Air freshener, laundry detergent, soap, shampoo, moisturizer, lip balm — these and other common household and personal care products are scented with fragrances that can be dangerous to your health. Dozens if not hundreds of synthetic chemicals go into these fragrances, including:
- Phthalates — endocrine disruptors that cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects and reproductive problems;
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that affect the neurological and respiratory systems and are carcinogenic;
- Synthetic musks, which may also be endocrine disruptors and additionally, are persistent chemicals that remain in the environment and are contaminating marine mammals.
If you think bah, that can’t be — surely, some government agency vets the products before allowing the public to be exposed to them — think again. Advance safety testing is not required before the products go to market.
If you think you can find what chemicals are used in fragrances by checking product labels, rethink again. The composition of fragrances is considered a trade secret and may be kept confidential.
And if you think the word “unscented” on a package means what it says, well, you know what to do. That just means the product doesn’t have a smell that seems scented. It could very well contain a “masking” fragrance used to neutralize the natural smell of other ingredients.
Here’s how to avoid toxic fragrances:
- Avoid air fresheners. Open the windows instead.
- Use water, white vinegar and baking soda for routine cleaning jobs. If soap is needed, try castile soap.
- Look up fragrance-free products and homemade alternatives in the Guide to Less Toxic Products.
- Check Skin Deep, the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic safety database, to see if your favorite personal care products are safe and to find safer alternatives.
- Make sure the words “fragrance” or “parfum” do not appear in the ingredient list of cosmetics.
- Use fewer cosmetics and reduce or eliminate your use of perfume.