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Fragrance Sensitivity

A growing number of people are claiming that exposure to certain fragrances, including perfumes and scented products, adversely impacts their health.


Shortness of breath.

Contact Allergies
When your skin erupts.

Chemical Sensitivity
Exposure to chemicals.

Related Disorders
Associated illnesses.

More than 5,000 different fragrances are in products that are used on a daily basis. These products include health and beauty aids, household cleaners, laundry aids, drugs, paper products, plastics, industrial greases, oils and solvents, and even foods.

Since fragrance formulas are considered trade secrets, manufactures only have to state fragrance on the label and do not need to identify the chemical makeup.

How Fragrances Can Affect the Body

Fragrances can enter the body through the nose by inhalation, the mouth by ingestion, or the skin by absorption. Many parts of the body can be affected by fragrance chemicals. The lungs, the nose, the skin, the eyes, and the brain can all be affected.

Studies have shown that shortness of breath or asthma like symptoms have been caused by fragrances. Most of the fragrance chemicals consist of volatile organic compounds which are known to be respiratory irritants.

Being a chemical receptor, the nose can also be affected with sneezing and sinus problems.

Studies have shown that inhaling fragrances can also cause circulatory changes and electrical activity in the brain. These changes can trigger migraine headaches, the inability to concentrate, dizziness, and fatigue.

The number one cause of adverse skin reactions to cosmetics and laundry products is fragrance. The skin reactions to fragrance chemicals can produce rashes, hives, dermatitis, or eczema.

Other symptoms can include watery eyes, nausea, sore throat, cough, and chest tightness.

Some fragrance materials, studies have shown, are absorbed by the skin and then broken down into materials that are stronger sensitizers than the original chemicals.

Confusion with Terms Used

Products with labels that contain the words fragrance free or unscented do not guarantee they do not contain fragrance chemicals, they imply that they have no perceptible odor. A product labeled "unscented" may contain a masking fragrance. If fragrance is added to a product to mask or cover up the odor of other ingredients, it is not required to be put on the label.

A product must be marked "without perfume" to indicate no fragrance has been added. Even in this instance, it is best to read the label to look for plant extracts that are potential perfume sensitizers and cross-reactors.

What Makes Up Fragrances?

Ninety-five percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are petroleum based synthetic compounds. Listed here are some principal chemicals found in scented products and the health risks that can be involved, according to one or more hazardous waste lists.

    Acetone can be found in cologne, dishwashing liquid and detergent, and nail enamel remover. When inhaled, it can cause mild central nervous system disturbances such as dizziness, nausea, incoordination, slurred speech, and drowsiness. It can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.

    alpha-Pinene is used in bar and liquid soap, cologne, perfume, shaving cream, deodorant, dishwashing liquid, and air freshener. It can be a moderate irritant to skin, eyes, and mucus membranes.

    alpha-Terpineol is used in perfume, cologne, laundry detergent, bleach powder, laundry bleach, fabric softener, stick air freshener, vaseline lotion, cologne, soap, hair spray, after shave, and roll-on deodorant. It can be highly irritating to mucus membranes and can also cause excitement, loss of muscular coordination, hypothermia, central nervous system and respiratory depression, and headache.

    Benzyl Acetate can be found in perfume, cologne, shampoo, fabric softener, stick air freshener, dishwashing liquid and detergent, soap, hair spray, bleach, after shave, and deodorant. The vapors from this chemical can be irritating to the skin, eyes and respiratory passages.

    Benzyl Alcohol can be found in perfume, cologne, soap, shampoo, nail enamel remover, air freshener, laundry bleach and detergent, vaseline lotion, deodorant, and fabric softener. It can be irritating to the upper respiratory tract, skin, eyes, and mucus membranes. It can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and drop in blood pressure.

    Benzaldehyde can be found in perfume, cologne, hair spray, laundry bleach, deodorant, detergent, vaseline lotion, shaving cream, shampoo, bar soap, and dishwasher detergent. It may cause irritation to the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, lungs, and GI tract. It may also cause nausea, abdominal pain, depression and contact dermatitis.

    Camphor can be found in perfume, shaving cream, nail enamel, fabric softener, dishwasher detergent, nail color, and stick air freshener. Since it is readily absorbed through body tissues it can irritate the eyes, nose and throat. It is recommended to avoid inhalation of the vapors because it can cause dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles, and convulsions.

    Ethanol is used in perfume, hair spray, shampoo, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid and detergent, laundry detergent, shaving cream, soap, vaseline lotion, air fresheners, nail color and remover, and paint and varnish remover. One of its symptoms can be fatigue and it can irritate the eyes and upper respiratory tract. It can also cause a central nervous system disorder.

    Ethyl Acetate is often found in after shave, cologne, perfume, shampoo, nail color, nail enamel remover, fabric softener, and dishwashing liquid. It can cause irritation of the eyes, mucus membranes, gums and respiratory tract. Repeated or prolonged contact can cause drying and cracking of the skin.

    g-Terpinene can be found in cologne, perfume, soap, shaving cream, deodorant, and air freshener. It can cause asthma and central nervous system disorders.

    Limonene is used in perfume, cologne, disinfectant spray, bar soap, shaving cream, deodorant, nail color and remover, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid, air fresheners, after shave, bleach, paint, and varnish remover. It's vapor can irritate the eyes, mucus membranes and upper respiratory tract. It also can cause an allergic skin reaction.

    Linalool can be found in perfume, cologne, bar soap, shampoo, hand lotion, nail enamel remover, hair spray, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, vaseline lotion, air fresheners, bleach powder, fabric softener, shaving cream, after shave, and solid deodorant. It can attract bees, so if you are allergic to bee stings, stay away from products that contain it. The most abundant chemical in perfume and fragrance products it is known to cause lethargy, depression, and life threatening respiratory effects.

Fragrance Skin Sensitizers

A screening agent, called fragrance mix is used to pinpoint the cause of a large percentage of skin allergies. This fragrance mix contains eight known skin sensitizers. Most fragrances contain several of these known irritants.


    [Alpha]-amylcinnamic aldehyde is found in perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, industrial products, and toothpaste.

    Cinnamic alcohol is found in perfumed cosmetic products, deodorant, paper, laundry products, used in flavors, and toothpaste.

    Cinnamic aldehyde, is found in toothpaste, bath oils, hair cosmetics, lipsticks, mouth washes, soaps, detergents, food flavoring, vermouths, bitters, and chewing gum. Studies have shown that cinnamaldehyde binds with proteins in the skin to cause allergic reactions.

    Eugenol is used in colognes, toilet waters, tonics, dressings, hair cosmetics, periodontal packing, dental impression material, after shave, perfumes, hair cream, inhalants, antiseptics, and toothpaste.

    Geraniol is used in perfumes, fragrance, lip salve, facial make up, and skin care products.

    Hydroxycitronellal is used in perfumes and cosmetic products, fragrance, eye-cream, and after shave.

    Isoeugnol, a clove scent, is used in perfumery and as fragrance in eye cosmetics and after shaves.

    Oak moss is found in perfumes, colognes, after shaves, and scented products for men.

Testing & Research

Most fragrance chemicals are not tested for safety. The tests that have been conducted are those relating to skin sensitivities. Very little testing has been done on the respiratory effects of fragrance materials even though most are volatile organic compounds and respiratory exposure is significant.

If fragrance chemicals affect your health, the Health & Environment Resource Center recommends reporting adverse reactions to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

For additional information on fragrances, please refer to the collected Internet links.

© Article is courtesy of About Allergies with Judy Tidwell 


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