Perfume: Spray at Your Own Risk....and Others

Author: Linda Lizotte, RD, Nutritionist

Founder and President, AMG Naturally Inc.


perfume dangers

What exactly is “Fragrance”?

Adding synthetic fragrances, or perfume, to personal care products is commonplace in the cosmetic industry.  “Scented products are generally perceived as pleasant, a harmless means of self-expression and certainly not a significant health concern.”(1) On the contrary, fragrance can be one of the most harmful ingredients in a product.  This is mainly due to the fact that fragrance is not simply one ingredient, but a mixture of anywhere from a few dozen chemicals to a few hundred.

Companies use the term “fragrance”, also known, or listed, as “parfum”, to hide the chemical cocktail that is truly contained in their products such as Aveeno’s Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer.  According to federal labeling laws, any ingredients used to give a product a pleasant scent, or mask an unpleasant one, can be listed generically as “fragrance”.  To the consumer, this means that companies have no reason to disclose the types of chemicals, or the amount, that they include in their products. (2)

Why is fragrance unhealthy for people?

The International Fragrance Association publishes a Transparency List online.  This list is a compilation of over 3,000 specific chemicals that fragrance makers acknowledge using in their formulas.  That list can be found HERE.

Connie Pitts, author of Get a Whiff of This: Perfumes (Fragrances) - The Invisible Chemical Poisons, explains “Perfumes, colognes, and many other scented products contain an abundance of harmful chemicals, many of which are listed on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste List.  They also include numerous carcinogenic chemicals, neurotoxins, respiratory irritants, solvents, aldehydes, hundreds of untested and unregulated petrochemicals, phthalates (which can act as hormone disruptors), narcotics, and much more.”(3)

The Committee on Science & Technology found that roughly 95% of the chemicals used in fragrance are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum.  Petroleum is created as a byproduct in the process of refining crude oil (drilled directly from the earth that is typically converted into gasoline and other fuels).  (4) Petroleum based chemicals considerably weaken the nervous systems and immune systems after repeated exposure.  “Illnesses identified in medical research include adult and child cancers, numerous neurological disorders, immune system weakening, autoimmune disorders, asthma, allergies, infertility, miscarriage, and child behavior disorders including learning disabilities, mental retardation, hyperactivity and ADD (attention deficit disorders).”(5)  It is not uncommon for people to use other types of petroleum based products for a variety of cosmetic purposes such as dry skin.  A large manufacturer of petroleum based products is planning on greatly expanding its product line in the near future.  We caution everyone to avoid use of these products as well.


dangers in perfume

Common chemicals found in fragrance:

While it is impossible for us to list all 3,000+ chemicals that can potentially be included under the generalization of fragrance, many of which are banned in Europe due to toxicity, a few of them are:


-Phthalates                     - Methyl Benzene        -Benzene                         -Acetone

-Galaxolide                     - Benzyl Acetate           -Benzaldehyde             -Ethyl Acetate

-Tonalide                        -Benzyl Alcohol           - Styrene                          - Methylene Chloride


Material Safety Data Sheets confirm that exposure to these chemicals can cause; “central nervous system disorders, dizziness, nausea, uncoordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, irritation to the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, lungs and GI tract, kidney damage, headaches, respiratory (breathing) failure, ataxia (lack of coordination), and fatigue, among other symptoms and illnesses.”(6)


What types of products contain synthetic fragrances?

Synthetic fragrances can be found in almost any type of product today including soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deodorant, perfumes, colognes, household cleaning products, air fresheners, and candles.  Even the most careful of consumers would be hard pressed to avoid total exposure from these synthetic fragrances.  To protect ourselves from further bodily harm we must remain hyper-vigilant in avoiding these types of products.


Is there any way to know exactly what chemicals we are absorbing through our skin or inhaling when we use products that contain synthetic fragrances?

The most alarming realization for consumers is that there is essentially no way of knowing what chemicals we are exposing ourselves to when we use products containing synthetic fragrances.  There is no requirement for disclosing or safety testing any of the ingredients in a fragrance formula before marketing it to the public.  “Fragrance formulas are considered ‘trade secrets’ and do not need to be revealed to anyone, including regulatory agencies. “(1) Manufacturers would not want Britney Spears knocking off the same perfume as Jessica Simpson.

The Not Too Pretty report found phthalates in 72 percent of personal care products they analyzed including FRAGRANCE-containing shampoos, deodorants, and hair gels. NONE listed phthalates on their label.

As usual, manufacturers of fragrances will tell us that the amount of chemicals in a product is too insignificant to negatively impact the user.  Carrie Loewenherz, an industrial hygienist for the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, warns us “Even if the general population isn’t likely to suffer acute effects from exposure to fragrances, there are long-term chronic health effects connected to these chemicals that we don’t fully understand yet.”(7) So, spray at your own risk! If you insist, spray on your clothes, far from your nose.  Remember that your loved ones are inhaling the chemicals too, similar to secondhand smoke, and known to be just as toxic.

With such a clear lack of data on the long-term effects of exposing one’s self to this varying array of chemicals, the only sane course of action would be to avoid them.  At AMG Naturally we strongly encourage everyone to read the labels on the products they use in their daily routines and avoid anything that has fragrance listed on the label.  

is fragrance bad for you

Even if the product is advertised as “fragrance-free” it may still contain a masking fragrance, double check that label. Using products with pleasing aromas and avoiding harmful synthetic fragrances are not mutually exclusive.  Stick to products with natural scents and natural ingredients; throw the synthetics in the trash.  Choose companies that truly CARE about YOUR SKIN CARE. 


Sign up for AMG Naturally’s monthly e-Newsletter to learn how to read tricky cosmetic labels.



  • FPINVA, “Fragrances by Design: Materials that quickly get into the air.” Fragranced Products Information Network
  • “Dangers of fragrance: WHY GO FRAGRANCE FREE?” Quantum Growth Business Solutions.
  • Pitts, Connie (2003). “Featured Author. Connie Pitts – Get a Whiff of This: Perfumes (Fragrances) – The Invisible Chemical Poisons.” Integrative Ink
  • S. House of Representatives (Sept. 16, 1986). “Neurotoxins: At Home and the Workplace.” Report by the Committee on Science & Technology, Report 99-827.
  • Pressinger, Richard M.Ed and Sinclair, Wayne MD. “ Researching effects of chemicals and pesticides upon health.”
  • Dewey, David Lawrence (October 7, 1999). “Food For Thought: Colognes – Perfumes – Pesticides Are They Slowly Killing You?” Dewey’s World
  • Lyman, Francesca (Feb. 12, 2003). “What the nose knows – Think twice before buying a loved one perfume, cologne.” MSNBC


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