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 toxinsWHAT IT MEANS: Just because your favorite fragrance wasn't on the list doesn't mean it's safe. In fact, harmful fragrance chemicals are used in thousands of products and are not listed on the label. It seems like you should have the right to know how these seemingly innocent perfumes and colognes are affecting your health. But unfortunately, manufacturers don't have to list warnings or even the actual ingredients used in fragrance blends, on the label. And the problem isn't limited to perfumes and body sprays. We are blasted with harmful synthetic fragrances everyday in the form of scented cleaners, hair spray and dyes, air fresheners, candles, shampoos, soaps, perfumes, and body sprays. Research is finding that many of these scented products interfere with our hormones, which regulate how our bodily systems function. Mess with that, and the risk of diabetes, some cancers, obesity, thyroid disease, and all sorts of ailments seems to increase. You may not think that all these fragranced consumer products bother you, but try giving them up for a few months—after that, you may find that being exposed to them really makes you feel lousy.

Here's how to give harmful perfume ingredients and other household fragrances the cold shoulder.

• Smell good without a toxic cloud. If you want a scented product, make sure it is scented with pure essential oils that were extracted through a cold-press process, not by using solvents. You can also visit Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database to find safer fragrances and other personal-care products.

• Look at the labels. Personal-care products must list ingredients on the label, although there is a trade secrets loophole for fragrance blends. Manufacturers can use the blanket term of "fragrance" or "parfum" on the label, but thousands of different chemicals—many petrochemical and volatile organic compounds—can hide under that description. Your best bet is to avoid any personal-care product listing these ingredients: fragrance, perfume, parfum, linalool, and limonene.

• Clean green (and save money). Isn't it ironic that we're actually polluting our homes with "cleaning" chemicals? Unlike personal-care products, cleaners and air fresheners don't have to disclose inactive ingredients, which can contain chemicals that are hazardous to our health. Stock up on tried-and-true green cleaning recipes. These homemade cleaners effectively kill germs, often using the power of white vinegar, and can save you lots of money annually.

• Light one for the bees. Put the lights out on burning fragranced candles, which are packed with hormone-disrupting chemicals and air contaminants found in car exhaust, and choose beeswax candles instead, which don't pollute, and actually improve indoor air quality by boosting negative ion levels in your home.