Monthly Archives: May 2010

Fragrance, chemicals, cancer and the environment

For some time now, I have had been having allergic reactions to the fragrance found in products such as perfume, soap, candles, etc. Early morning meetings and trips in the elevator are hard for me to handle, with perfumes and colognes competing to make my nose itch and eyes water. Recently while walking through the mall, I walked by the Bath and Bodyworks store (not even that close to it) and got an instant headache! It seems like it’s gotten worse since I gave birth to our son.

Curious to know how prevalent this reaction is, I looked it up online and found that fragrance sensitivities are common. WebMD offers an excellent article on the topic, that includes fascinating information such as:

  • Some 5,000 different fragrances are used in products today.
  • The fragrance may not be the real problem, as it’s just one part of a mix of chemicals (sometimes as many as 200 or more!) used to create the smell or that act as the masking agent in unscented products.
  • How our bodies respond to a particular fragrance lies in our individual physiologic makeup.
  • Women, particularly during their reproductive years, have the ability to detect odors much more vividly than do men, and they become more sensitive with repeated exposures
  • Doctors don’t agree on what’s behind any fragrance reaction, and whether it’s even a true allergy or simply a response to an irritant.
  • As a health problem, this sensitivity alone affects more than 2 million people, and studies suggest that sensitivity is on the rise.
  • Sensitivity to one fragrance or odor can snowball into a crippling disorder known as multiple chemical sensitivity.
  • There have been several recent legal actions taken on the topic of fragrance, relating exposure to second hand smoke.

So it’s not just me!

In related news this week, a study conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group found that 17 of most popular fragrances contained 38 secret chemicals, including alarming things like hormone disrupters. I’m wondering if there’s a way I can subtly bring this up to coworkers to get them to tone down the scent use, perhaps post it on the mirror in the bathroom? 😉

All joking aside, I really believe that consumers have a right to know what’s in the products they buy, whether it be the food they eat or perfume they wear. By taking advantage of the loophole that allows chemicals to be lumped together as fragrance, it makes it hard for consumers to truly assess the product and identify potential allergens. While true that most would not read it anyway if all listed out, there’s something to be said for making the information available for those that do care and/or need the info.

The FDA has the ability to restrict or ban any ingredient they consider unsafe, should they desire to do so.  Perhaps they may reconsider the role of fragrance and other related chemicals in light of the landmark report by the President’s Cancer Panel?

It concluded that the government has failed to prevent unnecessary exposures to carcinogens, potentially causing cancer, and suggests that the challenge for the Obama administration is to intensify research efforts into environmental toxins. “Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety,” the report says. It adds: “Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated.” Obviously, more studies are needed to determine the effects of pollutants all around us.

It also includes the suggestion that America must rethink the way we confront cancer, including much more rigorous regulation of chemicals. Instead of solely focusing on self screening and preventitive care visits to the doctor, they are finally making other practical recommendations such as to avoid microwaving food in plastic and get your house tested for radon!