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Poisonous Perfume? Revealing the Dangers of Fragrance

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Last week, I accompanied my mom to an appointment with her doctor who is supporting her through the challenges of a terminal illness. After the appointment, she went home and I walked around looking at skin care products -- which, as a manufacturer of skin care products, I often do. I entered a bustling, extremely popular Sephora store and I was met with a wall of perfumes, all made with synthetic fragrance. When I asked if they had many products in the store made without synthetic fragrance, I was told that they did not. As I watched consumers load products into their shopping baskets, on the heels of my sobering morning, I wanted to yell: "Doesn't anyone know how bad this stuff is for you!?" I was particularly unnerved because some fragrances have been shown to contain benzene, which has been linked to MDS, my mom's illness.

In 2010, the President's Cancer Panel published a report on cancer risks from chemicals. They concluded that: "The burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated" and highlighted benzene, found in synthetic fragrance, as one of the more concerning substances.

The biggest problem with synthetic fragrance is that it is simply listed as "fragrance" or "parfum" on product labels, so one can never fully know the chemical make up of a certain product. Given the health concerns surrounding many of the chemicals found in fragrance, one has to ask, why? Is it really that important for a baby to smell "fresh" or for a teen to have hair that smells like a "tropical rain forest"? Even if it could contribute to asthma, eczema or even worse, cancer? And when we want a product to smell lovely, why not turn to essential oils vs. fragrance oils?

I had thyroid cancer in my early 30s and I have countless friends who have had cancer, including one of my best friends who lost her battle at 39. This leads me to ask, if there is a chance that multiple exposures to synthetic fragrance can compromise our immune systems, why do more people not know this and WHY are manufacturers not making more products without it? I appreciate that companies like Avon are fundraising to help find a cure for a terrible disease, I also think that we should demand that manufacturers of personal care products direct more energy toward prevention/creating safer products. Without research that more clearly shows a link between personal care products and illness, it has been easy for manufacturers to look the other way when it comes to prevention.

I saw an Avon ad the other day that asked: Are you in it to end it? My answer is positively YES. So Avon, can we start by taking fragrance out of your Naturals Kids products? Why would anyone put an ingredient associated with asthma, skin sensitivity and endocrine disruption into children's products? Avon is not alone. I am shocked by the number of products sold at our local Whole Foods that contain fragrance.

On Friday, a study released in Environmental HealthPerspectives revealed an alarming number of unlabeled chemicals of concern in commonly used household and personal care products. The study was funded by Silent Spring Institute, which had 213 consumer products independently tested by Battelle Labs for 66 specific chemicals associated with either endocrine disruption or asthma. The results indicate that manufacturers could do a lot more to make our products safer. Fragrance was specifically listed as a concern.

While many "walk for a cure," which I do think is worthwhile, I will also speak out for a more intelligent approach to manufacturing, which should include the exclusion of synthetic fragrance in all products. There is no logical reason for us to unnecessarily expose ourselves to toxins on a daily basis and we need to voice our concerns so that manufacturers know that we care.

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