Indeed as long as a decade ago, several ingredients used in fragrances were the subject of an investigation by the US National Academy of Sciences which labelled them as being on a par with insecticides and solvents in terms of the damage they could do to us.
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Up to 100 chemicals may be used in an average perfume, most of which are petro-chemicals i.e. derivatives of the petroleum industry with many suspected to be harmful. In 2004, Pat Thomas from the ‘Ecologist’ magazine analysed a typical and well-selling fragrance product, listing the ingredients and possible effects of the chemicals used.
Below we list some of the synthetic fragrances found in many perfume products and cosmetics.
Common Ingredients of Synthetic Fragrances
Alpha-Terpineol: A floral synthetic fragrance, irritating to nasal passages and mucous membranes. Causes disruption of the central nervous system (CNS) and should be in prolonged or repeated contact with the skin.
Benzenethanol: A sweet-smelling, floral, rose synthetic fragrance which is irritating to the eyes, skin, and upper respiratory tract. It affects bone marrow, causes CNS disruption, and is classed as carcinogenic. Exposure can damage the immune system, cause excess bleeding and lead to aplastic anaemia, excessive bleeding.
Benzenemethanol: Used as a carrier for other fragrance chemicals, benzenemethanol is a solvent and sweet floral synthetic fragrance. Once again it is irritating to eyes, respiratory tract, and skin, is carcinogenic, and can adversely affect the central nervous system.
Benzyl Acetate: A fruity, floral synthetic fragrance which has been linked to pancreatic cancer and again is an irritant to the airways and eyes.
Benzaldehyde, 4-Hydroxy-3-Methoxy: This synthetic fragrance adds vanilla notes but is a nasty additive which aggravates the throat, mouth, lungs, skin, eyes, and gastrointestinal tract. It causes abdominal pain, nausea and kidney damage, as well as CNS damage.
Cyclopentadecanolide: This is one of the artificial musks which are commonly used as a synthetic fragrance in perfume. It is a known hormone disrupting chemical, a carcinogenic, and irritant.
Ethyl linalool; linalool: This synthetic fragrance adds hints of wonderful-sounding French lavender and bergamot. However its reality is very far from wonderful. It is also commonly used in pesticides, is a narcotic and CNS disrupter.
Eugenol: A synthetic fragrance used as a replacement for clove oil. It can trigger contact dermatitis and irritate the skin, eyes, and airways. It is also used in fungicides, insecticides, and pesticides.
Galaxolide 50: Another of the synthetic musk fragrances, also a hormone disrupting chemical, irritant, and a carcinogen.