Eau De Toxique: Is Your Perfume Poison?

That perfume you’re wearing is poison. And chances are, so is your deodorant, shampoo, soap, lotion, those dangly car air fresheners, scented candles and incense, cleaning products, and laundry detergent. Artificial fragrance is everywhere—Axe Body Spray, Febreze, Calvin Klein’s latest perfume—but the effects are anything but artificial. In fact, those pseudo-scents may be making you, your family, and your pets pretty sick.

Perfumes have been cherished by civilizations for thousands of years. After all, fragrant flowers are irresistible. But in the late 19th century, that once harmless—even healthful—relationship with aromatic plants changed with the advent of commercial aromatic compounds; or in other words, chemicals ruined everything.

If you’ve ever been on an airplane or a tight enclosed space with others for any significant amount of time, you know that artificial “scent” that doesn’t seem to dissipate. The soapy heaviness can become overwhelming, intoxicating, infuriating. Artificial fragrances are made with some heinous ingredients including chemicals also found in cigarette smoke, and yes, they have the same noxious effects.

The health risks of chemical fragrances can be serious: nausea, headaches, sinus problems, allergies, skin rashes, even leading to more serious trauma to the nervous system, infertility and certain types of cancer. Perfumes are indoor air pollutants that the Cancer Prevention Coalition has said are “known to be toxic to the skin, mucous membranes, respiratory tract, and reproductive and nervous systems.” Additionally, they identified two common perfume ingredients (phenylmethyl acetic acid ester and 2,6–bis (1,1–dimethylethyl) –4–methyl–phenol) as carcinogens.

Perfume is a multi-billion dollar industry, luring every semi-celebrity to create his or her own “signature scent.” And they’re found in all sorts of household items too. But unlike our ancient relationship with the naturally fragrant plant world, these toxic fragrances may in fact be addictive, having narcotic-like effects on perfumaholics, leading to a fragrance overload, which for the rest of us means less fresh air and more health problems.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to smell nice, but you can achieve that by ditching the chemical perfumes and going natural. Essential oils, which are compounded natural plants include fragrances such as lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, even cinnamon, grapefruit and peppermint. In addition to smelling terrific, essential oils have a number of physiological effects from calming and relaxing to energizing and clearing. Unlike artificial fragrances, organic essential oils are non-toxic, and they don’t linger like a chemical cloud of perfume, either. Try blending different oils and making your own scent, and definitely read your labels, even on “natural” products, which may contain a number of artificial fragrances.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

image: briandeadly