Toxins and Perfume: A Lesson in Fragrance


Did you know that the ingredients in fragrances are considered a trade secret (probably so the recipe isn’t duplicated) and companies don’t have to disclose the ingredients? Often you will find hundreds of chemicals, synthetic ingredients and toxins in the perfumes and colognes you spray on and around you. You breathe this in not because you’re trying to fill your lungs with Chanel No. 5 but because… we need to breathe. What you don’t realize is what you are inhaling: chemicals that might cause a host of issues and problems.

First, let’s get educated about essential oils vs. fragrance oils so you know what to look for on a label.  I didn’t and assumed Fragrance Oils were more natural than a regular bottle of perfume. I was wrong.

Essential oils are natural chemicals. These are extracted from the leaves, flowers, stems, roots or bark of plants. I imagine a giant juicer just squeezing all the scent out of a flower.

Fragrance /Perfume oils are synthetic. These are chemicals that have been made in a lab, usually created to mimic the scent of a flower, raindrops, fresh grass, etc. Imagine a scientist in a white coat and beakers surrounded by bubbling bunsen burners and a TOXIC sign on the door.

I was shocked and frightened when I began this research. I’ve been innocently dousing myself in perfumes and colognes for decades. What have I been doing? Not to mention lotions and creams. All of it! All over my skin. For years.

 How can something that smells so good be so toxic?

Check out the list below. These chemicals can be found in perfume, cologne,  many other personal care products plus detergents, fabric softeners, dishwashing liquid and soap. Take a look and learn!

BENZALDEHYDE  This one is can cause irritation to the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, lungs, and GI tract, causing nausea and abdominal pain. May cause kidney damage. Comes with warning- “Do not use with contact lenses.”

BENZYL ACETATE  linked to pancreatic cancer.  Vapors from this chemical are irritating to eyes and respiratory passages, causes coughing. And in mice: hyperanemia of the lungs. Warning- Do not flush to sewer.

BENZYL ALCOHOL  This lovely ingredient is “irritating to the upper respiratory tract.” May cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, Central Nervous System depression, and death in severe cases due to respiratory failure. I don’t know how much you have to inhale of this, scary.

CAMPHOR is a common ingredient. Its an irritant that is readily absorbed through body tissues and causes dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles and convulsions. Warning- Avoid inhalation of vapors.

ETHANOL On EPA Hazardous Waste list; symptoms include: “…fatigue; irritating to eyes and upper respiratory tract even in low concentrations…” “Inhalation of ethanol vapors can have effects similar to those characteristic of ingestion.” Warning- Don’t breathe this in.

ETHYL ACETATE is in practically everything with a scent. Its on the EPA Hazardous Waste list, “…irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract, may cause headache and narcosis (stupor) causes drying and cracking of skin. May cause anemia with leukocytosis and damage to liver and kidneys. Warning- “Wash thoroughly after handling.”

LIMONENE  Carcinogenic. “Prevent its contact with skin or eyes because it is an irritant and sensitizer.” Warning- “Always wash thoroughly after using this material and before eating, drinking, …applying cosmetics. Do not inhale limonene vapor.”

LINALOOL is in basically in everything in your house from perfume to cleaning products. It’s a Narcotic. Causes respiratory disturbances. Attracts bees.  Causes Central Nervous System disorder.

METHYLENE CHLORIDE just has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Definitely check labels for this one. Banned by the FDA in 1988. Here’s a nice tidbit- No enforcement possible due to trade secret laws protecting chemical fragrance industry. On EPA, RCRA, CERCLA Hazardous Waste lists. This is really scary. This chemical is a Carcinogenic, plus its absorbed, stored in body fat, metabolizes to carbon monoxide, reducing oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood!

a-PINENE Sensitizer (damaging to the immune system)/  g-TERPINENE  Causes asthma and CNS disorders /a-TERPINEOL  This is highly irritating to mucous membranes. Aspiration into the lungs can produce pneumonitis or even fatal edema, headaches. Warning: Prevent repeated or prolonged skin contact.

My recommendation? Ditch your colognes and perfumes in favor of scents containing essential oils, plant extracts, distilled flower essences, organic and wildcrafted oils. I’m pretty new to the world of natural perfumes but  I’ve picked up  roller ball fragrances from Pacifica and I frequently wear a vanilla scent from Lavanila, both are better choices than traditional perfumes. I have samples from Osmia Organics that I can’t wait to test out, I know and trust that brand so I’m confident its perfectly fine to use.

There are many natural scents available and all you have to do is poke around and look. Start by going to Spirit Beauty Lounge and peruse the fragrances. Stroll down the aisle at your local Whole Foods or Sprouts and seek out  essential oils and natural scents.  Slowly replace your high end, luxury or drugstore perfumes that contain toxins and begin to breathe and live a little healthier!

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