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Fragrance: A Growing Health and Environmental Hazard

by Klaus Ferlow(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 147 - May 2008

Words of Wisdom
Herbs and plants are medical jewels gracing the woods, fields and lanes,
which few eyes see and few minds understand.
Carolus Linnaeus, (Naturalist 1707-1778)

Fragrance can be defined as materials to impact an odor to a product or mask the odor of other ingredients in the product. Fragrance material may be natural (mostly it is not!), synthetic, or combinations of both. Scented products are those that contain fragrance

Fragrance Chemical Exposure is Hazardous to Everyone

Especially vulnerable are foetuses, children, reproductive age people, asthmatic, allergic and chemically injured people (MMSC = Multiple Chemical Sensitivity).

Your skin, your body’s largest organ, absorbs fragrance chemicals by direct application, by contact with fragranced items, and by exposure to air containing fragrances. Today’s fragrances make you think they are made from flowers and fragranced products, provide constant source of fragrance chemicals that are absorbed by your skin and as vapours. Did you know that 95% of the chemicals in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum? Many of the chemicals in perfumes are the same chemicals in cigarette smoke, and yet there are no regulations for the fragrance industry. A study by Greenpeace in 2005 discovered that at least 36 well-known perfume brands contained two toxic, man-made chemicals ‘phthalate esters and synthetic musk’.

It is not acute poisoning, but it is chronic; it stays in the system and accumulates in the fatty tissues of living organisms. Phthalates have a deleterious effect on the DNA, male sperm and restricts lung function in men. Synthetic musk can attack living tissues. More information can be obtained from

Some fragrance chemicals can alter the skin’s surface tension, which greatly facilitates the absorption of other chemicals into the skin.
•    Fragrances can be skin allergens, irritants and photo sensitizers;
•    One to two percent of the population may have a skin allergy to fragrances; There is a direct correlation between use of scented products and development of skin allergy to fragrance.
•    Contact dermatitis can be caused by contact with fragrance materials in the air or on surfaces. Fragrances easily volatilize and linger a long time in the air. They settle and stick to the skin, hair, clothes, furnishings, furniture, food… everything;
•    Everyone, especially those with eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions, should avoid exposure to fragranced products.

Clothing and bedding washed and dried with fragranced products provide a constant exposure to fragrance chemicals that are absorbed and inhaled. An infant’s skin is especially susceptible to absorbing fragrance chemicals directly from clothing, diapers and bedding, and indirectly from the air. Manufacturers specifically make fragrances to last long. They do not break down easily, and their breakdown products can be more toxic than the original substances. Laundry product fragrances accumulate in fabrics and are very difficult to remove. If you use laundry facilities where other people use fragranced products, your laundry will absorb their fragrances.


Estimated annual sale of common scented products annual sales
Type of scented products
Cosmetics & toiletries $29.8  billon
perfumes, colognes, similar products $6.65  billon
laundry detergents, fabric softeners $6.00  billon
Environmental fragrance, fragrance emitting devices, scented candles,
incense, oils, diffusers, plug-ins etc.
$3.00  billon
Household cleaners $1.70  billon
Total $47.15 billion


Health conditions that may be negatively impacted by inhaling pollutants inclusive fragrances
Disease or condition Estimates of those affected
Allergies & related conditions 40 - 50 million
Skin allergies to fragrance 1.7 - 4.1%
Rhinitis (running nose) 40 million
Chronic sinus interference 35 million
over 20.3 million
Chemical sensitivities 6 - 16%
Chronic obstructive lung disease
15 million
28 million

Neurological Effects

Fragrance chemicals affect the brain and nervous system, with some effects being immediate and transitory, and other effects being chronic and long lasting. Effects on the nervous system can occur from chemicals absorbed, inhaled, or ingested.
•    Fragrances can modify brain blood flow, alter blood pressure, pulse, and mood and trigger migraine headaches;
•    AETT and musk ambrette, fragrance chemicals used for decades, were found to be neurotoxic;
•    Several common fragrances, when inhaled, have potent sedative effects;
•    Fragrances are specially formulated and used for public behaviour control.

