Although fragrant materials have been used for centuries, up until the 1800's the primary uses were medicinal, religious, and ceremonial but were mainly from plant and animal sources. Modern fragrances are primarily synthetic materials developed since World War II. Up until the 1800's fragrance was used to mask the stench of unwashed bodies during a period when bathing and personal hygiene were greatly lacking. However, in dermatology, fragrances rank as one of the most common allergens and the number of people with skin allergies to fragrance continues to rise. Fragrances are volatile compounds that add to indoor air pollution and there are growing numbers of people who feel that it is the user's place to refrain from using perfumes.

It causes no harm to refrain from using a scented product, but when it triggers illness in another person and prevents their access to health care, work, and essential services, then whose rights are being violated? By its own admission, the fragrance industry has tested less than half of the 3,000 raw materials it uses.
{the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Office of Cosmetics Fact Sheet, 1995}.
{“Industry Motivation: Personal Rights or Profits,” Our Toxic Times, July 2000}


A double-blind perfume challenge test has been shown that asthma-like symptoms similar to symptoms of MCS can be provoked even when the subject cannot smell the perfume.
{“New Research Finally Addressing MCS Data Gaps,” Our Toxic Times, August 1999}

Our culture encourages women to use many chemically-based cosmetics filled with hundreds of ingredients for which Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDA) say, “Do not inhale vapors,” or “Avoid contact with skin,” but women are then exposed to one another’s fragrances in small working spaces. Trying to avoid chemicals in the workplace can lead to increased stress in relationships with co-workers because they may not be as cooperative when asked to discontinue fragrances.
{“Multiple Chemical Sensitivity,” Pamela Reed Gibson, PhD, 2000.} Pamela Gibson is a Clinical Psychologist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at James Madison University, who suffers from MCS.

Many Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for common perfumes and cosmetic ingredients specifically warn: “irritant,” “do not inhale vapors,” and “avoid contact with skin.” These same ingredients are then mixed together and sold as creams, lotions, and perfumes. Even if you are reading labels carefully, it still may be impossible to determine all of the ingredients in a product because the vast majority of cosmetic and body care manufacturers do not prepare all the ingredients in their products themselves. For example, a company that uses vitamin A may be using BHT as a preservative, but if a body care item obtains this vitamin A to use in its product it is not required to include BHT in the ingredients. The preservative BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) can cause allergic reactions and toxicity, and may convert some ingested substances such as oral contraceptives, into toxic or cancer-causing chemicals.


Fragrance formulas are considered trade secrets, which means the companies do not have to tell anyone, including the FDA what is in those formulas. Only about 1,300 of the more than 5,000 materials for use in fragrances have been tested, and the testing did not include respiratory, neurological, or systemic effects. Are you getting the picture here? At last count in 1996, there were at least 40 million chemically injured people in the U.S. and medical records of a majority of those chemically injured were devoid of any respiratory problems or other health-related concerns. They had a steady work history and a solid psychological profile. These are people from all walks of life and who once had lucrative careers; Air Force pilots, teachers, professors, doctors, psychologists, nurses, chemists, government workers and legal secretaries, among others.

Perfume is composed of many of the same toxic chemicals found on the EPA’s and CERCLA’s hazardous waste lists, and one or all of which in combination with one another, cause when inhaled: “ventral nervous system disorders, dizziness, nausea, lack of coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, irritation to the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, lungs and GI tract, kidney damage, headache, respiratory failure, ataxia, and fatigue, among other symptoms and illnesses,” Material Safety Data Sheets on each chemical confirm these findings. Many of the chemicals in perfumes have been shown to cause serious health problems and death in animals.

In 1989, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recognized 884 poisonous substances (many synthetically derived from petrochemicals) from a list of 2,983 chemicals used in the fragrance industry capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, allergic respiratory reactions, skin and eye irritations. According to the National Institute of Health, in view of the escalating incidence of cancer, as well as a 58% increase in asthma over the past decade, this information is crucial.

Did you know that benzaldehyde, a chemical known to cause kidney damage in humans is used in fragrances, and that benzyl acetate used in fragrances is linked to a cause of pancreatic cancer? That ethyl acetate is on the EPA Hazardous Waste list known as a carcinogenic, causing kidney and liver failure and it is used in fragrances?
{“Food For Thought, Colognes - Perfumes - Pesticides, Are They Slowly Killing You?" by columnist David Lawrence Dewey, www.dldewey.com/columns/perfumef.htm - Oct. 1999}


