Toxic Perfume Chemicals Linked to Cancer, Sperm Damage

Companies are pouring potentially hazardous chemicals into many scented products, including popular perfumes.

By Leah Zerbe


perfume toxinsPerfume ingredients may smell good to some people (while giving headaches to anyone sensitive to the fumes), but a 2010 study suggests popular brands reek of long-term health problems for all of us. The research detected that the labels of popular perfumes don't list harmful fragrance chemicals linked to sperm damage, hormone disruption (which is linked to some cancers, thyroid disease, obesity, diabetes, and other serious health problems), reproductive toxicity, and allergy problems. Researchers released this particular fragrance study on the heels of the President's Cancer Panel report, which suggests environmental factors like hormone-disrupting chemicals in consumer products, plastics, and pesticides used on our food could be causing many more cases of cancer than initially believed. The Cancer Panel report recommends that pregnant women and couples planning to become pregnant avoid exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals due to cancer concerns. These chemicals that may play a role in cancer were found in many of the fragrances analyzed for this study. "This monumental study reveals the hidden hazards of fragrances," says advisor Anne C. Steinemann, PhD, professor of civil and environmental engineering, professor of public affairs, University of Washington. And, as with smoking, it's not just the person using the product that's affected. "Secondhand scents are also a big concern. One person using a fragranced product can cause health problems for many others," she says.

THE DETAILS: The analysis, performed by the nonprofit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a group with coalition members from the Breast Cancer Fund, Environmental Working Group, Clean Water Action, and other public and environmental health organizations, found that many top-selling fragrance products contain a dozen or more secret chemicals not listed on the labels, and multiple chemicals that can set off allergic reactions or disrupt hormones. Many have never been tested for safety on humans.

All 17 of the popular fragrances tested contained chemicals not disclosed on the labels. Brands tested include: American Eagle Seventy Seven, Chanel Coco, Britney Spears Curious, Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio (for men), Old Spice After Hours Body Spray (for men), Quicksilver (for men), Calvin Klein Eternity for Men, Bath & Body Works Japanese Cherry Blossom, Calvin Klein Eternity for Women, Halle by Halle Berry, Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity, Victoria's Secret Dream Angels Wish, Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow, AXE Body Spray for Men, Clinique Happy Perfume Spray, and Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue.

Here's what the researchers found, on average:

•  Ten sensitizing chemicals associated with allergic reactions like asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis. Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio contained 19 different sensitizing chemicals, more than any other product in the study.

•  Four hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to a range of health effects including sperm damage, thyroid disruption, and cancer. Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver, and Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow each contained seven different chemicals with the potential to disrupt the hormone system.

•  American Eagle Seventy Seven contained 24 hidden chemicals, the highest number of any product in the study.

Medical and public health experts from Harvard and the University of Washington peer-reviewed the study.