ID 112415596 © Ian Andreiev |

ID 112415596 © Ian Andreiev |

MONTERREY--This Makes No Scents: Fragrance is Toxic

It's Unregulated and In Everything. Why Should You Care?

Debbie Monterrey
October 02, 2018 - 7:34 pm

I’m a reformed scent-a-holic. For years, I believed the more fragrance, the better. Pile it on! Until I had to quit cold turkey and go…gulp…fragrance-free (NOT unscented. That’s different. More on that later).

Oh, how I loved my fragrances! My plug-ins, scented candles, potpourri, Scentsy. Not to mention my perfume, my scented lotions, soaps, shampoos, laundry detergents, lip balms, cleaning products and on and on and on.

But then my body rebelled. And yours might be, too, you just don’t realize it yet. 

Fragrance is toxic. Aside from fragrance causing allergic reaction in people, ranging from skin sensitivity to sneezing to hives to anaphylactic shock, it could also be rendering us sterile. 

According to the Environmental Working Group, the average fragrance product they tested contained 14 secret chemicals not listed on the label, including petrochemicals and diethyl phthalate, a chemical found in 97 percent of Americans and linked to sperm damage in human epidemiological studies.

Don’t bother trying to read the labels. The FDA hasn’t tested the vast majority of these products and, thanks to the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973, companies can legally keep ingredients in fragrance that build up in our bodies over time a secret. 

Certainly Halle Berry and Jennifer Lopez wouldn’t steer us wrong! But the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found twelve different hormone-disrupting chemicals in Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver and Jennifer Lopez J.Lo Glow. TWELVE! American Eagle 77 contained 24 secret chemicals. 

The problem with perfumes and colognes is that you spray them on your skin for instant absorption into your blood stream, while you also inhale them instantly into your respiratory system.

But it’s not just those products. More than 95 percent of shampoos, conditioners, and styling products contain fragrance. Then add in all the scents around our homes. 

ID 112796445 © Владимир Сухачёв |
ID 112796445 © Владимир Сухачёв |

The cosmetics industry is one of our least regulated but most used. Since 1938, the federal government has banned just 8 of the more than 12,000 ingredients/chemicals used in the personal care products that we smear all over ourselves every day. They don’t assess the safety of those products or require that all ingredients be listed on the label. (This video explains it well, check it out). 

When I was diagnosed as chemically-sensitive/allergic to fragrance, I learned that reaching for “unscented” doesn’t help. That just means there is a masking fragrance to cover the other scents. You have to look for “fragrance-free.” Because there is virtually no oversight of packaging claims, buying things labeled "for sensitive skin” or “hypoallergenic” could just be marketing, with no guarantee that it won't make your skin freak out.

The good news is, there are so many people like me who now have to avoid fragrance that it’s easier to find fragrance-free products. The problem is, it’s impossible to escape other people’s smells. 

I used to mock people who got mad about perfume and cologne inserts in magazines, but now I hate them! They make me sneeze and I have to pull them out with a tissue to avoid touching them. 

One day at work, an employee stated that she was allergic to dogs so please keep them away from her desk. Immediately, an email went out that dogs were banned from the radio station entirely, including for the morning shows who used to feature adoptable dogs. 

But what about me? Should I complain that some fellow workers wear so much perfume/cologne that I can smell them long after they’ve left the room? That I can tell they’ve been in the hallway long after they’ve disappeared from my sight? That some co-workers actually make me sneeze and maybe break out? I don’t, because I don’t want to be that person, but I sure wish people would consider others when they drown themselves in stuff that smells. 

In all honesty, I miss my scented candles. I have learned to live without many things since my diagnosis, but I would love a car freshener. I just can’t. It’s not worth it.

My advice to those of you who don’t think you are affected: just back off the fragrance wherever you can. Once you are sensitive, there’s nothing to be done about it. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that sensitized patients use only fragrance-free products, avoiding all perfumes, colognes, after-shaves, fingernail care products, and hair spray, FOREVER.

Of course, if hormone disrupting chemicals in these products have rendered you sterile, that’s forever, too. 

Fragrance is a multi-billion dollar business. Is it worth it to you?


Supplemental articles: 

Fragrance Allergies: What's That Smell?

Learn The Language of Skin Care Labels:

Fragrance Sensitivities Can Actually Be Very Severe, Study Finds:


Campaign for Safe Cosmetics:

Environmental Working Group:


Think Dirty--this is an amazing app that lets you scan your personal care products to see just how toxic they are. You will be shocked.