Dangerous Scents: What Are Fragrances Doing to Your Body?

You may want to think twice before spritzing yourself with that body mist! As many as 95% of chemicals used in synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals (crude oil), including carcinogens, and other toxic chemicals. Some of these chemicals are even cited on the EPA’s hazardous waste list-yikes! 

Fragrances & Where They Are Hiding

The term “fragrance” can be used for any number of aromatic chemical concoctions. According to the Environmental Working Group, the average fragrant contains about 14 secret chemicals that aren’t listed on the label, with about 80% of these not being tested for human safety. Fragrance acts as somewhat of a “loophole” on the FDA’s regulation of personal care products. They’re considered a trade secret under the under the Fair Package and Labeling Act of 1966, allowing companies to not list ingredients so their formula cannot be replicated. This gives brands the freedom to add toxic, “cost-effective” chemicals to make their products smell better at the expense of health.

Why to Avoid it

Environmental Working Group researchers found more than 75% of products that list the ingredient “fragrance” contain chemicals that have some scary side effects. These include ones that disrupt hormone activity, reduce sperm count, and cause reproductive malformation. Some have even been linked to liver cancer, breast cancer, diabetes and obesity. Additional studies done by the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center linked fetal exposure to autism, ADHD and neurological disorders. Phtalates have already been banned in the EU, Japan, South Korea, Canada and China. While US companies voluntarily comply with safety standards, the law does not require that cosmetic ingredients be free of certain harmful chemicals.

Protect Yourself

The easiest way to avoid fragrance is to check labels before purchasing. Avoid anything that labels “fragrance” without explanation. If certain brands list the specific chemicals, you can enter them in the EWG’s Skin Deep database to check the hazard level. Your best bet is to choose products that contain essential oils, herbs and natural fragrances. You can also browse the Internet for DIY products and scents that can be cheaply made at home.

Written by GUADS intern Lindsey with contributions from

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