To discover 1498 scientific research papers on the toxicity of fragrance, click on the link, “Research: Studies on the toxicity of fragrance cited in Pub Med,” located near the bottom of the webpage found at http://safecosmetics.org/article.php?id=222.
Yet as I write to you, shoppers are buying their loved ones scented products laced with respiratory irritants, sensitizers, registered pesticides, carcinogens and nerve toxins. Others are applying them to their skin and hair, clothing and homes. And doctors aren’t warning pregnant women to keep scented products out of their homes even though they are a primary source of exposure to phthalates or endocrine disruptors (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404651/).
How can there be so much evidence about the toxicity of fragrance yet such widespread use of scented products? Obviously, there is a gap between what scientists know and what the public knows. This gap is deliberately maintained by the fragrance industry.
If you think it’s impossible to keep people in the dark about adverse or even dire health consequences from commonly used products, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, consider this: In the 1940s and 50s, cigarette smoking was unequivocally proven to be the cause of the global epidemic of lung cancer yet 50 % of American doctors were still smoking by 1960 and only 1/3 believed that smoking causes lung cancer (http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/21/2/87.full).
The tobacco industry used propaganda to cast doubt on the validity of the research. Note that they did not actually have to prove anything. All they had to do was cast doubt. Doubt breeds inaction. We see the same phenomenon with big industry casting doubt about the greenhouse effect so they can carry on with business as usual.
The fragrance industry uses similar strategies as the tobacco industry, including propaganda. They label incriminating research papers, “Bad Science.” They liken today’s intense, persistent chemical concoctions with the plant-based fragrances of days gone by. They fail to disclose. They use misleading labels. They target young people. They attack the experts. They discredit those who have scent reactions as neurotics in need of psychiatric help. They claim they are a highly regulated industry yet Health Canada relies on them to voluntarily regulate themselves.
They form powerful lobbies to protect their interests. They create associations composed of fragrance industry members to “educate” the public yet their true purpose is to spread propaganda. They encourage wearers to keep their fragrance within an arm’s length but their products are designed to disperse widely, settling and sticking to every available surface, including the food we eat. They’ve even created food-approved fragrance chemicals (aroma chemicals) which are used in packaged foods.
We are all at the mercy of the runaway fragrance industry in ways that few of us have considered. Unfortunately, unlike cigarette smoke, the toxic VOC’s in scented products waft around us invisibly, day and night, indoors and even outdoors from dryer vent emissions. And, unlike the tobacco industry which created one type of product, cigarettes, the fragrance industry’s chemicals permeate a profuse array of products.
So, what can we do about it? We can carefully select the products we bring into our homes using websites like the non-profit Guide to Less Toxic Products (http://lesstoxicguide.ca/), Skin Deep Cosmetics Database (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/) and the Environmental Working Groups’ Guide to Healthy Cleaning (http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners). We can minimize how many types of body products we use. We can try to avoid using too many packaged foods. We can ask for scent-free policies and we can speak up when people ignore them.
Finally, we can hope it won’t take too long for knowledge about the health risks of fragrance to flow from researchers to the public and for the government to start reigning in the industry.