Perfumes and fragrances: A potential health hazard

Updated 10 January 2013

Perfumes and fragrances: A potential health hazard

A rose may be a rose, but that rose-like fragrance in your perfume may be something else entirely. It might well be concocted from any number of the fragrance industry’s 3,100 stock chemical ingredients, the blend of which is almost always kept hidden from the consumer. Makers of popular perfumes, colognes and body sprays market their scents with terms like floral, exotic or musky, but they don’t disclose that many scents are actually a complex cocktail of natural essences and synthetic chemicals — often petrochemicals.
Products we put on our bodies should not contain chemicals that could damage our health. Over the last 20 years, fragrance contact allergy has become a major global health problem. Many scientists attribute this phenomenon to a steady increase in the use of fragrance in cosmetics and household products. Fragrance is now considered among the top five allergens in North America and European countries. Research confirms that many of the ingredients in fragrances are neurotoxins, meaning that they have poisonous effects on the brain and nervous system. Additional studies link other negative emotional, mental, and physical symptoms to various fragrance ingredients. Until recently, scientists believed that the brain was protected by an impermeable mechanism, known as the blood-brain barrier. This is only partly true. Recent studies show that this system allows many environmental toxins — including those found in perfumes and other scented products — access to the delicate brain. Once found in the brain, they can take decades to eliminate. Decades that can result in substantial damage in the form of inflammation and plaque build-up in the brain, two of the precursors to serious brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Some fragrance ingredients disrupt our natural hormonal balance, causing any number of possible emotional concerns. These include anxiety, mood swings, and depression. Feeling down? It could be the scent you’re wearing. Even if you can’t smell perfumes, you may be suffering ill effects from exposure.
Not all scented products are created equally. Commercial brands of perfumes and colognes primarily comprise synthetic chemicals. Even many natural products contain synthetic fragrance ingredients so it’s important to start reading labels on personal care products. If there’s no ingredient list, the manufacturer may have something to hide. Also, beware of “fragrance oils” masquerading as essential oils. The former is synthetic, while the latter are derived from flowers, leaves, and other natural substances.
There are over 500 potential chemicals that can be used under the single name “fragrance” found on the label of many products. These are not just perfumes and colognes. Fragrances are found in air fresheners, room deodorizers, cosmetics, fabric softeners, laundry detergents, candles, and more. Some of these chemicals cause irritability, mental vagueness, muscle pain, asthma, bloating, joint aches, sinus pain, fatigue, sore throat, eye irritation, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, dizziness, swollen lymph nodes, spikes in blood pressure, coughing, and burning or itching skin irritations. Many of the scent chemicals used in fragrance formulations are unstable and tend to oxidize and break down when exposed to sunlight and air, during storage or when applied to human skin. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Acetaldehyde, a common ingredient in perfumes, is a probable human carcinogen. This means it may cause cancer in living tissue. In animal studies, it crosses the placenta to a fetus. The chemical industry’s own Toxic Data Safety Sheet lists headaches, tremors, convulsions, and even death as a possible effect of exposure to acetonitrile, another common fragrance ingredient. Bronchial spasms may be caused by perfume for those with asthma, according to groups like the American Lung Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Allergy sufferers can also develop other upper respiratory problems from exposure, a serious health risk. Hormonal reactions can occur from known and unknown chemicals in perfume. A study commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics revealed 12 hormone-disrupting chemicals in tested products. Some chemicals mimic the hormone estrogen (the female sex hormone) and others are associated with thyroid effects.
The National Cancer Institute finds lavender and tea tree oils, in particular, have effects similar to estrogen. They may also block or decrease the effect of androgens (male sex hormones). Long-term use is linked to breast enlargement in pre-pubescent boys. Cancer patients should consult a physician before using perfumes with ingredients that can cause interference with hormones.
Switching to products with natural-based ingredients and less synthetic additives may help.
“The way to the heart is through the nose,” says Haarmann & Reimer, a leading fragrance manufacturer. But we may want to think twice about giving a bottle of cologne or perfume to our loved ones.

— Muhammad Waqar Ashraf is professor of Environmental Chemistry at Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University.

Email: [email protected]


Vaping-related lung transplant performed at Detroit hospital

Updated 12 November 2019

Vaping-related lung transplant performed at Detroit hospital

  • ‘The first double lung transplant in the world for a patient whose lungs were irreparably damaged from vaping’
  • More than 2,000 Americans who vape have gotten sick since March, many of them teenagers and young adults

DETROIT: Doctors at a Detroit hospital have performed what could be the first double lung transplant on a man whose lungs were damaged from vaping.
No other details of the transplant were released Monday by Henry Ford Health System, which has scheduled a news conference Tuesday. The patient has asked his medical team to share photographs and an update to warn others about vaping.
The team of medical experts that performed the procedure believes it is “the first double lung transplant in the world for a patient whose lungs were irreparably damaged from vaping,” the health system said in a news release Monday.
“It would be nice if it’s the last — if the epidemic of acute lung injury can be brought under control,” said Dr. David Christiani at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Christiani said he’s not sure if the number of double lung transplants due to vaping illnesses will increase. He said factors include the availability of donor lungs and the chronic effects of illnesses from vaping that could lead to other types of conditions.
More than 2,000 Americans who vape have gotten sick since March, many of them teenagers and young adults, and at least 40 people have died.
“We’ve certainly seen people who are very sick with this,” said Dr. Denitza Blagev, a pulmonologist at Intermountain Health Care in Salt Lake City. “I’m not aware (of any other double lung transplants) and 100 percent certain none of the patients in our system have had a lung transplant from e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury.”
Christiani and Blagev were not involved in the Detroit transplant.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week announced a breakthrough into the cause of a vaping illness outbreak, identifying the chemical compound vitamin E acetate as a “very strong culprit” after finding it in fluid taken from the lungs of 29 patients. Vitamin E acetate previously was found in liquid from electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices used by many who got sick and only recently has been used as a vaping fluid thickener.
Many who got sick said they had vaped liquids that contain THC, the high-inducing part of marijuana, with many saying they received them from friends or bought them on the black market.
E-cigarettes and other vaping devices heat a liquid into an inhalable vapor. Most products contained nicotine, but THC vaping has been growing more common.
Some states have enacted bans or are considering bans on some vaping products.
Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued an emergency ban on vaping products in September in response to the lung illnesses.
In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also in September ordered the issuance of emergency rules banning flavored electronic cigarettes after her chief medical executive found that youth vaping is a public health emergency. Whitmer has accused the makers of using candy flavors and deceptive ads to hook children.
A Michigan Court of Claims judge last month issued a preliminary injunction, blocking the state’s ban.
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AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson contributed from Seattle.