What does “fragrance” really mean? The vast universe of fragranced consumer products includes the obvious scented products like colognes, perfumes, and air fresheners. But it also includes countless body products (e.g., shampoos, conditioners, lotions, deodorants), cleaners, candles, laundry detergents, and more. Each product can contain dozens or even hundreds of fragrance-related chemicals, but companies are not required to provide this information to consumers.
In the case of cosmetics, the generic term parfum or fragrance on the ingredient list can represent a complex cocktail of chemicals. “Parfum” was the most commonly reported ingredient in the David Suzuki Foundation’s 2010 cosmetics survey and can be found in nearly every type of personal care product.
Even products labelled as “unscented” and “fragrance-free” may contain masking agents — that is, fragrance chemicals that hide odours (source: Health Canada).
What’s really in the bottle? Some hidden hazards that may be in the products that contain synthetic fragrances include:
Allergens and sensitizers – Fragrances are considered to be among the top five known allergens
Phthalates – This class of chemicals has been linked to hormone disruption, which can affect development and fertility.
Neurotoxins – the U.S. National Academy of Sciences identified fragrance ingredients as one of six categories of neurotoxins (chemicals that are toxic to the brain) that should be thoroughly investigated for impacts on human health.
Synthetic musks – synthetic musks include Galaxolide and Tonalide. Both Galaxolide and Tonalide can bind to and stimulate human estrogen receptors and have been shown to affect androgen and progesterone receptors. Tonalide has also been reported to increase the proliferation of estrogen-responsive human breast cancer cells.