Fragrance Free: 5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Toxic Scents

Stinky, sweet smelling air fresheners, cologne, body sprays, and scented shampoo are made with synthetic fragrances, and they're bad for your health…especially children and pregnant women. These factory-made fragrances contain phthalates, which are chemicals that can cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects and reproductive problems.

I tell my clients not to buy artificially scented products for their home or office because they can also trigger migraine headaches, allergies and asthma attacks. A recent Institute of Medicine study sponsored by the EPA put fragrances in the same category as second hand smoke as a trigger for asthma in school-age children. Also, in homes where aerosol sprays and air fresheners were used frequently, studies found that mothers experienced 25% more headaches, and infants younger than 6 months old had 30% more ear infections.

Scented disinfectants and air fresheners are showing up everywhere! I now call ahead and request no air fresheners in rental cars and at hotels, just like asking for a non-smoking car or room. I ask my groomer not to use fragrance when she washes my dog. But it's hard when you work at a school or non-service oriented business because most people think the person who is sensitive to fragrance is just plain weird. I know a chemically sensitive woman who was told to attend staff meetings by using Skype on her computer, so her co-workers wouldn't have to give up using cologne or perfume. "They think it's all in my head," she said.

Even the mall isn't a safe haven. The clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch sprays its signature fragrance Fierce inside as well as outside, so people are unknowingly being exposed to harmful chemicals by simply walking by the store. One environmental group, Teens Turning Green , held protests in San Francisco and New York demanding that the spraying stop. Their effort is supported by more than two dozen groups, including the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics , which revealed that A&F's Fierce contains 11 secret chemicals that are not listed on the label.

When you see the word "fragrance" in an ingredient list, you can assume it's all synthetic-and not a blend of natural flower extracts. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports that "95% of the ingredients used to create fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxins and sensitizers." According to the EWG , there are potentially hundreds of chemicals in a single product's secret fragrance mixture.

Be forewarned: Fragrances can contain neurotoxins and are among the top 5 allergens in the world.

Ten powerful ways to protect yourself from toxic synthetic fragrances:

  1. Avoid air fresheners. They are made with synthetic fragrances, containing phthalates.
  2. Watch for any product that lists "fragrance" or "parfum" on the label - these are FDA-approved catch-all words synonymous with hidden phthalates.
  3. Products that claim to be "fragrance free" or "unscented" could contain masking agents that give off a neutral odor, so it is best if the word "fragrance" does not appear on the label at all.
  4. Look for scents that are naturally derived or are plant-based or labeled as 100% essential oils. These are not the same thing as fragrance oils which are artificially created and contain synthetic chemicals.
  5. If a product says "Made with…" it can mean as little as 1 percent of the ingredients in the bottle.
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