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Is Your Perfume Toxic?

Natural Perfume

Dr. Kristie Leong

Ah, it smells so sweet, but the reality is that fragrant perfume you sprayed on this morning may have a more sinister side. Unfortunately, it's not just fragrance that goes into that attractively decorated perfume bottle. There are a host of other chemicals that are enough to give the experts cause for concern. Could some of the synthetic chemicals commonly added to colognes and perfumes potentially cause health problems? Is perfume toxic?

The issue of perfume toxicity hasn't always been on the forefront. In the past, perfumes were made by the traditional French perfume making methods which involved the use of organic plant extracts and natural alcohol. In the mid 1940's, attempts were made to bring down the price of perfume by mass producing it. This meant the addition of synthetic chemicals as well as cheaper petroleum based alcohols with the potential to make perfume toxic, but more affordable.

The reality is that up to ninety-five percent of the chemicals used to make perfume are petroleum derived. Many of these chemicals are derived from benzene, one of the most carcinogenic chemicals known. Cancer isn't the only concern with these synthetic chemicals. Some people have adverse reactions to the components used to make perfume, particularly those who suffer from allergies and asthma. Would it surprise you to learn that a single perfume product may contain over 500 synthetic chemicals? With such a wide array of chemicals, it would come as no surprise that sensitivity to perfume products is common and that perfume is potentially toxic.

Some of the chemicals added to fragrances that make perfume a potential health risk include acetone, benzaldehyde, ethanol, ethyl acetate, methylene chloride, and linalool, all of which can cause adverse central nervous system effects in addition to a variety of other health related issues. Methylene chloride which is found in shampoo, colognes, and perfume products is of particular concern since it was banned by the FDA in the 1980's. Unfortunately, this has not been enforced and it's still found in many fragrance products. This substance is a known carcinogen that's listed as a hazardous waste product.

Another potential area of concern is the effect of perfume and fragrance products on the younger set who may be exposed to perfume from their moms. Many commonly used children's products such as shampoos and baby powders have added fragrance with the same potential for toxicity. Is perfume toxic to children? Kids are often extraordinarily sensitive to synthetic chemicals found in perfume products and may manifest a variety of neurological symptoms including hyperactivity, anxiety, and even seizures.

If you're concerned that perfume is toxic, should you avoid wearing it completely? While this may be a wise choice, you do have other options. Natural fragrance oils found at your local health food store can be substituted for synthetic perfumes. Not only do you avoid the toxicity issue, these oils also usually less expensive than the average overly marketed perfume product. Another option is to go natural sometimes. There's no need to be obsessed with wearing fragrance on a daily basis. Try going natural a few days of the week. You may just find it feels good to not breathe in the overpowering smell of synthetic perfume. Not to mention, it could save your health.

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Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2008-2023. Dr. Kristie Leong is a family practice physician and medical writer. Published with permission.