Respiratory Effects

Fragrances can induce or worsen respiratory problems. A majority of known fragrance chemicals are respiratory irritants and some are respiratory sensitizers. Respiratory irritants, which cause inflammation and increase of mucus production, make the airways more susceptible to injury and allergens, as well as trigger and exacerbate such conditions as asthma, allergies, sinus problems, and other respiratory disorders.
•    Fragrances can trigger asthma in school age children, and asthma is now the leading serious chronic illness among youth, afflicting nine million American children;
•    Fifteen percent of people experience lower airway irritation from fragrance exposure;
•    Seventy-two percent of asthmatics cite fragrance as a trigger, and one in 14 adults suffers from asthma. Asthma rates have doubled since 1980;
•    A severe asthmatic reaction from acute fragrances exposure may even cause death.

Hormone Disrupting Effects

Every year more and more commonly used chemicals are found to be hormone disrupters, and it is presently unknown what percentage of the hundreds of fragrance chemicals has these properties. Fragrances often contain large amounts of phthalates, a group of toxic chemicals that are known oestrogen and testosterone hormone disrupters. Phthalates are used to impart an oily moisturizing film to help dissolve and fix other ingredients in fragrances.
•    Health Care Without Harm, a research and action group, found phthalates in most of the popular beauty products tested. Reproductive age women buy more cosmetics and personal care products than other Americans and have a greater exposure to phthalates;
•    A recent study suggests that diethyl phthalate, commonly used in fragrances and other personal care products, damages DNA of sperm in adult men, which can lead to infertility, may be linked to miscarriages and birth defects, and may lead to cancer and infertility in their offspring;
•    Phthalates have been associated with thyroid disorders, premature breast developments in baby girls and abnormal sexual development in male foetus and infants (hypospadias and undescended testicles);
•    Phthalates, at levels of concern, are found in the blood of pregnant women. They can cross the placenta and are found in breast milk. Women are exposed to phthalates at home, work, everywhere;
•    One hundred percent of people tested have phthalates in their urine;

Advertising creates the illusion that fragranced products will make consumers happy, sexually attractive, popular, fashionable, clean fresh smelling, good moms and dads, and great housekeepers. To deliberately expose the public to fragrance chemicals, with the intent to alter their mood and manipulate their behaviour, without their informed consent, is unethical!

Fragrance Chemicals: Potential Involvement in Illness

Consider how much they can contribute to the following grim statistic:
•    Ninety-five percent of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum. They include benzene derivatives, aldehydes and many other known toxics and sensitizers – capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions. Neurotoxins: At Home and the Workplace, Report by the Committee on Science & Technology, US House of Representatives, 16 Sept 1986 (Report 99-827);
•    Central nervous system disorders (brain and spine) include Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome;
•    Chloroform was found in test of fabric softeners: EPA’s 1991 study;
•    A room containing an air freshener had high levels of p-dichlorobenzene (a carcinogen) and ethanol: EPA’s 1991 study;
•    An FDA analysis (1968-1972) of 138 compounds used in cosmetics that most frequently involved adverse reactions, identified five chemicals (alph-terpineol, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, limonene and linalool) that are among the 20 most commonly used in the 31 fragrance products tested by the EPA in 1991;
•    Thirty-five million Americans suffer from sinusitis (inflammation or infection of the sinus passages), nine million have rhinitis;
•    Around 17.3 million Americans have asthma, and asthma deaths have increased 75% since 1980;
•    Headaches cost $50 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses and 157 millions lost work days in 1991, 45 million Americans have chronic, severe headaches, 25 million have migraines;
•    Twenty percent of all Americans have allergies;
•    Twenty-five million have chronic liver disease, eight to nine million have end stage liver disease due to junk food, pop drinks, etc., and four to five million have liver failure;
•    Sixteen million have diabetes, and there is an epidemic of type 2 diabetes in youth in particular;
•    Twenty million have chronic kidney disease;
•    One is six children suffer from neurological problems such as autism, aggression, dyslexia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
•    Forty-nine percent of Americans have insomnia problems;
•    Forty percent of adults suffer from hypothyroidism, thyroid problems;
•    Twenty-one million have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Looking at the typical North American diet: hamburger, hot dogs, French fries, pop drinks, donates, sweets and the combination of hazardous, dangerous chemical fragrances, is there any wonder where these statistics are coming from? Read the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

