Help I'm Allergic - The Chemical Culprits - Toxic beauty

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive


Help I'm Allergic - The Chemical Culprits - Toxic beauty

Fragrances and preservatives are two of the most common causes of allergy, irritation and sensitization.

Aromatic oils have been used for thousands of years, traditionally to mask body odours. In the 19th century the use of natural oils was replaced by cheaper and more readily available synthetic copies that demonstrated undesirable side-effects and lacked the therapeutic properties of the natural versions. Today around 955 of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic, petroleum-derived compounds, Ladd Smith, president of the Research institute for Fragrance materials (RIFM), the scientific arm of the body, the International Fragrance Association (I FRA), states, 'Now a fragrance, or what is called a fragrance compound, probably consists of anywhere from 50-200 ingredients'

Perfumes are added to cosmetics, toiletries, laundry products and a whole range of other consumer items. Their volatile nature means that fragrance material emissions are present in the air everywhere - at home and at work. The complex mixture of fragrance chemicals in a product means that the molecules can react with each other and other ambient pollutants and break down in the air to produce compounds more irritating than those originally used. Fragrance chemicals often end up in our environment and have been detected in US stream samples, rivers and lakes.

While the allure of perfume rarely fails to captivate us, these are a growing number of people who report adverse health effects resulting from exposure to fragrances and scented products, including headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, difficulty breathing, diminished ability to concentrate and allergy-type symptoms. Some researchers believe that exposure to certain chemicals in perfumes and fragranced products contribute to certain exacerbates, 'sick building syndrome', a condition purportedly caused by indoor air pollution.

Perfume Allergies
Fragrance ingredients are the second biggest group of skin allergens and the most common cause of cosmetic allergies. Perfume is the most common contact allergen in men, possibly caused by shaving, which scrapes the outer layer , allowing the scented ingredients of soaps, after shave lotions and shaving foams to penetrate the skin. Women often shave their legs and underarms so applying the same logic a similar reaction might occur.
Cinnamal and isoeugenol are two of the commonest causes of fragrance contact allergies. However, of around 2,500 fragrance ingredients in use, at least 100 are known contact allergens.

Other Adverse Effects

Some fragrance chemicals are carcinogens and many fragrance materials have also been found to exacerbate asthma, enhance the penetration of other chemicals in a product and instigate adverse brain and nervous system responses. Poucher's Perfumes, Cosmetics and Soaps, a reference book in the cosmetics field, notes that small quantities of volatile chemicals rapidly instigate sensory responses in the brain, transfer through the skin is an obvious possibility and penetration across the blood-brain barrier might give access to vulnerable regions of the central nervous system.

Chemicals can enter the brain through inhalation via the nasal passage. When a chemical substance is inhaled, the molecules pass through the nose and into the brain. This was demonstrated in studies on rodents, and it is believed by researchers to be the case for humans too. 


Research published in 1988 found that chemical emissions from fragrance products caused acute toxic reactions in mice, including 'sensory irritation, pulmonary irritation, decreases in expiratory airflow velocity, as well as alterations of the functional observational battery indicative of neurotoxicity '. Repeat exposures to the fragrance products exacerbated the neurotoxic effect.

A number of fragrance chemicals are also designated by the Us Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as hazardous waste, yet they are routinely added to a myriad of consumer products, including those that are easily inhaled and applied directly to the skin.

One of the major problems in identifying fragrance allergens has been the lack of legal requirement for fragrance ingredients to be listed on consumer products. The current regulations do not require a list of fragrance ingredients to be labelled on beauty products, due to 'trade secret' status given to manufacturers. The term 'parfum' or 'aroma' is used in Europe and 'fragrance' in the USA to denote anything up to and exceeding 100 ingredients. 

The fragrance industry established the Research Institute of Fragrance Materials (RIFM) in 1966 to undertake safety testing of fragrance ingredients, after questions arose about the safety of fragrance ingredients. Around 1,500 out of over 5,000 substances have been evaluated by the RIFM, with only 150 restricted or prohibited. If an ingredient is used by only one company, the RIFM will not undertake a safety assessment, leaving that to the individual company, and patented chemicals are only tested after the patent has expired.

In addition, an ingredient may be in uses for a number of years prior to evaluation by the RIFM. Results of tests are submitted to the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) which was found in 1973 to represent the collective interests of the fragrance industry worldwide. After reviewing the information the IFRA develop safety guidelines for the raw materials.

It is not known how many of the chemicals have been tested for carcinogenicity and the RIFM assess raw materials rather than final formulations, so there is little data on how these ingredients interact in combination. People who suffer adverse reactions to fragrances may understandably opt for products labelled as 'fragrance free', but these often contain masking fragrances to conceal any unpleasant odours originating from the raw materials in a product or plant extracts that are potential sensitizers, such as rose oil.

Natural but not Always Nice
It is important to note that natural as well as synthetic fragrance material can also cause adverse effects. For instance, bergamot oil can cause berloque dermatitis. A variety of essential oils are phototoxic, including almond, angelica, anise, cedarwood, linalool, orange, neroli, petitgrain, rosemary, yarrow and ylang ylang. In studies of in vitro human lymphocytes, dill, pine and peppermint essential oils caused chromosome abnormalities. There have been case studies in which sage and other essential oils were found to induce epileptic seizures in normal individuals.

Reference: Toxic Beauty: Dawn Mellowship


Right Click

No right click