Toxics go up your nose and into your brain.

Back in 1986 the US National Academy of Sciences identified fragrance ingredients as 1 of 6 neurotoxic chemical categories that should be thoroughly investigated.

That put fragrances alongside insecticides, heavy metals, solvents and food additives as primary causes of disease in humans.

Many compounds in fragrance are human toxicants.

Numerous are proven carcinogens or are under suspicion.

In 1989, the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) evaluated 2,983 fragrance chemicals for health effects.

They identified 884 of them as toxic substances.

The EPA found 100% of perfumes contain

Toluene can cause liver, kidney and brain damage in adults — and additional damage to a developing fetus.

Synthetic fragrances are a known trigger of asthma attacks.

Inhaled fragrance chemicals can cause

  • Sore throat

  • Runny nose

  • Sinus congestion

  • Wheezing

  • Shortness of breath

  • Nausea

  • Muscle pain

Symptoms reported to the FDA from fragrance exposure have included

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Rashes

  • Skin discoloration

  • Violent coughing

  • Vomiting

Fragrance is also a common skin allergen.

Once inside the body, fragrance chemicals cross the blood-brain-barrier.

Clinical observations have shown that exposure to fragrances can affect the central nervous system, causing

  • Mental confusion

  • Depression

  • Hyperactivity

  • Listlessness

  • Irritability

  • Inability to cope

  • Other behavioral changes

Acute affects include

  • Liver and kidney toxicity

  • Seizures

  • Pulmonary failure

  • Death

Chemical-based air fresheners and deodorizers do not remove anything in the air .

Instead, they add chemicals to the air.

The products work by various mechanisms which include

• Using a nerve-deadening chemical that interferes with olfactory signals

• Coating nasal passages with an oily film

• Masking original odors with different odors

• Deactivating the odor

They use a variety of chemicals including

• Formaldehyde — carcinogen and sensitizer

• Xylene — neurotoxic and possible reproductive toxicant

• Butane gas — neurotoxic

• Cresol — carcinogen

• Synthetic fragrances — as described in the paragraphs above

Aerosol air fresheners release small particles that can be inhaled deeply into lungs and transferred into the blood stream.

Plug-in air fresheners emit even smaller particles.

Airborne toxic particles inhaled into the lungs can be detected in the blood in as little as 60 seconds.

While fragrance chemicals can be quick to saturate the blood, they are slow to clear from the body.

Using air fresheners or aerosols is significantly correlated with adverse effects on mothers and infants.

Headache Earache Diarrhea Vomiting Depression
Air Fresheners Mother Infants Infants Mother
Aerosols Mother Infants Infants

Fragrance chemicals can accumulate in fatty tissue and leach slowly back out.

In women the chemicals can be passed on through breast milk.

Air fresheners and consumer cleaning agents (such as Pine-Sol) yield high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Common examples include glycol ethers, terpenes, and limonenes.

The VOCs react with ozone to form a variety of secondary pollutants including formaldehyde and ultrafine particles.

Significant particle concentrations can be produced indoors as a result.

Research has shown there is a correlation between indoor air quality (IAQ) and student scores, health, and overall performance.

Children are more susceptible to air fresheners than adults because particles tend to concentrate at lower heights.

A child can be exposed to 25% more particles than an adult standing in the same room.

Fetuses, infants and children are the most vulnerable to toxics in the air.

Plus, fragrances can be absorbed through the skin – especially through children’s skin which is thinner than adult skin.

This study found 30% of people across all demographic groups have adverse reactions to fragranced products.

More than half of them experience breathing difficulties and other health problems when exposed to air fresheners.

There is significant overlap between some forms of asthma and chemical hypersensitivity.

Reaction to a chemical might be obvious right away, but often the sensitivity develops over time without any noticeable symptoms.

Then one day acute symptoms suddenly appear.

This can make it difficult to recognize the correct cause of illness.

SPECT scan of MCS patient before perfume inhalation     SPECT scan of MCS patient after perfume inhalation

SPECT scan of MCS patient's brain before and after challenge with perfume inhalation.

In the 5-year period 1996-2001, deliberately inhaled air fresheners accounted for more than 25% of all Volatile Substance Abuse deaths in children age 19 years and younger.

Phthalates are used in fragrances and can be inhaled easily.

Two carcinogens commonly found in air fresheners are naphthalene and para-dichlorobenzene (PDCB)

They have been observed to inhibit cell death (apoptosis) thereby demonstrating a mechanism for cancer growth.

