The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on a cosmetic ingredients list usually represents a complex mixture of dozens of chemicals. Some 3,000 chemicals are used as fragrances. i Fragrance is an obvious ingredient in perfumes, colognes, and deodorants, but it’s used in nearly every type of personal care product. Even products marketed as “fragrance-free” or “unscented” may in fact contain fragrance along with a masking agent ii that prevents the brain from perceiving odour. In addition to their use in cosmetics, fragrances are found in numerous other consumer products, notably laundry detergents and softeners and cleaning products.

Health and Environmental Hazards

Of the thousands of chemicals used in fragrances, most have not been tested for toxicity, alone or in combination. Many of these unlisted ingredients are irritants and can trigger allergies, migraines, and asthma symptoms. iii A survey of asthmatics found that perfume and/or colognes triggered attacks in nearly three out of four individuals. iv There is also evidence suggesting that exposure to perfume can exacerbate asthma, and perhaps even contribute to its development in children. v

People with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) or environmentally linked illnesses are particularly vulnerable, with fragrances implicated both in development of the condition and triggering symptoms. vi

However, anyone might experience skin irritation or runny eyes and nose. U.K. researchers have reported that “perfume” is the second most common cause of allergy in patients at dermatology clinics. vii In addition, in laboratory experiments, individual fragrance ingredients have been associated with cancer viii and neurotoxicity ix among other adverse health effects.

Synthetic musks used in fragrances are of particular concern from an ecological perspective. Several of musk compounds are persistent in the environment and build up (bioaccumulate) in the fatty tissue of aquatic organisms. Measureable levels of synthetic musks are found in fish in the Great Lakes and the levels in sediment are increasing. x Environment Canada has categorized several synthetic musks as persistent, bioaccumulative, and/or toxic, and others as human health priorities.

Source: The David Suzuki Foundation