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Spraying Yourself With Toxic Chemicals is Not Sexy
by Wendy Priesnitz

spraying perfume is not sexyPerfume, according to marketing claims, will help us attract a romantic partner and make us feel sexier. And indeed, scents have the ability to alter mood and trigger powerful memories. Research indicates the sense of smell impacts not only psychological but physical health as well. But an increasing number of people – including health care practitioners – are beginning to think that there’s nothing sexy, or healthy, about spraying yourself with toxic chemicals. 

Certain fragrances and their chemical constituents can trigger an allergic, rather than an aphrodisiac, response. Hexachlorophene, acetyl-ethyl, tetra-methyl-tetralin, zinc, pyridenethione, butanol, toluene, benzal chloride, methylene chloride, and limonene – many of the ingredients currently used by the fragrance industry are hazardous. 

More than 5,000 different fragrances are used in perfumes and cosmetics, and skin care products, in hundreds of chemical combinations, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. But because the chemical formulas of fragrances are considered trade secrets, companies aren’t required to list their ingredients. In 1986, the National Academy of Sciences targeted fragrances as one of the six categories of chemicals that should be given high priority for neurotoxicity testing. The other groups include insecticides, heavy metals, solvents, food additives and certain air pollutants. The report states that 95 percent of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum. They include benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxics and sensitizers.

Among the commonly-used chemicals used in perfumes are propylene glycol, which is considered an immumotoxic chemical; cyclohexanol, which has a depressive action on the central nervous system; linalool, which has been shown to provoke ataxic gait, depression and respiratory disturbances; methyl ethyl ketone, which can induce unconsciousness, emphysema, congestion if the liver and kidneys, eye, nose, and throat irritation, and numbness of the extremities; and formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen, with many other damaging traits.


Fragrance is increasingly cited as a trigger in health conditions such as asthma, allergies and migraine headaches. A recent Institute of Medicine study sponsored by the EPA in the United States put fragrances in the same category as second hand smoke as a trigger for asthma in school-age children. Up to 72 percent of asthmatics report their asthma attacks are triggered by fragrance.

Fragrance is increasingly cited as a trigger in health conditions such as asthma, allergies and migraine headaches.

According to nurse Betty Bridges, the founder of the grassroots Fragranced Products Information Network, fragrance chemicals cause allergic reactions by different mechanisms than pollen, dander, and other protein-based allergens. She writes, “Fragrance chemicals bind with proteins and modify them. These modified proteins then act as allergens. Once sensitized to the materials, the only way to prevent adverse reactions is to avoid exposure. Some are so sensitive that indirect contact such as the fragrance present in the air can trigger symptoms, lung damage and even death”.

In addition, some fragrance materials have been found to accumulate in adipose tissue and are present in breast milk. Other materials are suspected of being hormone disrupters. At least one study has demonstrated links between heavy perfume exposure during pregnancy and learning disabilities and behavior disorders in children.

Even people who aren’t particularly chemically sensitive report discomfort when surrounded by strong perfumes. Scented products can cause a variety of health problems such as, but not limited to, sore throat, runny nose, sinus congestion, wheezing, shortness of breath, headache, mental confusion, inability to concentrate, irritability, seizures, nausea and muscle pain.

There are environmental concerns as well, since fragrances are volatile compounds, which add to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Synthetic musk compounds are persistent in the environment and contaminate waterways and aquatic wildlife.

Consumers should beware that “natural” is not necessarily better, since many so-called natural products – including essential oils – are also allergens and irritants. 

The entire perfume industry has been built on the premise that natural body odors are offensive and need to be covered up or enhanced with various sweet-smelling chemical compounds. But when asked, many people actually find human scents to be quite compelling. 

At any rate, the latest research into smells that cause arousal in men seems to indicate that food smells like doughnut, pumpkin pie, black licorice, vanilla, buttered popcorn, chocolate, cranberry, and cinnamon are much more effective than perfumes! For women, tests indicated that the smell of cucumber, licorice, and lavender produce very positive arousal effects.

Wendy Priesnitz is the Editor of Natural Life Magazine and a journalist with over 35 years of experience. She has also authored twelve books.


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