Fragrance Chemicals as Toxic Substances and Health Effects

Toxic Chemicals in Fragrances

Acetaldehyde – found in perfume, dyes, fruit and fish preservatives, and flavor fragrances, which produces a fruity odor. It is a suspected animal carcinogen and has been classified in Group B2 as a probable human carcinogen of low carcinogenic hazard by the EPA. It can cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation. No information is available on the reproductive or developmental effects of acetaldehyde in humans; however studies in animals have shown that acetaldehyde has crossed the placenta to the fetus.

Acetone – found in cologne, dishwashing detergent, nail enamel remover, and cosmetics. Inhalation can cause dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, loss of coordination, eye, nose and throat irritation and in severe cases tremors and coma. Acetone is on the Hazardous Substance List because it is flammable.

Acetonitrile   found in perfume, dyes, and pharmaceuticals. It can cause irritation of the mucous  membranes,  weakness,  headaches,  tremor,  numbness,  and  nausea.  High concentrations can cause convulsions and death.

Benzaldehyde – found in perfume, hairspray, laundry bleach, deodorants, detergents, shampoo, soap, dishwasher detergent. It can be a sensitizer, also causing eye, throat, lung, and skin irritation. It may cause kidney damage.

Benzyl Acetate – found in perfume, cologne, fabric softener, after shave, deodorants, hairspray, bleach, air freshener. Inhalation can cause eye, throat and respiratory irritation.

Benzyl Alcohol – found in perfume, cologne. shampoo, air fresheners, laundry bleach, detergent, fabric softener, deodorants, soap, nail enamel remover, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and ointments. It can cause dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, weakness, skin, eye, mucous membrane and respiratory tract irritation.

Benzyl chloride – found in perfume, dyes, pharmaceuticals, and a flavor fragrance. It was formerly used as an irritant gas in chemical warfare. It can cause skin, eye, lung, and mucous membrane irritation, dizziness, headache, fatigue, and is a suspected animal carcinogen. The EPA has classified benzyl chloride as a Group B2, which is a probable human carcinogen of low carcinogenic hazard.

Camphor – found in perfume, fabric softener, shaving cream, nail polish, air fresheners, and dishwasher detergent. It can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and tremors.

Cinnamaldehyde – found in perfume and flavors. It can cause eye, nose, skin and respiratory tract irritation.

Citronella – found in perfume, fabric softener, shampoo, and nail enamel remover. It can cause eye, nose, skin and respiratory tract irritation.

Dimethyl sulfate – found in perfume, dyes, and pharmaceuticals. It  was formally used in chemical warfare. It is  a suspected animal carcinogen and a Group B2, probable human carcinogen. It can also cause eye, mouth, skin, and respiratory tract irritation. Severe exposure may cause lung, heart, kidney and central nervous system damage, convulsions, delirium,paralysis, coma, and even death.

Ethanol – found in perfume,  hairspray, shampoo, air fresheners, nail polish, nail enamel remover, laundry detergent, shaving cream, and dishwashing detergent. It can cause lung, kidney and liver damage, fatigue, nausea, tremors, anemia, respiratory tract irritation, and conjunctivitis.

Limonene – found in perfume, flavor fragrances, soap, deodorant, nail polish and remover, fabric softener, air freshener, aftershave, dishwasher detergent, waterless hand cleaners, and pesticides. Limonene is used for its lemon-like flavor and odor. It is a known animal carcinogen, yet it is widely used in insect repellents for flea control on pets such as cats and dogs. It can be a skin, eye, nose, throat and respiratory tract irritant and it can cause headaches. It is a skin sensitizer.

Linalool – found in perfume, cologne, air freshener, aftershave, shaving cream, soap, hand lotion, fabric softener, laundry detergent, and dishwashing liquid. It can cause central nervous system damage such as confusion, depression, and dizziness.

Methylene chloride (dichloromethane) – found in some shampoos, cologne, and paint and varnish remover. In 1988 it was banned by the FDA; however in a 1991 EPA Report on Fragrances, methylene chloride was still found in fragranced products. In this report, methylene chloride was listed as one of the 20 most common chemicals found in fragranced products. It is carcinogenic, and can cause headache, numbness, irritability, fatigue, confusion, and central nervous system damage, eye and skin irritation. Severe exposure can cause unconsciousness and death.

Musk ambrette – found in perfume. It has been proven to cause central nervous system damage, weight loss and muscle weakness in laboratory animals.

Musk tetralin (AETT) – was found in perfume, aftershave lotions, colognes, creams, and was used as a masking agent in unscented products. This chemical was found to cause irritability, degeneration of the brain neurons and changes in the spinal cord in laboratory animals. This chemical was voluntarily withdrawn by the fragrance industry in 1977 but it has not been banned by the FDA. It can be reintroduced into the fragrance industry at any time and there are no guarantees that it is not being used now.

Styrene oxide – found in perfume and cosmetics. It can cause skin and eye irritation. In animals it is known to be a central nervous system depressant.

a-Terpineol – found in perfume,  cologne, fabric softener,  air fresheners, soap, hairspray, laundry detergent and bleach, and aftershave. It produces a lilac odor. It can cause eye, nose, skin, and respiratory irritation, headache, depression and central nervous system damage.

Toluene (methyl benzene) – found in perfume, soap, cosmetics, nail polish removers, detergents, dyes, aerosol spray paints, paint strippers, spot removers, gasoline, antifreeze, and explosives. Petroleum crude oil is the largest source of toluene. It can cause damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys, heart, and central nervous system, skin and eye irritation, numbness, dizziness, tremors, headaches, confusion, unconsciousness and death. Chronic exposure can cause loss of memory and muscle control, brain damage, problems with speech, hearing and vision. It is interesting to note that toluene was detected in every fragrance sample collected by the Environmental Protection Agency for a 1991 report.


Health Effects of Fragrance Chemicals

Physical Symptoms:

breathing difficulties; sinus problems; nausea; sore throats; vomiting; coughing; stomach cramps; swollen lymph glands; sneezing; muscle cramps; watery eyes; heart palpitations; exhaustion; rashes; trigger for asthma attacks; eczema

Neurological Symptoms:

migraine; dizziness; inability to concentrate; loss of coordination; loss of consciousness; seizures; tremors; convulsions; weakness; short-term memory loss; depression; irritability; mood swings; aggression fatigue; narcotic effect of stupor, sleepiness and hallucinations

Many of the fragrance chemicals can act as sensitizers, which causes immune system damage so that you can become sensitive to that chemical or to chemicals in general.

By S. Moser

Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment


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