The Toxic Truth About Commercial Perfumes

Perfumes used to be made from natural ingredients like flowers and herbs. However, Perfume formulations changed sometime around the late 70s and early 80s. Today, they are approximately 95-100% synthetic (man-made). Using crude oil or turpentine oil as the base material, synthetics are usually derived from chemical reactions.

These synthetic compounds are chemicals that can be dangerous to many when inhaled or applied to the skin. Author Connie Pitts explained, “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 petro-chemicals, phthalates (which can act as hormone disrupters), narcotics, and much more.”(2)

Combined and alone these ingredients can evoke numerous health issues, including nervous system damage, kidney damage, respiratory failure, ataxia, intestinal inflammation, dizziness, fatigue and more. 1

Perhaps the reason fragrance companies got away with selling toxic products for so long is that they are not legally required to list their ingredients on the labels. Regulations have made it legal to keep their ingredients undisclosed by simply disguising them under the term “fragrance".  In fact, a company can legally use over 400 ingredients under the single term to “protect” their trade formulas. Although there may be some credibility to protecting a company’s formula, it should not be done at the expense of the end user’s health.

Top 10 Known Chemical Ingredients in Fragrances

Getting into some of the specifics, here is a list of the top 10, known chemical ingredients used in popular fragrances and the research about their toxic effects:

  1. Styrene: National Toxicology Program and the National Academy of Science, have declared styrene to be an anticipated human carcinogen” in 2011. 2, 3
  2. Phthalates: Studies have found that phthalates are endocrine disruptors that can decrease IQ by 6 points in children whose mothers were exposed to them during pregnancy. The use of phthalates have also been linked to sperm damage in studies. Also, phthalates are also considered “obesogens” which means they can suppress the metabolism and contribute to obesity. 4
  3. Musk ketone: A skin irritant and hormone disruptor. 5
  4. Benzaldehyde: This substance is a known narcotic, lung and eye irritant. It causes nausea, abdominal pain, and kidney damage.
  5. Benzyl acetate: Known carcinogen, which causes eye and lung irritation as well as coughing.
  6. Camphor: Can cause dizziness, confusion, nausea, muscle twitching, convulsions.
  7. Ethyl acetate: Can cause eye and respiratory irritation.
  8. Limonene: Known carcinogenic.
  9. Linalool: Can cause respiratory disturbances in animal studies, depression, and central nervous system disorders.
  10. Methylene chloride: This substance has actually been banned by the FDA due to severe toxic effects; however, the ban is not enforced as it still may be found in labels listing “fragrance”.

Protecting Your Health from Toxic Scents

To protect your body and health from the dangers of toxic chemicals in popular fragrance products, firtst become aware of them, then avoid them and substitute with natural alternatives.

Here are some tips on how to avoid the dangers of toxic perfume chemicals while and also still smelling good:

  • If you are unsure about your regular products quality/toxicity, then simply check the labels. Look for any of the chemicals listed here, and also avoid any product with the ingredient “fragrance” or “perfume” on the label. These are usually chemical cocktails containing hundreds of ingredients.
  • Look for products that contain recognizable, natural ingredients and scent their products with organic essential oils. If you are unsure about an ingredient, look it up before buying.


  1. https://invisibledisabilities.org/publications/chemicalsensitivities/whygofragrancefree/
  2. https://alituranaturals.com/the-top-10-toxic-chemicals-in-perfumes-and-cologne/
  3. Campaign for safe cosmetics - http://www.safecosmetics.org/

Also See: The Story of Cosmetics


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