'Fragrance' on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients, most of which are synthetic.

For example, here are two 'simple' perfumes — each one incorporates nearly 180 synthetic chemicals.

It is predictable that many fragrance chemicals amplify the toxic effects of the others.

Specific studies to find out have not been done.

However, searching PubMed for pairs of chemicals will inevitably reveal studies that describe synergy.

The TRI list offers a starting point.

Synthetic musk fragrances are added to countless consumer items.

Lotion, shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, detergent, fabric softener, air freshener, household cleanser,...

Even some "unscented" products.

They are present in any consumer product that "smells good".

Nitromusks and polycyclic musks enable toxics to enter cells that normally would be kept out.

This effect continues long after exposure to the musk has stopped.

Consider how that can impact the placenta and developing fetus.

Also, the levels of synthetic musk compounds in breast milk are quite high, especially in U.S. mothers.

This will continue to adversely affect children during their early growth.

Air fresheners can hide the presence of mold, pests, and sewage.

These are health threats that should be dealt with and not masked.

Synthetic fragrances have been shown to persist and to accumulate in the environment.

The EPA, FDA, and CPSC are not required to oversee combinations of ingredients in fragrances.

There are no safety standards limiting exposure to these complex substances in homes, schools, restrooms, businesses, or other spaces.

There are no laws requiring manufacturers to disclose specific fragrance ingredients.

There are no laws requiring safety tests involving fragrance ingredients.

No warnings are required to alert people of the hazards inherent to these chemical cocktails.

These terms have no legal definition and no consistent meaning across products:

• Unscented

• Fragrance free

• Hypoallergenic

• Natural

• Green

• Floral

• Outdoor fresh

• Environmentally friendly

In September 2007 the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Alliance for Healthy Homes and the National Center for Healthy Housing filed a petition with the EPA for regulation of air fresheners.

The coalition asked the government to

• Require manufacturers to conduct health and safety tests, including the respiratory effect of breathing the products

• Alert regulators if there are reports of adverse reactions to the products

• Require truth-in-advertising labeling that include a list of all ingredients in air fresheners

• Ban ingredients that would cause allergies or appear on California's Proposition 65 list of chemicals linked to cancer and reproductive harm

The EPA denied the petition in December 2007.

Instead, it asked the top 7 air freshener manufacturers to voluntarily submit their product ingredients and the amounts used annually.

In April 2008 the coalition sued the EPA to help make sure the manufacturers would provide the information.

Eventually the companies provided data for air freshener ingredients having concentrations 0.1% or higher.

Although the EPA now has the data, the public version is redacted.

Still, it is abundantly clear that toxic chemicals are being used.

The coalition is moving forward with a FOIA request for more complete information with which to assess the hazards hidden in these products.

‘Fragrance’ is a mixture of chemicals designed to influence your sense of smell.

‘Flavor’ is a mixture of chemicals designed to influence your sense of taste.

Here is a fast-food 'strawberry' milkshake.

The ingredients are given as

Milkfat and nonfat milk
Sweet whey*
High-fructose corn syrup*
Guar gum*
Monoglycerides and diglycerides
Cellulose gum*
Sodium phosphate
Citric acid*
Artificial strawberry flavor

*These ingredients are excitotoxic

The 'artificial strawberry flavor' contains

Amyl acetate
Amyl butyrate
Amyl valerate
Anisyl formate
Benzyl acetate
Benzyl isobutyrate
Butyric acid
Cinnamyl isobutyrate
Cinnamyl valerate
Cognac essential oil
Dipropyl ketone
Ethyl butyrate
Ethyl cinnamate
Ethyl heptanoate
Ethyl heptylate
Ethyl lactate
Ethyl methylphenylglycidate
Ethyl nitrate
Ethyl propionate
Ethyl valerate
Hydroxyphrenyl-2-butanone (10% solution in alcohol)
Isobutyl anthranilate
Isobutyl butyrate
Lemon essential oil
Methyl anthranilate
Methyl benzoate
Methyl cinnamate
Methyl heptine carbonate
Methyl naphthyl ketone
Methyl salicylate
Mint essential oil
Neroli essential oil
Neryl isobutyrate
Orris butter
Phenethyl alcohol
Rum ether
Vanillin and solvent

Interested in finding out more?

Try these starting points


‣ Healthy Child Healthy World ——> here, here, and here

Gina Solomon's blog at NRDC

NPR (includes audio)

Health Risks from Perfumes

Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment