Smell pollution by Narelle Chenery
Even though they can smell alluring and divine, the synthetic fragrances found in perfumes and personal care products are a growing concern amongst scientists and consumer groups.
Most adverse reactions to cosmetics and toiletries are caused by fragrance chemicals, which are known irritants and allergens. Many of us have encountered synthetic fragrances that cause us to sneeze or give us headaches, dizziness, violent coughing or even rashes and other skin irritations. But it’s not just the acute reactions that we should be concerned about.
Thousands of tons of synthetic fragrance are produced each year but with very few legislative restrictions imposed. One study by the National Academy of Sciences determined that up to 95% of chemicals used to obtain synthetic fragrances were derived from petroleum.
Some chemists suggest that synthetic fragrances have more in common with diesel fumes than natural scents because they are showing all the tell-tale signs of persistent organic pollutants (POPs); they are volatile compounds, produced in enormous numbers, which bio-accumulate, do not readily break down in the environment, and are being found stored in the fat of animals – including that of humans. Studies have shown that the synthetic fragrance chemicals are being found increasingly in breast milk, with one comparison study measuring levels as having increased fivefold in the last ten years alone.
Many fragrance chemicals have been shown to be capable of causing cancer, birth defects, infertility, and hormone disruption. Two common toxins found in synthetic fragrances are phthalates, which has been linked to birth defects and male infertility, and musk, which has been know to cause cancer in animals.
The synthetic fragrances commonly used in personal care products are complex formulations containing as many as 200 ingredients, under the term “parfum”, preventing the consumer from identifying the chemical makeup and determining whether these chemicals may be dangerous to our long-term health.
Synthetic fragrances are used because they are much cheaper than pure essential oils. Natural fragrances are very time consuming and labour intensive to produce and require large quantities of plants to obtain the oils. For example, it takes around 5000 kilograms of rose petals to produce just one kilogram of rose essential oil, which costs more than $30,000! Whereas the rose-like, floral smelling, yet synthetic, phenyl ethyl alcohol acetate costs just $5 per kilo! It’s not surprising that perfume and personal care manufacturers might choose the cheaper option.
To protect yourself from hidden toxins disguised as “fragrance” or “parfum”, always ask for full disclosure from your source for cosmetics and personal care products. Stay tuned for my next article, which will discuss ways to avoid synthetic fragrances around the home.