Your Daily Exposure to Chemicals is Extensive… and Growing

•    Thirty percent of the US population reacts to one or more synthetic substances;
•    Between 80-100,000 synthetic chemicals are in use today, and approximately 1,000 new ones are added on every year, most of which have not be tested individually or in combination for their effects on human health;
•    Continual exposure to these common, pervasive, low-level chemicals can cause an initial reaction and then a spreading effect where one then reacts to many other kinds of chemicals
•    Environmental illness and chronic disease caused by exposure to chemicals is widespread and increasing at an alarming rate;
•    Chemicals are everywhere, so it is of utmost importance to choose ‘non-toxic’ alternatives in all aspects of life.

Most Common Chemicals in 31 Fragrance Products

Based on a 1991 EPA, Environmental Protection Agency Study

1.    Acetone (in cologne, dishwashing liquid and detergent, nail enamel remover).
On EPA, RCRA, CERCLA hazardous waste lists. ‘Inhalation can cause dryness of the mouth and throat, dizziness, nausea, slurred speech, drowsiness, and in severe exposures, coma.’ Acts as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant.

2.    Benzaldehyde (in perfume, cologne, hairspray, laundry bleach, deodorants, detergent, Vaseline lotion, shaving cream, shampoo, bar soap, dishwasher detergent).
Narcotic, sensitizer ‘local anesthetic, CNS depressant… irritation to the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, lungs, and GI tract, causing nausea and abdominal pain. May cause kidney damage, don’t use with contact lenses’.

3.    Benzyl Acetate (in perfume, cologne, shampoo, fabric softener, stickup air freshener, dishwashing liquid and detergent, soap, hairspray, bleach, after shave, deodorants).
Carcinogenic (linked to pancreatic cancer), from vapours: irritating to eyes and respiratory passages, exciting cough. Can be absorbed through the skin causing systemic effects. Do not flush to sewer.

4.    Benzyl Alcohol (in perfume, cologne, soap, shampoo, nail enamel remover, air freshener, laundry bleach and detergent, Vaseline lotion, deodorants, fabric softener).
‘Irritating to the upper respiratory tract, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, CNS depression, and death in severe cases due to respiratory failure.’

5.    Camphor (in perfume, shaving cream, nail enamel, fabric softener, dishwasher detergent, nail colour, stickup air freshener).
‘Local irritation and CNS stimulant, readily absorbed through body tissues, irritation of eyes, nose, throat, dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles and convulsions, avoid inhaling of vapours.’

6.    Cocoamide Dea (diethylalomine, TEA, MEA, detergent in most shampoos, moisturizers, toothpaste, cleaning gels, deodorants and beauty products).
‘Applied to the skin it is a known carcinogen, causing allergic reactions and contact dermatitis.’

7.    Ethanol (in perfume, hairspray, shampoo, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid and detergent, laundry detergent, shaving cream, soap, Vaseline lotion, air fresheners, nail colour and remover, paint and varnish remover).
On EPA hazardous waste list. ‘Symptoms are: fatigue, irritating to the eyes and upper respiratory tract even in low concentrations. Inhalation of ethanol vapours can have effects similar to those characteristic of ingestion. These include an initial stimulatory effect followed by drowsiness, impaired vision, ataxia, stupor, causes CNS disorder.’

8.    Ethyl Acetate (in after shave, cologne, perfume, shampoo, nail colour and nail enamel remover, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid).
Narcotic, on EPO hazardous waste list. ‘Irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract, may cause headache and narcosis, de-fatting effect on skin and may cause drying and cracking of it, also may cause anemia with leukocytosis and damage to liver and kidneys, wash thoroughly after handling.’

9.    Limonene (in perfume, cologne, disinfectant spray, bar soap, shaving cream, deodorants, nail colour and remover, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid, air freshener, after shave, bleach, paint and varnish remover).
‘Carcinogenic, irritant and sensitizer to skin and eyes, always wash thoroughly after using this material and before eating, drinking, applying cosmetics. Do not inhale limonene vapour.’

10.    Linalool (in perfume, cologne, bar soap, shampoo, hand lotion, nail enamel remover, hairspray, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, Vaseline lotion, air freshener, bleach powder, fabric softener, shaving cream, after shave, solid deodorant).
‘Narcotic, respiratory disturbances, poisonous to bees and animals, causes CNS disorder.’

