Is Perfume Hazardous to Your Health?

The chemical composition of the fragrances you own may be giving off more than just a nice scent. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics who recently published a report analyzing 17 name-brand perfumes, these chemicals may have inherent health risks that could lead to asthma, contact dermatitis, and hormone imbalances.

The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) is one of the agencies that establish fragrance guidelines, though manufacturers are not legally bound to follow them. IFRA asserts that it has strict processes in place to ensure manufacturers follow their guidelines, which set 179 Standards, ban 82 materials, and restrict the use of 88 others. In recent years, a variety of organizations have alleged that fragrances can cause everything from allergic reactions to cancer, but no hard evidence supports any of these claims.

The new study conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics discovered:

  • The fragrances tested each contained an average of 14 chemicals not listed on the label.
  • Each fragrance contained an average of 10 chemicals known to trigger allergic reactions like dermatitis, headaches, and asthma.
  • Each fragrance contained an average of 4 chemicals known to disrupt hormones.
  • The assorted governing agencies involved in setting fragrance standards like the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, and the IFRA had examined fewer than half of the ingredients found in the fragrances.

The FDA does not test every fragrance compound, though both the FDA and IFRA will get involved when widespread reactions are reported. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics wants to establish laws requiring all ingredients to be listed on product labels and stronger overall regulation. They also call for consumers to choose non-fragranced products, which the fragrance industry claims exposes the Campaign's bias. The fragrance industry also cites several reports that refute any findings of potential health risks. At present, there simply isn't enough evidence to confirm either opinion.

Until the science is clear, exercise caution with any product containing fragrance including perfumes, lotions, cosmetics, and even cleaning supplies. Protect yourself against allergic reactions by spot-testing a small quantity of any new product on your skin. And be sure to use fragranced products in moderation.



Sources: "Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance." The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Environmental Working Group. May 12, 2010. "International Fragrance Association refutes activists' claims of link between Health Problems and Fragrance Ingredients." The International Fragrance Association. Web. June 30, 2010