In 1989, the office of Occupational Safety and Health identified nearly 900 toxic chemicals used to scent products. Although science clearly shows how these fragrances affect your nervous system, most of these toxins are still prevalent today. At your local store, you may see shelves loaded with shampoos, lotions, detergents, and etc.—the majority of these are “enhanced” with synthetic scents.
Since there is no FDA mandate requiring companies to list their scent formulations, many chemicals can hide behind the term “fragrance.” When you see “fragrance” on a label, it can mean nearly anything, but it typically means toxic chemicals. The National Academy of Sciences admits that 95% of synthetic fragrance chemicals come from crude oil. One example is toluene, linked to central nervous system disorders and chronic illness.
You may question how a “harmless scent” can have such a devastating effect on the body. Fragrances can enter your body through direct exposure to the skin—in the case of lotions, detergents, or soaps. The chemicals also enter your body through your upper airway where they permeate the olfactory before continuing on to the lungs. In both cases, the chemicals eventually find their way to the limbic section of the brain. That’s how fragrances begin to affect your nervous system. According to Rose Marie William, author of the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients (2004), when the fragrance reaches your brain, it can begin to cause all sorts of neurological changes. It can instantly affect your blood pressure, your pulse, and your overall mood. Many people also report a sedative effect, while others begin to feel stressed or anxious.
The body knows it is under attack from these chemical toxins, but the scent is so subtle that you might not recognize the culprit until too much damage is done. Research by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics links the chemicals in perfume to short term memory loss, central nervous system disorders, and even severe depression due to altering the brain’s biochemistry. In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long admitted that poor air quality, poisoned by chemicals, does contribute to neurological ailments including fatigue, dizziness, migraines, and forgetfulness. Knowing this, consider that most of the fragrance products we use are designed to disperse into the air we breathe. They linger on clothes or furniture for an extended time, sometimes for weeks or months.
The only solution is to discontinue the damaging habit of polluting our bodies, homes, and broader environment with these neurotoxins. Many schools and medical offices have already moved in this direction by banning perfumes in an effort to protect those most sensitive to fragrances. You may do the same by carefully reading labels on the products you purchase. Avoid anything with the term “fragrance” listed as an ingredient. Instead, choose only unscented products or those containing pure, authentic essential oils.
What To Remember:Chemical fragrances can enter your body through the breath or the skin.
Fragrances can affect your nervous system, causing real and unwanted symptoms.
Avoid products with “fragrance” listed as an ingredient.
Products with safe, natural fragrances will list the specific source of any scents used.
For More on How Fragrances Affect Your Nervous System, watch our related video.
- Axe, D. (2017). Dangers of Synthetic Scents Include Cancer, Asthma, Kidney Damage, and More. Retrieved from DrAxe:
- Cook, M. S. (2010, July 1). Toxic Effects of Perfume. Retrieved from Care2.
- Ferlow, K. (2008, May). Fragrance: A Growing Health and Environmental Hazard. Retrieved from Positive Health.
- Robinson, K. (1997). Scents Are Not What They Seem. Retrieved from Environmental Health.
- William, R. M. (n.d.). Fragrance Alters Mood and Brain Chemistry: Health Risks and Environmental Issues. Retrieved from The Power Hour.
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