Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What's in your 'fragrance'?

I like nice smelling things, like soaps, and lotions, etc. However, I've found that the smell of most perfumes and many lotions gives me headaches. Maybe I have a perfume/fragrance sensitivity or allergy.

When you look at the ingredient list for cosmetic products, you often see "fragrance" listed. What is fragrance? It turns out that it can include many chemicals that the manufacturer doesn't need to disclose, such as phthalates. Phthalates are typically used as plasticizers for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics and are considered endocrine disruptors, which can cause reproductive problems, changes in hormone levels, birth defects, and possibly more -- what is it doing in fragrances?? Apparently, they're used as solvents to "fix" scents so that they last longer. Here's the FDA's take on phthalates in cosmetic products. According to the FDA, the main phthalates used in cosmetics are dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and diethylphthalate (DEP). To date, it appears that the FDA believes there is insufficient evidence to indicate that phthalates in cosmetics pose a significant health risk. Furthermore, the FDA doesn't require manufacturers to list individual fragrance ingredients, so as consumers, we will never know what's really in a product's fragrance. Think about all the products that we use that contain fragrance -- shampoos, lotions (even baby shampoos and lotions), perfumes, soaps, detergents, scented candles, air fresheners, etc.

So, we should just buy fragrance-free products, right? Well, maybe not... Apparently, "fragrance-free" products can still contain chemicals used to mask unpleasant smelling components of the formulation, but they would have to be listed in the ingredients as "fragrance." Although, if they are present at an "insignificant level," then they don't have to be listed in the ingredients...

I guess the key thing is to look for the word "fragrance" in the ingredient list of your favorite products, and then decide whether you can give it up for something potentially healthier. I say "potentially" because a lot of products are advertised as being "natural" and "healthy" when they really aren't if you look carefully.

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