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Why Scents Don’t Make Sense
Synthetic Fragrances

Adapted from Chemical Awareness, 2001, Grace Ziem, M.D.

Many people think that personal products with pleasant smells are made from flowers.  This was true many years ago, but today the most of these fragrances are made from petroleum or petro-chemicals.  This creates potential health problems for everyone who uses these products, especially on a long-term basis.  It also creates sometimes serious health problems for those who are chemically sensitive and react to synthetic fragrances.

Some Facts About Fragrances Today

  • The National Academy of Sciences, a research branch of the United States Government, has said that scented products are toxic to the brain.
  • The American Medical Association (AMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Lung Association (ALA) all recognize that products with fragrance can aggravate asthma and respiratory problems.
  • The U.S. Fragrance Association advises that scented products only be used in amounts undetectable at an arm’s length.
  • When you are “smelling the scent”, you are breathing in the chemicals.  So if someone is close to you and can smell the fragrance from your scented laundry detergent or perfume, they are breathing in the chemicals (of course, so are you!).
  • Petrochemical compounds, including synthetic fragrances, can also enter the body through the skin.
  • At least 1 person in 5 becomes ill when exposed to scented products worn by others.
  • Illness reactions caused by scented products can include migraine headaches, sinus congestion, itchy watery eyes, sore throat, throat swellling, hoarseness, and breathing or asthma-type reactions.
  • Scented hair sprays, colognes, deodorants, and other products can cling to the hair and clothing for many hours, causing illness reactions hours later.
  • Laundry detergents with fragrance are designed to be long lasting, and hence release chemicals all day long.  In fact these scents can and do remain even after several washings for weeks or even months.
  • Fabric softener is designed to cling to clothes, but it flakes off during the day, and irritates the airways of people with allergies, congested nose, sinus problems, cough, hoarseness or asthma.
  • Many scented products contain chemicals that are designed to affect your mood, meaning that they are designed to change the chemical balance in the brain.  Products with fragrance can also cause brain changes such as reduced ability to concentrate, reduced ability to maintain your attention, reduced ability to think clearly, and/or reduced ability to remember.
  • “Air fresheners” do not freshen air (fresh air has no odor), since releasing a chemical into the air to cover up an odor does not “freshen” that air.  “Air freshener” is actually a false and misleading term.
  • Research shows that the vast majority of people with asthma have allergic reactions and a decline in lung function with synthetic fragrance exposure (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, Immunology).

Avoid Fragrance!

Avoid using products with fragrance in them when you are in a public situation where you may encounter or be near individuals who are more sensitive to them.  If you are in a crowd wearing scented products, you probably will be causing illness reactions in some people without knowing it.  Do you really want that? 

If you insist on using fragrance, which if done with any frequency, will be detrimental to your health, at least use products that contain fragrance only when you are in a small group of individuals that you know well, and when no one has a problem with fragrance.  You are strongly urged to consider eliminating all use of scented products for the sake of your and your family’s long-term health, even if you don’t have any chemically sensitive or asthmatic family members.  Unfortunately, products with fragrance do not just include perfume or cologne.  Other products like hair spray, lotion, make-up, after-shave, laundry detergents and fabric softeners often contain synthetic fragrances as well.

So change some of these products like your laundry detergent to a natural, scent-free brand, or even to a conventional scent-free variety so you won’t be carrying that scent around everywhere you go.

Who knows, you might feel better yourself!  And at the very least, you will be reducing the toxic load you are putting on your body, and you will help those with fragrance sensitivities to feel better.

Fragrance & Air Fresheners

Air Fresheners deliberately release synthetic fragrances into the air your breathe.  Do they really freshen the air?  Find out more on our Air Freshener Page.

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None of the statements on this website have been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).  They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or medical condition.  Furthermore, none of the statements on this website should be construed as making claims about curing diseases or dispensing medical advice.

Please consult a physician or another health care provider before trying any nutritional supplement, making changes in your diet, or doing new exercises, especially if you are pregnant or have any pre-existing medical conditions or injuries.

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