What Everybody Ought to Know About Fragrances

So, what is a fragrance, really?

According to Wikipedia, “Perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils and aroma compounds, fixatives, and solvents used to give the human body, objects, and living spaces a pleasant smell.”

That’s an excellent place to start. And it should be enough to ask “Why would I want this on or in my body?” Aroma compounds? Fixatives? Solvents? Sounds more like a chemistry class.

Why all those extra chemicals? Because the makers of fragrances (be it perfume, cologne, aftershave, “air fresheners”, etc) want their product to be noticed. Many of the chemicals used are in a class called Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs for short. Their purpose is to disperse the fragrance in the air.

But what exactly are these VOCs? Unfortunately, the public doesn’t really know which VOCs are in fragrances. If you do some searching, you’ll find the list includes: toluene, ethanol, acetone, formaldehyde, limonene, benzene derivatives, methylene chloride, and many others. An interesting starter listed.

Wait a minute! Aren’t some of those items known to cause cancer and damage nervous systems? The answer is “Yes.” So how do they wind up in fragrances?

First, fragrance industry regulations do not require that they list all the ingredients. They are “trade secrets.”

Second, the fragrance industry claims that the only health issues are contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. They claim that the fragrances only contact is the skin and that they are not absorbed in any form.

Except, is that really true? If you smell something, doesn’t some of that substance wind up in your lungs? Of course. Furthermore, they can be absorbed through the skin and get into the blood stream. It used to be thought that the skin was an impenetrable barrier. But this just isn’t true, absorption does occur through skin and it isn’t localized. That’s the principle behind the birth control patches, the nicotine patches and the pain patches.

Keep this in mind the next time you spray cologne or “air freshener.”

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