Saturday, March 01, 2003

a guest post on the dangers of fragrances

One of the issues in Delaware that has been receiving a great amount of national press is the State's Clean Indoor Air Act. A reader of the Delaware Law Office blog wrote in about another danger that lingers in the air we breathe. We encourage people to write in on subjects that affect our laws and our lives, and are thankful for the thoughtfully expressed opinion that we received on this subject. I've added some links, and a couple of minor editorial comments in parenthesis.

Hi. I have never posted a blog, but I thought this is an interesting to talk about. With all of this talk about clean air and a smoke free environment, is anyone aware of the dangers of every day fragrance in our cosmetics, soaps, and cleaning products?

Many people are suffering and some businesses are starting a scent-free workplace policy. It might sound crazy but how many of you have been in the office or a conference room and someone in the room has some perfume or after shave on that is making you feel ill? Or how about when you go to the mall and have to walk through the cosmetic area how difficult it can be to breathe?

The issue of scents and their effect on people with asthma or people with reactive airways disease is not new. Often people with this illness are reluctant to speak on their own behalf because they do not want to appear odd, so they suffer in silence. The problem continues to grow. Of the estimated 4,000 chemicals used to make fragrances, several hundred can be used to make one scented product. Many of these chemicals can cause health problems such as: shortness of breath/wheezing; headaches and migraines; nausea and muscle pain, and asthma attacks. I can't begin to tell you how ill I get sometimes when when my teenager comes home and the fragrance that lingers from her clothes overwhelms the entire room. Or if her friends come over.

She is pretty good about using unscented products (and not happy at all about it), but the scents rub off from being at work, the mall, or just with other kids. When you think of all the products you use from the soap to shower with, the shampoo, cream rinse, hair gels or hair sprays, perfume or aftershave (nail polishes are a killer) the list goes on.

By the time you leave the house, you have put on so many chemicals that are difficult for some people to breathe. In general, fragranced products are recognized as respiratory irritants. Fragrances can induce or worsen respiratory problems such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and allergies because of their irritant effect.

In a 1986 survey of asthmatics, researchers found that perfume and/or colognes triggered an attack in 72 per cent of the subjects questioned. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), fragrances are in the same category as second-hand smoke for triggering and exacerbating asthma in school-aged children and adults. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention links on Air Pollution and Respiratory Health, including a link to a book from the IOM on Asthma and Indoor Air Exposures)

Some researchers hypothesize that exposure to fragrance may actually cause occupational asthma The fragrance industry is unregulated and therefore is not legally required to test their products or guarantee their safety (See the FDAs Section on Cosmetics). As a result, more than 80 per cent of the 4,000 chemical ingredients in use in the industry have not been tested to determine if they are toxic. In addition, fragrance manufacturers are not required to list each ingredient contained in the formula on the product labels. As most products containing fragrance are considered "consumer products" they are excluded from (Canada's) Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and its provisions. This makes it difficult for individuals to pinpoint the specific chemicals that may be problematic to them and to determine their potential health effects.

From the Offices of the Cancer Prevention Coalition
Press Release - June 17, 2002

Cosmetics and Personal Hygiene Products Pose Highest Cancer Risk

To General Public - Higher than Smoking Cigarettes

Cancer and health risk experts just concluded reviews that indicate mainstream cosmetics and personal hygiene products pose the highest cancer risk exposures to the general public, higher than smoking cigarettes. The derivations are not surprising after correlating U. S. Government research reports that the Cancer Prevention Coalition received via the Freedom of Information Act, with assistance from Congressman Wesley Watkins.

The CPC Director pursued obtaining the report after reading a letter from Senator Kennedy to President Clinton concerning the severity of the subject to the public health or the nation.

The letter addressed many known cancer causing and reproductive hazardous chemicals used to make most of our everyday personal hygiene and beauty products. The letter also addressed the need for immediate actions to protect the public, and rescind the "Buyer Beware Approach" used within the government, cosmetic and industrial chemical industry.


Most scientists agree that cancer is initially caused by industrial chemicals, and or radiation exposures. Everyone comes in contact with these chemicals in food, water, air (tobacco smoke), but the biggest risk now appears to be absorption and inhalation of chemicals in hair care products, mouthwash, beauty cosmetics, toothpaste, lotions, skin care products, suntan items, etc.

(More press releases from the Cancer Prevention Coalition.)

I can't tell you how difficult it is to live with this illness. This happened to me about 5 years ago when my immune system became weak from mold that was growing in the walls. Never ignore water leaks; it can be dangerous for your health. That is another story. We didn't even have a leak, the driveway cracked and water was seeping down into the walls of the basement without our knowledge. With all of the water out there from our snow storm, that is my tip.

I developed asthma and reactive airways disease and all of a sudden couldn't stand being near perfumes. I had never heard of this problem, but even when you go to the asthma doctor they have a sign on the wall telling people not to wear fragrances. Well what are we supposed to do out in the world when there are so many fragrances. I have had to isolate myself to be safe and that is not easy.

I have found people all over the world via the internet with this exact problem. That has been a source of comfort. We try to help each other. This problem is recognized by the ADA, and more information is coming out every day but it is a horrible way to live. Why can't they make the products safer. Maybe someday, but I don't know if it will be in my life time. Just be careful.

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