Did you know that perfume is made of toxic materials that can injure your health? Many of the chemicals in perfume are the same chemicals in cigarette smoke, and yet there is no regulation of the fragrance industry. Many have gotten sick or have been disabled from wearing (or being exposed to) fragrances or using other scented products. Fragrances are now being used in almost every cleaning, laundry, and personal-care product on the market. We also inhale the chemical fumes which then go straight to our brains where they can do major harm.
{“Health Risks of Perfume,” www.ourlittleplace.com - April 2002}

Most of the fragrance chemicals consist of volatile organic compounds that are known to be respiratory irritants. Studies have shown that inhaling fragrances can also cause circulatory changes and electrical activity in the brain, triggering migraine headaches, the inability to concentrate, dizziness and fatigue. Products that are labeled fragrance free or unscented do not guarantee they do not contain fragrance chemicals, they imply that they have no perceptible odor. A product labeled “unscented” may contain a masking fragrance, and if the fragrance is added to a product to mask or cover up the odor of other ingredients, it is not required to be put on the label. Most fragrances have not been tested for safety.
{“Fragrance Sensitivity,” allergies.about.com - April 2002}


Through out history, humans have drawn fragrances from the natural environment for a variety of purposes, including use in religious and burial rituals, in aphrodisiacs, and to cover foul odors. In the late 1880's the first fragrance-containing synthesized ingredients were introduced. Since then, people have used chemicals extensively to mimic scents from nature. There are more than 1,000 body fragrances on the market today, according to The Fragrance Foundation, and scents are now added to many commercial products ranging from cleaning products to tissues, from candles to diapers.

While many people enjoy wearing perfumes and using scented products, there is a growing outcry from some people who claim that exposure to certain fragrances, including perfumes and scented products, adversely impacts their health. They report a host of symptoms. The chemicals in perfumes, colognes, and deodorants worn by employees add to the chemical mixture in indoor air, as do fragrances in cleaning products. Some buildings owner's pump certain fragrances through office ventilation systems.

Several studies indicate that 15-30% of the general population reports some sensitivity to chemicals, including fragrances, and 4-5% report that chemical intolerance has a major impact on their quality of life. Of these people, more than 80% report that exposure to fragrances is bothersome.

Synthetic ingredients are less expensive than natural ingredients, and can be created year-round, while the supply of natural ingredients depends on season and availability. It is estimated that there are more than 3,000 chemicals used in the manufacture of fragrances. Synthetic organic chemicals constitute more than 80-90% (by weight and value) of the raw materials used in flavor and fragrance formulations. A single fragrance may contain as few as ten chemicals, or as many as several hundred, and little is known about the impact these fragrances have on human health.

The FDA’s office of Cosmetics and Colors does not require an approval process or pre-market clearance for perfumes or cosmetics containing fragrance. The manufacturer is simply required to list the collective term “fragrance” in the ingredients, a term that usually means a complex mixture of chemicals.

A study, published in the March-April issue of Archives of Environmental Health showed that the emissions of the fragrances produced various combinations of sensory irritation, pulmonary irritation, decreases in expiratory airflow velocity, and alterations of the functional observational battery indicative of neurotoxicity. Neurotoxicity was more severe after mice were repeatedly exposed to the products.

Children may be more susceptible to the effects of fragrances because of their smaller size, their higher respiratory rate, and their thinner skin. Some patient groups claim that during the next decade, the issue of fragrance will be as controversial as today’s tobacco smoke issue. They say the debate over people’s right to smoke versus others’ right to breathe clean air could also be applied to fragrance.
Many organizations are taking the fragrance sensitivity issue seriously. At an American Chemical Society meeting held in August 1998 in Boston, Massachusetts, attendees were asked not to wear fragrances due to the number of chemically-sensitive people attending the meeting. Requests for people to refrain from wearing scented products are appearing with more frequency on social invitations, as well as public meeting notices. At the University of Minnesota School of Social Work in Minneapolis, signs are posted at entrances to the Department stating, “Some persons employed or studying in the School of Social Work report sensitivities to various chemical-based or scented products. We ask for everyone’s cooperation in our efforts to accommodate their health concerns.

Many manufacturers are now removing fragrance from products and touting “fragrance-free” and “unscented” versions of products such as laundry detergent and fabric softeners. However, even though a product is labeled unscented or fragrance-free, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it contains no fragrance chemicals, because as studies have documented, manufacturers will often add masking chemicals to cover the scent of other chemicals in the product, resulting in a product that does not produce a detectable scent. But manufacturers are supposed to list the term “fragrance” when any fragrance is used, even when it masks the ingredients. It is amazing how many fragrances can invade your home through the mailbox. If you are sensitive to fragrances, your mail may become contaminated from mail inserts, special mailers, and samples. The U.S. Postal Service passed a regulation in April 1990 stating that a fragrance-advertising sample must be sealed, wrapped, treated, so as not to expose anyone to the sample. There is a huge population who get sick from these products, and to help solve the problem, people should use less-toxic, unscented products.