11.    Methyllene Chloride (in shampoo, cologne, paint and varnish remover).
Banned by the FDA in 1998. No enforcement possible due to trade secret laws protecting chemical fragrance industry. On EPA, RCRA, CERCLA hazardous waste list. ‘Carcinogenic, absorbed, stored in body fat, it metabolizes to carbon monoxide, reducing oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, headache, giddiness, stupor, irritability, fatigue, tingling in the limbs, causes CNS disorder.’

12.    a-Pinene (in bar and liquid soap, cologne, perfume, shaving cream, deodorants, dishwashing liquid, air freshener). Sensitizer (damaging to the immune system).

13.    Propylene Glycol (in shampoos, creams, toothpaste, deodorants, conditioners, and many other beauty products, surprisingly also used as moisturizer in commercial cakes and muffins!).
‘Derived from petroleum, used as anti-freeze, de-icer, latex, paint, laundry detergent, can cause irritation of nasal and respiratory passages, and if ingested can cause nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting. It is mutagenic, can cause cardiac arrest, degreases and dries skin, damages cells and DNA.’

14.    Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (in shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste deodorants, cream, lotion).
‘Corrodes hair follicle and impedes hair growth, found in car wash soap, engine degreaser, garage floor cleaners, penetrates your eyes, brain, liver and remains there long-term. Degenerates cell membranes and can change the genetic information (mutagenic) in cells and damage your immune system. May cause blindness and lead to cataracts, as well as retards healing process.’

15.    g-Terpinene (in cologne, perfume, soap, shaving cream, deodorant, air freshener). ‘Causes asthma and CNS disorder.’

16.    a-Terpineol (in perfume, cologne, laundry detergent, bleach powder, laundry bleach, fabric softener, stickup air freshener, Vaseline lotion, cologne, soap, hairspray, after shave, roll-on deodorant.
‘Highly irritant to mucous membranes, aspiration into the lungs can produce pneumonitis or even fatal oedema, can also cause excitement, ataxia (loss of muscular coordination, hypothermia, CNS and respiratory depression and headache. Prevent repeated and prolonged skin contact.
Note: Unable to secure MSDS for the following chemicals: 1,8-Cineole; b-Citronellol; b-Myrcene; Nerol; Ocimene; b-Phenethyl Alcohol; and a-Terpinolene.

Systemic Effects

As fragrance chemicals can be absorbed, inhaled or ingested, they can possibly affect any organ or system. A combination of limited human data and a wealth of animal studies show that phthalates, as one of many chemicals in fragrances, can impair reproduction and development, alter liver and kidney function, damage heart and lung, and effect blood clotting. Many air fresheners also contain the pesticide paradichloro-benzene, a carcinogen.

Environmental Effects

Indoor and outdoor air quality (on outdoor air quality read the book Death in the Air, about Chemtrails, by Dr Leonard Horowitz):
Fragrances are volatile compounds and are constantly released into the air. The widespread use and vast number of fragranced products cause extensive indoor and outdoor pollution. Many people find it difficult to enter public buildings, attend public events, stand near people or walk outdoors due to fragrances present in the air. A Norwegian study found synthetic musk fragrance compounds in outdoor air, even in a remote area. Fragrances are dispensed through ventilation systems and individual units in many public areas, including airplanes and buildings (offices, restaurants, hotels, airports, hospitals, nursing homes, etc. They are designed to add a ‘pleasant’ scent to the air (food smells in shopping malls and floral scents in stores), cover up poor air quality and insufficient fresh air ventilation (odours, cigarette smoke, exhaust, pesticides, mould, and chemicals outgassing from furniture, carpet, drywalls, equipment, cleaning products, etc.

Water quality: Waste water treatment does not remove the constantly increasing quantity and types of fragrance chemicals, many of which are persistent and accumulate in the environment. The documented presence of fragrance chemicals in drinking water, streams and lakes could adversely affect the health of people, animal and plant life.

The shocking news is that 292 million Americans regularly wash and dry their clothes, and most of them use fragranced laundry products which pollute the water and air! And one in five people experience health problems when exposed to chemical fragrances.

