The Problem with Fragrances

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • When we think of the word “fragrances” we quickly associate it with perfumes and colognes, and, while these are certainly the some of the most common, there are many products with added fragrances: 

    • Aftershave
    • Lotions
    • Soaps
    • Shampoos
    • Hairspray
    • Laundry detergent
    • Body sprays
    • Air fresheners
    • Candles

    Beside cosmetic product, paints, household cleaners and different solvents may have fragrances added to help mask the strong odor.

    Fragrance is all around us and difficult if not impossible to avoid. Walking through the mall you may come across a store with candles lit or someone who sprayed on the perfume or cologne a little too heavily. You may visit friends and relatives who use air fresheners. No matter where you go, you are accosted with different scents. And for many people, this is a big problem.

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    For many people, allergic reactions to fragrances is typical of allergies - runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes - and once they are no longer in the same area as the scent, the allergic symptoms quickly disappear.Others will develop a rash - contact dermatitis - which is a red, itchy rash that normally appears on the face, hands and arms.


    For a small portion of the population symptoms are much more serious: 

    • Respiratory problems and wheezing
    • Inability to concentrate
    • Severe headaches

    According to the Huffington Post, approximately 10 percents of people have some type of ongoing allergic reaction to fragrances and 2 percent are “chemically intolerant.” [1] Some are so sensitive to scents they are unable to leave their homes because of the possibility of being exposed to different scents.


    Migraine Headaches


    Just one whiff of an offending scent can trigger a migraine headache. While there aren’t any specific statistics on how many people end up with a migraine because of fragrances, more than 37 million people in the United States suffer from migraines. Unfortunately, fragrances and scents are one of the hardest migraine riggers to avoid. One, one member writes, “Going out in public can be a challenge for me. I get migraine headaches triggered by fragrances. Our society embraces fragrances. There are everywhere. It is nearly impossible for me to escape.”


    The Change in Fragrances


    Up until the 20th century, perfumes and other scented cosmetics used natural products, such as flowers and plants. However, as perfumes and scented products became more popular, cheaper ways to make the products were used and today, according to the National Academy of Sciences, 95 percent of chemicals in perfumes/colognes today are synthetic. Ingredients are often compounds derived from petroleum and may be toxic, cause cancer and birth defects.


    The fragrance industry, however, is self-regulated. Manufacturers of fragrances are not required to provide formulations, test results, safety information or report consumer complaints to the Food and Drug Administration. The chemicals they use in their products, and the health risks they pose, remain mostly unknown.


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    Because of the possible health risks, some companies are instituting “fragrance free” policies. While this is a good step, public education on how the scent you choose to where can literally make the person next to you sick, is important.


    Next week we'll talk abot some of the things you can do. 




    “Chemical Sensitivities and Perfume,” 2004, June 19, Medical News Today

    [1] “Migraine Statistics,” 2010, Otesa Miles,


    “Perfume Health Risks: Fragrances Can Contribute to Health Problems Like Allergies and Rashes,” 2012, Sept 19, Sara Gates, The Huffington Post


    “Surprising THings that Give You Headaches,” 2008, Jan 16, Alician Potter, CNN Health

Published On: July 12, 2013