The Dangers of Synthetic Fragrances

I think of the times when I was a teenager at the mall and would spend literal hours in the Bath and Body Works, sniffing every lotion, every shower gel, every "body splash". I had no idea what I was exposing myself to- and didn't care because I was covered by vanilla spice body butter. Now I get a headache from thinking about it- and even avoid going down the cleaning isle in the grocery store.

What's even wilder is the fact that the public has had access to all of the information regarding the toxicity of these ingredients for decades. A paper titled "Neurotoxins: at home and in the workplace" came out in 1989- linking these chemicals to cancer, birth defects & central nervous system disorders (1).

In this blog post- we will cover what these fragrances are, the effects they have on our lives, and what information you need to limit your contact with them.

What are Synthetic Fragrances?

The word “fragrance” or "parfum" covers dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of chemicals on product labels (2). It's a mixture of ingredients that the FDA doesn't require to be detailed- allowing manufacturers to clump together chemicals without specifying them on the label.

95% of of chemicals used in fragrances are derived from petroleum (crude oil). Which in our opinion, is very uncool.

Most cleaning products, air fresheners & laundry detergents contain these chemicals. Personal care products are rife with synthetic perfumes, designed to deliver a punch of "tropical paradise" or a "floral bouquet".

According to the Campaign for Safer Cosmetics, hair products are especially problematic. More than 95% of shampoos, conditioners and styling products contain fragrance as an ingredient (3).

"Are you wondering why companies would continue to use synthetic scents if they’re so bad for our health? The answer is straightforward — they are cheaper. Synthetic scents can be an extremely cheap way to give everything from shampoo to lotion to candles a desirable scent." (4)

Phthalates (pronunced THA-lates) are a group of  chemicals often disguised as “fragrance.” They have been connected to cancer, endocrine disruption as well as developmental and reproductive toxicity. Phthalates are already banned from cosmetics in the EU, but are still routinely found in products manufactured and sold in the United States. They are often disguised under the “fragrance” ingredient, but they can also appear on ingredient lists as phthalate, DEP, DBP, and DEHP (5).

What are the effects of Synthetic Fragrances?

On Children & Pregnant People

There are a myriad of ways that artificial perfumes affect us daily. From the seemingly innocuous annoyance or headaches from our co-workers perfume to lifelong health issues- there is overwhelming evidence that these chemicals are bad news.

"Research conducted by Dr. Philip J. Landrigan of the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center demonstrates that fetal exposure to phthalates is linked to autism, symptoms of adhd, and neurological disorders. (6)" It is of the upmost importance that all of us, but especially pregnant women- limit their exposure to these ingredients. Fragrance can accumulate in human fat tissue, and has even been found in breast milk (7).

Cancer & Reproductive Harm

Among the thousands of chemicals used in fragrance- many of them are either known carcinogens, or have strong evidence insinuating they are carcinogenic.

Breast Cancer Prevention Partners points out that avoiding these toxins from the get-go is one of the best ways to ensure a successful prevention of cancer.

A study from the National Library of Medicine found that "growing evidence indicates that exposure to widespread, environmental contaminants called endocrine disruptors (EDCs) negatively affects animal and human reproductive health and has been linked to several diseases including infertility (8)." It has also been linked to decreased sperm count & reproductive malformations.

Migraines & Allergies

If you or someone you know already has issues with breathing & mitigating headaches- you know that fragrances can add an entirely new level of difficulties to deal with. Fragrances are one of the top five allergens in the world (9).

Recent health reports show that there has been a rise in asthma, migraines, sinus issues & allergies. There is likely a correlation between in the increase of synthetic fragrances & the symptoms they create.

What to know & What to avoid

What to not buy

Besides avoiding the icky isles at the store- a quick glance at product labels can be very helpful in avoiding these toxins. Completely avoiding any product that lists fragrance, parfum, phthalate, DEP, DBP, or DEHP as an ingredient. Avoid things that end in, methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, isopropyl-.

If you really want a scented product- look for organic essential oils.

Note that there is a difference between "Fragrance Free" and "Unscented" on products- a "fragrance-free" label indicates that the product contains no added fragrance chemicals. An "unscented" label means that fragrance chemicals may have been added to mask odors (10).

Some products I like from companies I trust:

Fragrance Free Laundry Tablets from Blueland

Liquid dish soap from Cleancult

Seed-to-bottle skincare from Gatherwise

DIY or make your own!

Using basic ingredients to clean your house like vinegar, baking soda, and citrus juice can be an excellent way to save money, cut down on plastic and avoid toxic materials. You can also make plenty of personal cosmetic products that are cruelty free and all natural.

Here at Rabbit Brush you can be confident that the products you get are pure and free from any artificial perfume or fragrance. We are currently working on a fragrance free shag spray that will likely be released this summer.

Our Oregon Lavender Shag Spray & Seriously Magic Hair Oil has essential oils that are not only organic, but local to us here in Oregon. Grown in Silverton, Oregon at Buena Vista Farms.

Our Cedar Rose & Velvet Vetiver Shag Spray & Hair Oils are also made with high quality essential oils as well- sourced from a local, female-owned wholesale supplier. Choosing small-batch, handmade hair care by hands that care about what goes in your home and on your body is a wise decision for you and the planet. You don't have to sacrifice looking good or smelling good either, it turns out that we don't even need these ingredients! The reason they are so popular is because they are cheap for large corporations to use.

Thank you for taking the time to be a conscious consumer! The way we navigate our current landscape can make a difference in the industry at large.

Enjoy this little infographic you're welcome to keep on your phone or reference at any time.

infographic on avoiding toxic synthetic fragrances

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