You are not protected by the government from exposure to fragrance chemical products.

Despite the widespread, constant exposure to fragrance chemicals, including the unknown number of them in thousands of products, there is minimal government regulation and monitoring on their safety.

Trade secret laws keep toxicity testing and identification of fragrance ingredients from being accurately and truthfully disclosed to anyone, including the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and Health Canada. The FDA does NOT review the safety of cosmetic products or their ingredients, and can’t require manufacturers to do safety testing before these products are marketed. Fragrance chemicals do not have to be listed on the product label and the fragrance industry is primarily self-regulated.

A variety of fragrance-free products are available in the market place; just make the effort and read the labels carefully. If you cannot pronounce the ingredients, don’t buy it. People have power and can force manufacturers to change and offer fragrance free products. Misleading ‘brainwashing’ advertising words such as: floral, natural flavour, hypoallergenic, natural scent and the name of flowers make you think the product is safe to use when it may not be. Some unscented and fragrance free products contain masking fragrance to cover up the smell of other ingredients.


Rapp D MD. Our Toxic World. ISBN 1-880509-08-3.
Krop JJ MD. Healing the Planet. ISBN 0-9731945-0-2.
Carson R. Silent Spring. ISBN 978-0-618-24906-0.
Ferrie H. Dispatches. ISBN 0-9731945-3-7.
Kallet A and Schlink FJ. 100,000,000 Guinea Pigs. ISBN0-405-080-255.
Horowitz L. Dr Death in the Air. ISBN 0-923550-30-5.
Fagin D and Lavelle M. Toxic Deception. ISBN 1-56751-162-7.
Stauber J and Rampton S. Toxic Sludge Is Good For You. ISBN 1-56751-060-4.
Kosta L. Focus on Fragrance and Health. ISBN 924-153005-7.
Gorman C. Less Toxic Alternatives. ISBN 013-19614-7.
Anderson R and J. Acute Toxic Effects of Fragrance Products. ISBN 1-56459-352-5.
Fragrance: Beneficial & adverse effects, P.J. Frosch, J.D. Johansen, I.R. White, New York Springer--Verlag, 1998Less toxic alternatives, Carolyn Gorman, Optimum Pub, 1997
Our toxic world, DorisJ.  Rapp, M.D., Environmental Medical Research Foundation, 2004
And the waters turned to blood, Rodney Barker, Simon & Schuster, 1997
Healing the planet, Jozef J. Krop, M.D., FAAEM, KOS Publishing, 2002
Beyond the toxic harvest, Eve Hillary, Health House, 2013
dispatches, Helke Ferrie, KOS Publishing, 2004
Toxic sludge is good for you, John Stauber, Sheldon Rampton, Common Courage Press, 1995
Toxic deception, Dan Fagin, Marianne Lavelle, Common Courage Press, 1999

More information you find on these websites:,,


This information is offered for its educational value only and should not be used in the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of disease. Any attempt to diagnose and treat illness should come under the direction of your health care practitioner.


  1. Robert Byrne said..

    (9. Limonene) also present naturally as a main constituent of citrus fruit (90%+)so the so called risk is so low it is not worried about otherwise there would be a global ban on eating or drinking citrus fruits and tea (bergamot). bearing in mind all developed countries suggest eating 5 a day as part of a balanced healthy diet.

    if proper research was conducted, it would be found that it is not limonene that is the issue it is the chemical that it breaks down into when it reacts with light.

    It would be nice to have a balanced view in the article providing all the info and not the select bits to scaremonger because in its present form there are more holes in it than in a block of swiss cheese.

  2. Harry Cat said..

    Linalool is the main ingredient in Raid bug spray. It's good for kill roaches, ant's, fly's and even people.

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About Klaus Ferlow

Klaus Ferlow HMH HA Author, Formulator, Lecturer, Researcher, Writer, Core-founding member of the WNO – World Neem Organisation, member of the International Herb Association, Plant Savers, founder of Ferlow Botanicals & NEEM RESEARCH, co-author of the book "7stepstodentalhealth" and author of the  Award winning book "Neem: Nature's Healing Gift to humanity", the third edition and his new book Neem: The Tree that Heals Nations will be released in May 2024. He can be reached at:, ,,


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