|Health Risks from Perfume: The Most Common Chemicals Found in Thirty-One
Fragrance Products by a 1991 EPA Study
by Julia Kendall
Compiled by Julia Kendall*, Co-Chair, Citizens for a Toxic-Free Marin.
Phone: (415) 485-6870. Reference: Lance Wallace, Environmental Protection
Agency; Phone (703) 341-7509 Excerpts from "Health Hazard Information." References:
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Provided with permission by Barbara
Wilkie firstname.lastname@example.org of the Environmental Health Network (of California).
[*NOTE: Julia Kendall died July 12, 1997 from Multiple Chemical Sensitivities
and Leukemia caused by pesticide poisoning.]
Principal chemicals found in scented products are:
(in: cologne, dishwashing liquid and detergent, nail enamel remover)
- On EPA, RCRA, CERCLA Hazardous Waste lists. "Inhalation can cause
dryness of the mouth and throat; dizziness, nausea, incoordination, slurred
speech, drowsiness, and, in severe exposures, coma." "Acts
primarily as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant."
(in: perfume, cologne, hairspray, laundry bleach, deodorants, detergent,
vaseline lotion, shaving cream, shampoo, bar soap, dishwasher detergent)
- Narcotic. Sensitizer. "Local anesthetic, CNS depressant"... "irritation
to the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, lungs, and GI tract causing nausea
and abdominal pain." "May cause kidney damage." "Do
not use with contact lenses."
(in: perfume, cologne, shampoo, fabric softener, stickup air freshener,
dishwashing liquid and detergent, soap, hairspray, bleach, after shave,
deodorants) - Carcinogenic (linked to pancreatic cancer); "From
vapors: irritating to eyes and respiratory passages, exciting cough." "In
mice: hyperaemia of the lungs." "Can be absorbed through the
skin causing systemic effects." "Do not flush to sewer."
(in: perfume, cologne, soap, shampoo, nail enamel remover, air freshener,
laundry bleach and detergent, Vaseline lotion, deodorants, fabric softener)
- "irritating to the upper respiratory tract" ... "headache,
nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, CNS depression,
and death in severe cases due to respiratory failure."
(in: perfume, shaving cream, nail enamel, fabric softener, dishwasher
detergent, nail color, stickup air freshener) - "local irritant
and CNS stimulant" ..."readily absorbed through body tissues" ..."irritation
of eyes, nose and throat" ..."dizziness, confusion, nausea,
twitching muscles and convulsions" "Avoid inhalation of vapors."
(in: perfume, hairspray, shampoo, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid
and detergent, laundry detergent, shaving cream, soap, Vaseline lotion,
air fresheners, nail color and remover, paint and varnish remover) -
On EPA Hazardous Waste list; symptoms: "...fatigue; irritating to
eyes and upper respiratory tract even in low concentrations..." "Inhalation
of ethanol vapors can have effects similar to those characteristic of
ingestion. These include an initial stimulatory effect followed by drowsiness,
impaired vision, ataxia, stupor..." Causes CNS disorder. [Note:
this refers to denatured ethanol, which is commonly used in the cosmetic
industry, not to drinking alcohol.]
(in: after shave, cologne, perfume, shampoo, nail color, nail enamel
remover, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid) - Narcotic. On EPA Hazardous
Waste list; "...irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract" ..."may
cause headache and narcosis (stupor)" ..."defatting effect
on skin and may cause drying and cracking" ..."may cause anemia
with leukocytosis and damage to liver and kidneys" "Wash thoroughly
(in: perfume, cologne, disinfectant spray, bar soap, shaving cream, deodorants,
nail color and remover, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid, air fresheners,
after shave, bleach, paint and varnish remover) - Carcinogenic. "Prevent
its contact with skin or eyes because it is an irritant and sensitizer." "Always
wash thoroughly after using this material and before eating, drinking,
...applying cosmetics. Do not inhale limonene vapor."
(in: perfume, cologne, bar soap, shampoo, hand lotion, nail enamel remover,
hairspray, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, Vaseline lotion, air
fresheners, bleach powder, fabric softener, shaving cream, after shave,
solid deodorant) - Narcotic. ..."respiratory disturbances" ... "Attracts
bees." "In animal tests: ataxic gait, reduced spontaneous motor
activity and depression ... development of respiratory disturbances leading
to death." ..."depressed frog-heart activity." Causes
(in: shampoo, cologne, paint and varnish remover) - Banned by the FDA
in 1988! No enforcement possible due to trade secret laws protecting
chemical fragrance industry. On EPA, RCRA, CERCLA Hazardous Waste lists. "Carcinogenic" ..."Absorbed,
stored in body fat, it metabolizes to carbon monoxide, reducing oxygen-carrying
capacity of the blood." "Headache, giddiness, stupor, irritability,
fatigue, tingling in the limbs." Causes CNS disorder.
(in: bar and liquid soap, cologne, perfume, shaving cream, deodorants,
dishwashing liquid, air freshener) - Sensitizer (damaging to the immune
(in: cologne, perfume, soap, shaving cream, deodorant, air freshener)
- "Causes asthma and CNS disorders."
(in: perfume, cologne, laundry detergent, bleach powder, laundry bleach,
fabric softener, stickup air freshener, Vaseline lotion, cologne, soap,
hairspray, after shave, roll-on deodorant) - ..."highly irritating
to mucous membranes"... "Aspiration into the lungs can produce
pneumonitis or even fatal edema." Can also cause "excitement,
ataxia (loss of muscular coordination), hypothermia, CNS and respiratory
depression, and headache." "Prevent repeated or prolonged skin
Unable to secure MSDS for the following chemicals: 1,8-CINEOLE; b-CITRONELLOL;
b-MYRCENE; NEROL; OCIMENE; b-PHENETHYL ALCOHOL; a-TERPINOLENE
95% of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from
petroleum. They include benzene derivatives, aldehydes and many other
known toxics and sensitizers - capable of causing cancer, birth defects,
central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions. Neurotoxins:
At Home and the Workplace, Report by the Committee on Science & Technology,
U.S. House of Representatives, Sept. 16, 1986. (Report 99-827)
Central Nervous System disorders (brain and spine) include Multiple Sclerosis,
Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Chloroform was found in tests of fabric softeners: EPA's 1991 study.
A room containing an air freshener had high levels of p-dichlorobenzene
(a carcinogen) and ethanol: EPA's 1991 study.
An FDA analysis (1968-1972) of 138 compounds used in cosmetics that most
frequently involved adverse reactions, identified five chemicals (alpha-terpineol,
benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, limonene and linalool) that are among
the 20 most commonly used in the 31 fragrance products tested by the
EPA in 1991!
Thirty-three million Americans suffer from sinusitis (inflammation or
infection of sinus passages).
Ten million Americans have asthma. Asthma and asthma deaths have increased
over 30% in the past 10 years.
Headaches cost $50 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses
and 157 million lost work days in 1991. "Focus on Fragrance and
Health," by Louise Kosta, The Human Ecologist, Fall 1992.
Patricia P. Wilcox has written an excellent addendum describing some
of the chemicals Julia Kendall was unable to get information on.