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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.


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What are the health hazards of exposure to fragrances in consumer products and cosmetics? How can our regulatory system effectively address such hazards?

Posted by Molly Rauch, MPH on November 3, 2011

Fragranced consumer products are ubiquitous. In addition to products sold explicitly as fragrance, such as perfumes and air fresheners, fragrance is added to a wide range of products such as shampoos, soaps, makeup, laundry products, household cleaners, candles, and toys. The smell of a product often guides our consumer choices. But does it also influence our health?

The complex and proprietary mix of industrial chemicals added to consumer products as fragrance is unstudied and largely unregulated. There is scant information about the safety of most chemicals in consumer products; our chemicals regulatory system, across many agencies and statutes, requires only the most minimal testing for adverse health effects. At the same time, the presence of chemicals in products is often undisclosed, as our regulatory system values the importance of confidential business information – often above public health. This leaves healthcare providers and consumers with little information about the health effects of the products they are using every day, in particular the mix of chemicals that comprise the fragrance in a product.

There is much that we don’t know, but the little information we do have about fragrances points to the presence of potentially dangerous chemicals in these complex synthetic mixtures.


Coughing and headaches at work - The cause may be sitting right next to you
Evelyn I. Bain MEd, RN, COHN-S. FAAOHN

What's that smell? The not so sexy truth about fragrance
Stacy Malkan

Health Hazards of Fragrance in Cleaning Products: What You Don't Know Might Hurt You
Alexandra Scranton

Fragranced Consumer Products: Science, Health, and Policy Implications
Anne Steinemann, PhD

The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.


suzanne martin said ..

im allergic to fragrances and am finding life impossible to live in the uk because everyone wears fragrances and use them. im getting to the point of feeling suicidal because of the stress of this condition, something needs to be done sap by the government regarding the use of fragrances.

June 12, 2016
Laura said ..

I think if stores are going to use these fragrances it should be posted at the entrances. Most consumers don't know they're breathing in toxic chemicals as they shop. Also employees are breathing in these scents all day long. We do not know the long term effects of this. I get a severe headache after shopping in certain stores also chest congestion. This is unnecessary for us to have to deal with.

February 23, 2015
shay said ..

i have gotten sick just by walking into a facility with scentair fragrance being pumped in- this is criminal that they are allowed to pump in artificial fragrance that sickens people!!!! why are they not responsible for those of us getting sick from them gassing us?

November 25, 2014
Mary2 said ..

I work in the fragrance industry and get exposed to high levels of organic volatiles. I haven't had children yet and would like to in the future. Do you think I could have complications due to my job? Thanks

November 11, 2014
emmy said ..

how can i get in touch with someone who knows about sickness caused from detergent fragrances? My friend has gotten asthma, fluid in knee, after being exposed to such for several years. I also agree the use of too much fragrances in in stores should be stopped hatson

April 18, 2014
janet Zee said ..

Help... I work in a skilled nursing center (rest home) One of the upper level staff has decided that Scentsy products are good for us... but it is causing me difficulties with breathing, eye and sinus issues. I have asked them to not use it but am met with apathy... help...

December 13, 2012
Suki said ..

Thank you for turning your attention to this PSR. A major issue in pursing improvements in this area through the legal system is the "idiopathy" of neurotoxic symptoms. Find a medical basis to prove the headaches are caused by the fragrances. If there is one- I'd love to know what it is and so would my doctors.

November 13, 2011
Susan said ..

I live in low-income housing where we are forced to breathe toxic fumes from "fragrance" dispensers located in the hallway of the building. That, in addition to neighbors who smoke, sickens me and gives me frequent headaches. I have to cover my mmouth and nose whenever I go into the hallway. Also, I have noticed an incredibly strong chemical smell in various discount or dollar stores. I am sure that they must be spraying bug spray or something like it. Makes you wonder how much of that seeps into the products in such stores. Sometimes trying to save a little money costs you a lot in adverse health effects!

November 11, 2011
Helen Fu said ..

That's why I only use pure essential oils, which I use to make my own perfume and bath salts...

November 10, 2011
palmtree said ..

awesome topic, great info

November 9, 2011
Peter said ..

Someone needs to do something about the toxic air fresheners being pumped into hotels and casinos by companies like ScentAir and Aromasys. Employees are sick, many have cancer and some have died. Please help us.

November 4, 2011
Mary said ..

Walk down any suburban street and you can tell in which houses there is laundry being done. Maybe I always had a touch of asthma but after years of second hand smoke at home and in the work place my health and immune system took a turn that has left me with the inability to be near fragrances, building materials, cats and dogs, etc. I now live a life based on avoidance, the only advice doctors can give, and always carrying an inhaler. I've learned to cope but I have to say fragrance is the worst. How can you get away from it when it's leaching out of people's clothes from their laundry detergent and fabric softeners. I have to ask friends and family when they visit for a few days to please wash their clothes in scent free detergent before visiting. I can only work where I do because the windows open. I'm lucky that I only had one experience that sent me to the hospital. It was caused by someone using perfumed laundry detergent in my home that had Febreeze in it. It's been eight years since I've been inside a mall and until I was put on oral medication I could not be in a store longer than 15 minutes at a time. Recently, I said to my friend as I was standing on the curb near her home, that when she opened the door to her house, I could smell the cleaning chemicals from the street. She was shocked. People have no idea just how bad the products they are using are. They are mistaking clean for what are in reality cancer causing chemicals. There is no need for fragrence to be in every product. It's gone way above and beyond the norm. And the only thing I can see is more people feeling tired, worn out and it's all because of frangrance. I pray something will be done legislation wise to stop companies from this unnecessary bombardment.

November 4, 2011

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