It’s nighttime. You’re tired. You want to go to bed. But just before you do, you decide to take a shower and calm yourself. You apply shampoo, you apply soap or body shampoo, and then you wash yourself. Little do you know that you might be exposing your body to synthetic scents. And on top of that, you might even put on some fragrance or perfume after showering.
No, I don’t want to scare you off. And yes, you should continue showering. I just want to point out the fact that 95% of the chemicals used in synthetic fragrances are made from petroleum. And many of them are carcinogens. Many of them cause other problems like asthma, autism, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, and much more.
All your fruity shampoos, laundry detergents, body lotions and other products you use in your home might be rich in toxic ingredients. Just so you know where to find them, they are labeled as “fragrance.” Usually, when a company uses that word, it’s to hide some mysterious ingredient; more than 3,000 different ingredients fall into the term “fragrance.” Some of them are toxic, some are not. Let’s take a look at the health problems they can cause, and then at the list of harmful chemicals.
Health conditions linked to synthetic scents
Let’s start with cancer, one of the deadliest diseases nowadays. Indeed, cancer is one of the biggest reasons people lose their life. It sits at the top of “killers.” The Breast Cancer Research Foundation recommends avoiding synthetic fragrances as a way to prevent breast cancer. The reason is simple: many synthetic scents are actually hormone disruptors. Known as phthalates, this group of chemicals has been linked to cancer, toxicity, and endocrine disruption.
Another common condition linked to chemicals is autism. Again, phthalates are the ones to blame. Pregnant women exposed to phthalates are more prone to having children who develop neurological disorders and ADHD. The fetus is endangered, and it is not just from smoking and alcohol. So be very wary of synthetic scents.
People suffering from asthma know how painful and irritating it can be to be exposed to synthetic fragrances. Their symptoms worsen by 100%. Any scented products, including perfume or even cologne, can increase the symptoms and the pain. People with asthma experience problems like breathing difficulties when exposed to some of these chemicals. And the recommendation is that people with asthma should avoid synthetic fragrances at all cost.
When you think of allergens, you think of dairy, gluten, and pollen. But fragrances are also among the top 5 allergens in world. Headaches, migraines, sinus irritation, difficulty breathing, and many more symptoms manifest when people are exposed to fragrant chemicals. In recent years, studies show that asthma, allergies and sinus problems have increased dramatically.
List of harmful chemicals
- Acetaldehyde negatively impacts the kidneys, the respiratory system and the nervous system. This chemical has been labeled as potentially carcinogenic to humans. You can find them in many foods, including ripe fruits and heated milk. And in the chemical industry, the compound is used to produce acetic acid, disinfectants, and perfumes. Fumes near gas pumps are also problematic, as they contain acetaldehyde.
- Benzophenone, named the “contact allergen of the year” by the American Contact Dermatitis Society in 2014, disrupts the endocrine system. The chemical is also linked to liver tumors. In the chemical industry, the organic compound is known as “oyxbenzone” and “dioxybenzone.” You can find these chemicals in several sunscreens. The compound has been criticized (sunscreen controversy) as it can cause coral bleaching.
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) has not been tested on humans. However, the National Institute of Health in the United States has tested it positively for being carcinogenic to animals. Strangely, this compound is actually an antioxidant, and we know those are healthy. However, BHA disrupts the endocrine system. In the cosmetics industry, the compound is used for rubber and petroleum products. In the medical industry, you can find it in lovastatin and simvastatin.
- Benzyl salicylate is a known allergen. The salicylic acid benzyl ester is a compound that is frequently used in the cosmetic industry; in most cases, the compound is added to fragrances. In its pure form, it appears as an almost colorless liquid. The mild odor is described as sweet-floral. The International Fragrance Association has placed it on “restricted standard use.” You can find it in floral perfumes such as jasmine, lilac, wallflower, and carnation.
- Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is another known skin and eye irritant that U.S. and European regulations allow in small amounts as a food additive. However, you can also find it in household products and cosmetic products for personal care. BHT is actually a chemical derivative of phenol.
- Benzyl benzoate is used in some lotions. But exposure to this chemical can cause skin burn and even irritate the genitalia and scalp area. The organic compound is ester of benzoic acid and benzyl alcohol. It is worth noting that this compound is actually on the list of essential medicines by the World Health Organization.
- Butoxyethanol is the next chemical that can cause toxicity. In commercial uses, this chemical is found in cleaning products, paints, surface coatings, inks, oil spill dispersants, liquid soaps, and dry cleaning solutions. Short-term exposure to the chemical can lead to nausea and blood in the urine. Long-term exposure, on the other hand, leads to damage to the kidneys, liver, and nervous system. The chemical is mostly found on construction sites.
- Butylphenyl methylpropional can cause skin inflammation and itchiness. The trade name for this chemical is lilial, and it is commonly used as a perfume and laundry powder. It is a synthetic aroma aldehyde that can act as an allergen and cause contact dermatitis.
- Chloromethane, or methyl chloride, can have acute and chronic effects on the nervous system. However, even more importantly, exposure to the chemical is linked to birth defects. It has not been demonstrated on humans yet, but it was positively tested on mice. Today, it is used mostly in the production of silicone polymers.
- Dichloromethane is linked to tumors in the mammary gland. This chemical is highly volatile and can be absorbed through the skin. Symptoms of overexposure include dizziness, nausea, numbness, irritation of the upper respiratory tract, difficulty concentrating, weakness, and fatigue.
- Diethyl phthalate is a chemical that can irritate the eye, the respiratory tract, and the skin. Linked to nervous system damage, this chemical is widely used as a plasticizer. Information suggests that the chemical has a low toxic potential.
- Formaldehyde is one of the most commonly known toxic chemicals. Highly toxic to animals, formaldehyde is also a known human carcinogen. This chemical is banned in cosmetics in Sweden and Japan. In America, people are asking the FDA to ban its usage in salons in order to protect salon workers.
- Oxybenzone is another one of those sunscreen chemicals that can be toxic to liver cells. The chemical accumulates in the kidneys, liver, and blood. In many countries, the usage of this chemical is limited to up to 5% in the cosmetic industry.
- Propylparaben is chemical linked to breast cancer. When you see “paraben” as part of any ingredient, it means trouble. You can find it in many water-based cosmetics, including shampoos and bath products.
- Resorcinol is actually a positive compound. However, that applies when used externally as an antiseptic and disinfectant (e.g., to treat psoriasis and eczema). However, exposure to the chemical can affect the proper functioning of the liver and the kidneys.
- Styrene is toxic to the central nervous system when inhaled. It can also cause damage to the red blood cells and the liver. The chemical, which is an organic derivative of benzene, has a sweet smell when evaporating. The chemical has been classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- Synthetic musks, which aren’t listed on fragrances, are mostly used for personal care products. One of the goals of activists around the world is to make companies disclose the fragrance ingredients. Synthetic musks, for example, are linked to organ damage and reproductive development damage. The chemicals can build up in breast milk, and are also linked to hormone disruption.
- Titanium dioxide is a possible human carcinogen. But it has also been linked with lung and respiratory system damage. Candles, chewing gums, toothpaste, and sunscreen products are common sources of titanium oxide.
- Dioxane is the last product on the list. A common byproduct, dioxane is considered to be a carcinogen. In the cosmetic industry, you can find it in deodorants, toothpastes, mouthwashes, shampoos, and other personal care products. A research by the US Organic Consumers Association in 2008 found that the chemical is present in almost 50% of tested personal care products.