{“Scents and Sensitivity,” Environmental Health Perspectives, the research journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, www.herc.org - Nov. 1998}
Source: United States 39 Code 3001g, Postal Bulletin - Bulletin no. 21969, pg. 26}


As a courtesy to the people around you, it is wise to carefully consider how your fragrance might impact others. Just because you can’t smell a fragrance doesn’t mean it can’t cause symptoms in others. If someone asks you to refrain from wearing fragrances around them, understand that medical evidence is on their side and respect their request.

There is absolutely no way to know what you are being exposed to in any given fragrance. Since there are 5,000 different chemicals used in making fragrances, any given fragrance may have as many as 600 different chemical ingredients, yet only a fraction of those chemicals have been tested for their health effects. Furthermore, there is ample evidence that fragrances are responsible for a variety of health effects, from allergic reactions to the triggering of asthma attacks and migraine headaches. Going fragrance free doesn’t mean you have to live a totally unscented life. A safe alternative is to use essential oils to scent your body and the products you use. For example, you can buy a fragrance-free laundry detergent and then add a few drops of an essential oil to the detergent when you do laundry. Essential oils are naturally derived from plant materials.

If you get a lot of resistance at work when you try to make your area fragrance free, try to respond with positive actions such as obtaining a letter from your doctor stating that you must avoid fragrances for reasons of health. If other methods fail, you can contact your state’s Office of Civil Rights. If you have fragrances, essential oils, that are not problematic for you, then maybe you could introduce others at work to them.
{“Make the Connection: Health and Environment,” Health and Environment Center, www.herc.org - 2001}


Americans are enamored with fragrances, whereas our European counterparts are not. Advertisers have linked fragrances with a desired quality such as "sexiness," "freshness," or "innocence." The result is that fragrance is considered a normal component of our lives. You can even choose a variety of scents for a certain product: "mountain fresh," "lemon scented," etc. However, the problem is that fragrance products are not necessarily harmless, and many can cause some very unpleasant effects.

Studies show that fragrance chemicals can cause health effects, primarily the skin, lungs, and brain. Some data suggests that as many as 75% of known asthmatics (approximately 9 million people in the U.S.) have asthma attacks that are triggered by perfumes. Fragrance chemicals have the potential to affect, and possibly damage, brain tissue. For example, linalool, the most abundant chemical in perfume and fragrance products is known to cause lethargy, depression, and life-threatening respiratory effects.

Children are even more susceptible than adults to the effects of fragrance chemicals, yet fragrances are added to nearly every baby product on the market. A parent who wears perfume or uses scented products may well be poisoning the air their children breathe. Exposure to fragrances may result in the child having difficulty concentrating, learning disabilities, hyperactive behavior, and even growth retardation and seizures in extreme cases. It is prudent to avoid fragranced products as much as possible until the time when they have all been tested and the harmful ones removed.
{“Sweet Poison: What Your Nose Can’t Tell You About The Dangers of Perfume,” by Andrea DesJardins, Health Environmental Resource Center, www.herc.org - 1997}


Fragrance is a common indoor air pollutant, and synthetic fragrance compounds accumulate in human tissue and are found in breast milk. The Institute of Medicine placed fragrance in the same category as secondhand smoke in triggering asthma in adults and school age children. According to the latest information from the National Institute of Health, 26.3 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with asthma.

An estimated 5.72 million people in the U.S. have a skin allergy to fragrance, and fragrance is the number one cause of allergies to cosmetics and laundry products. Sinus problems and migraine headaches may be negatively impacted by exposure to scented products. Though scented products directly impact the health of many, there is little public awareness of this impact. The ingredients in the fragrance portion of products do not have to be revealed. People generally perceive scented products as pleasant; a harmless means of self-expression and certainly not a significant health concern.
{Fragranced Products Information Network Web site, www.ameliaww.com/fpin/fpin.htm - provided by Betty Bridges, RN - 2002}

Chemicals in Cosmetics

Phthalates, which are chemical substances that are used to make plastic more flexible without reducing its strength, are also common ingredients in beauty products, nail polish, hair spray, etc.; however, there have been animal studies that linked these additives to birth defects, which include liver and kidney damage and malformation of the testes. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), who is funded by the “Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association,’ said there is no evidence to suggest that there are health risks to women and their offspring.
{The Consumer Product Safety Commission}



More info on Fragrance -

 Healthcare Without  Harm - "Fragrances"

"Fragrance: Emerging Health and Environmental Concerns"  by Betty Bridges

Fragranced Products Information Network - "Fragrances By Design"



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