THE BLOG

Five 'Must-Knows' on the Dangers of Synthetic Fragrance

02/10/2014 11:13 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2014
  • Maria Rodale CEO and Chairman of Rodale, Inc. and book author

by guest blogger Ava Anderson, natural beauty expert and safe cosmetics advocate

Real strawberries don't really smell like that...

1. WHAT is "fragrance?" More than 95 percent of the chemicals in synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals. These chemicals include: benzene derivatives, aldehydes, phthalates, and a slew of other known toxins that are capable of causing cancer, birth defects, nervous-system disorders and allergies--some of which are cited on the EPA's hazardous waste list.

2. WHERE is it hiding? In the U.S., manufacturers can legally hide hundreds of synthetic chemicals in the one word--"fragrance"--without revealing what those ingredients are. It's referred to as a "trade secret" in the industry. But really, it's simply a loophole big enough to drive a fuel truck though. This excuse to not label fragrance ingredients was initiated in an era when the major fragrance houses lobbied to protect their secret formulas made from flowers and oils. But those days are long gone. What the government is protecting now are manufacturers who have a license to poison the American public with more than 3,000 chemicals that are being absorbed, inhaled, and ingested daily.

3. WHY should I avoid it? Environmental Working Group (EWG) researchers found more than 75 percent of products listing the ingredient "fragrance" contained phthalates (THAL-ates) which have been shown to disrupt hormone activity, reduce sperm counts, and cause reproductive malformation, and have been linked to liver and breast cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Additionally, studies by Dr. Philip J. Landrigan of the Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center, link fetal exposure with autism, ADHD, and neurological disorders.

4. HOW do I avoid fragrance? Many of us work hard to make good food choices--such as eating organic and avoiding hormones and GMOs--and we read nutrition labels. But how many of us read the labels of our bottles, sprays, and jars? A majority of personal care products for men, women, and children, along with home-cleaning products, contain "fragrance." The ingredients in "fragrance" are absorbed into the bloodstream directly though the skin. We advise people to avoid ALL products with the ingredient "fragrance" on the label--including perfumes and colognes, baby lotions and wipes, air fresheners and candles, dryer sheets and detergents, and so on. Even if the front screams "fragrance free," products can still contain fragrance ingredients as a masking agent to cover unpleasant chemical smells. Read the labels!

The bottom line: Congress has banned some phthalates in toys, but as the recent study above suggests, others have been substituted in their place. Many countries have banned phthalates (EU, Canada, South Korea, Japan, even China). But the U.S. government demands such a high level of proof of harm that many agree it is simply impossible to reach--and our government is slow to respond, banning only a few chemicals in its history.

"Fragrance" is at the top of my "no-no" list. If a manufacturer isn't willing to list ALL of a product's ingredients on its label, that's a deal breaker for me. I hope it is for you, too.

Ava_AndersonAt the age of 15, Ava Anderson launched her own line of personal care and home-cleaning products, Ava Anderson Non-Toxic. Now 20 , Ava is educating hundreds of thousands of American families annually on the issue of toxic chemicals in personal care products through her line, which now includes baby, skin, face, hair, body, scents, bugs, candles, home, sun, and pet products. A sophomore at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Ava actively helps run her multimillion-dollar empire with 17 full-time employees. Her goal is to help force a paradigm shift on the issue of toxic chemicals in products.

For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com