The Rise of Scent Sensitivity: Deep Dive into Endocrine Disruptors, “Fragrance” and More
If you’re allergic to perfume and “scented” products, you’re not alone. Perfume is a gigantic loophole. It may be spelled out as “perfume,” “parfum,” “aroma,” or “fragrance,” but it is all the same thing—an umbrella term that may hide any number of fragrance chemicals from a group of almost 5000 unique compounds used in the beauty industry. What is lurking in the perfume, however may be very critical to your health… far beyond a sneeze from a scent you do not like: we’re talking about endocrine disruptors in cosmetics. But first, let’s revisit what perfume or “fragrance” in cosmetics and household products really means.
Understanding why so many of us are increasingly allergic to perfume begins in how the products are marketed, labeled, and sold with lack of transparency. Many products list “fragrance” on the label, but very few name the specific ingredients that go into its “appealing” scent. This lack of disclosure prevents consumers from knowing the full list of ingredients in their products. While most fragrance chemicals are not disclosed, we do know that some are linked to serious health problems such as cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies and sensitivities. Clearly, there is a need for stronger regulations, more research, and greater transparency about the effects of endocrine disruptors.
Fragrance is defined by the FDA as a combination of chemicals that gives each perfume or cologne (including those used in other products) its distinct scent. Fragrance ingredients may be derived from petroleum or natural raw materials. Companies that manufacture perfume or cologne purchase fragrance mixtures from fragrance houses (companies that specialize in developing fragrances) to develop their own proprietary blends.
In addition to “scent” chemicals that create the fragrance, perfumes and colognes also contain solvents, stabilizers, UV-absorbers, preservatives, and dyes, all of which may exacerbate existing issues with being allergic to perfume. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) lists 3,059 materials that are reported as being used in fragrance compounds.
Current laws do not provide the FDA with the authority to require disclosure or public safety of fragrance ingredients. In the U.S., companies are required to list ingredients on the label; however, this regulation excludes the individual constituents of fragrance in order to preserve fragrance trade secrets.
Where is perfume found?
Most perfume and other endocrine disruptors in the cosmetics industry are in personal care products including your soaps, sunscreen, shampoo, soap, body wash, deodorant, body lotion, makeup, facial cream, skin toner, serums, exfoliating scrubs, makeup remover, body sprays, and perfume.
Why is it irritating to so many people?
Unlike plant pollens, perfumes and scents aren't actually allergens, they're irritants — but that doesn't mean that they can't trigger allergy symptoms like sneezing. So when you’re allergic to perfume and experiencing those symptoms, it may be more than skin deep. Allergens cause the immune system to fight the invading chemical, and the systems of your body may respond with inflammation, runny eyes, nose congestion and more.
Symptoms of fragrance sensitivity can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- A tight feeling in the chest
- Worsening asthma symptoms
- Runny and stuffy nose
- A skin allergy like contact dermatitis—itchy, red rash that appears on the skin
But sensitivities or allergies to perfumes are just the tip of the iceberg in skincare and cosmetics products. Endocrine disruption is the real health risk that comes into play.
What is the endocrine system and how does perfume disrupt it?
The endocrine system is a network of glands in your body that make the hormones that help cells communicate to
each other. They’re responsible for almost every cell, organ, and function in your body. If you have a compromised endocrine system, you may have problems with stress, weight gain, weak bones, or develop hormone related pregnancy issues during puberty.
When the endocrine system is damaged, too much sugar stays in your blood instead of moving into cells to be turned into energy, which can cause you to feel like you are running on empty.
Wikipedia defines an endocrine disruptor as, “... hormonally active agents, endocrine disrupting chemicals, or endocrine disrupting compounds that can interfere with endocrine systems. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.”
Endocrine disruptors are found in many everyday products, including some plastic bottles and containers, liners of metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides, but they are also in a long list of chemicals that are used in the making of perfumes fo the cosmetic and personal care industry.
The importance of this system cannot be overemphasized. The glands of the endocrine system include:
Adrenal. One adrenal gland can be found on top of each kidney. These glands produce hormones important for regulating functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, and stress response.
Pancreas. The pancreas is located in your abdomen behind your stomach. Its endocrine function involves controlling blood sugar levels.
Hypothalamus. While some people don’t consider it a gland, the hypothalamus produces multiple hormones that control the pituitary gland. It’s also involved in regulating many functions, including sleep-wake cycles, body temperature, and appetite. It can also regulate the function of other endocrine glands.
Pituitary. The pituitary gland is located below the hypothalamus. The hormones it produces affect growth and reproduction. They can also control the function of other endocrine glands.
Pineal. This gland is found in the middle of your brain. It’s important for your sleep-wake cycles.
Thyroid. The thyroid gland is located in the front part of your neck. It’s very important for metabolism.
Parathyroid. Also located in the front of your neck, the parathyroid gland is important for maintaining control of calcium levels in your bones and blood.
The Thymus. Located in the upper torso, the thymus is active until puberty and produces hormones important for the development of a type of white blood “T” cell.
Is fragrance-free the answer?
In an effort to escape endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and the negative news surrounding perfumes, many
manufacturers of soaps, shampoos, detergents and personal beauty items began advertising their products as “fragrance-free.” But this is not as simple as just removing ingredients or eliminating perfume simply because of customers being allergic.
Even though these products say that they are fragrance-free or unscented, it does not mean that there are no masking fragrance ingredients. It just means that there are no scented additives added to change the scent to something that you recognize. Even though the finished smell of an “unscented” deodorant, for example, doesn’t smell like a fragrance, does not mean that there are no fragrances in the product. These are “masking ingredients,” chemicals added to cover up other chemical smells but without the smell of something that your nose will recognize as a “perfume.” The goal of using these ingredients is to end up with a neutral-scented product.
At Ayr Skin Care, we work hard to formulate and test our gentle skin care products with ingredients that are as kind to your body as they are to your skin and the planet. We understand what it’s like to have allergic reactions to fragrance, additives, and how irritating being allergic to perfume can be, since that’s why we started our skin care line in the first place!
We’re 100% transparent about everything we do, so if in doubt, please reach out to us to learn more about your unique skin’s needs and sensitivities.
We’re here to simplify your skin care routine and illuminate your natural beauty without harming your body.
If you have any questions or comments, we would be happy to answer you personally! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.