Fragranced Products: Risk to People and Profits

From Dr Anne Steinemann’s latest research
“Fragranced consumer products: exposures and effects from emissions”

“Basically, if it contained a fragrance, it posed problems for people” 



“This is a huge problem; it’s an epidemic”
says Professor Steinemann.

She is especially concerned with involuntary exposure to fragranced products, or what she calls “secondhand scents.

“Over 22% of Americans surveyed can’t go somewhere because exposure to a fragranced product would make them sick.”

“These findings have enormous implications for businesses, workplaces, care facilities, schools, homes, and other private and public places,” said Professor Steinemann. For instance, a growing number of lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act concern involuntary and disabling exposure to fragranced products.”

Professor Steinemann’s research continues to investigate why fragranced product emissions are associated with such a range of adverse and serious health effects.

In the meantime, for solutions, Professor Steinemann suggests using products that do not contain any fragrance (including masking fragrance, which unscented products may contain).

She also recommends fragrance-free policies within buildings and other places.

“It’s a relatively simple and cost-effective way to reduce risks and improve air quality and health,” she explains.


Additional Information:



Overall, 34.7 % of the population reported one or more types of adverse health effects from exposure to one or more types of fragranced products

Of the 34.7 % of the population reporting adverse health effects, 56.1 % are female and 43.9 % are male.



Health effects included one or more of the following:

(a) Migraine headaches (15.7%);

(b) Asthma attacks (8.0%);

(c) Neurological problems (7.2%),
e.g., dizziness, seizures, head pain, fainting, loss of coordination;

(d) Respiratory problems (18.6%),
e.g., difficulty breathing, coughing, shortness of breath;

(e) Skin problems (10.6%),
e.g., rashes, hives, red skin, tingling skin, dermatitis;

(f) Cognitive problems (5.8%),
e.g., difficulties thinking, concentrating, or remembering;

(g) Mucosal symptoms (16.2%),
e.g., watery or red eyes, nasal congestion, sneezing;

(h) Immune system problems (4.0%),
e.g., swollen lymph glands, fever, fatigue;

(i) Gastrointestinal problems (5.5%),
e.g., nausea, bloating, cramping, diarrhea;

(j) Cardiovascular problems (4.4%),
e.g., fast or irregular heartbeat, jitteriness, chest discomfort;

(k) Musculoskeletal problems (3.8%),
e.g., muscle or joint pain, cramps, weakness; and

(l) Other health problems (1.7%).


People were asked:

“Do any of these health problems substantially limit one or more major life activities, such as seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating,  thinking, communicating, or working, for you personally?”:

Of the general population, 17.2 % reported yes, indicating that the severity of effects from fragranced product exposure was potentially disabling.


Fragranced products restrict access in society.

Of the general population,

17.5%were unable to use toilets in public places because of air fresheners or deodorizers,

14.1 % were unable to wash their hands with soap in public places because of fragranced soap, and

22.7 % were unable to go someplace because of the presence of a fragranced product.


Fragranced product exposures have economic implications

Of those surveyed,

20.2 % would enter but then leave a business as quickly as possible if they smell fragranced products, and

15.1 % have lost workdays or a job due to fragranced product exposures in the workplace.

Importantly, adverse effects resulting from exposure to fragranced products, such as in workplaces and public places, raise concerns about liability.

For instance, individuals can suffer acute health effects, such as an asthma attack, if they enter a restroom that uses air fresheners.

If they are unable to access a restroom due to the presence of an air freshener, then that poses a potential violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Fragranced consumer products
included one or more of the following:

(a) Air fresheners and deodorizers
(e.g., sprays, solids, oils, disks);

(b) Personal care products
(e.g., soaps, hand sanitizer, lotions, deodorant, sunscreen, shampoos);

(c) Cleaning supplies
(e.g., all-purpose cleaners, disinfectants, and dishwashing soap);

(d) Laundry products
(e.g., detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets);

(e) Household products
(e.g., scented candles, toilet paper, trash bags, baby products);

(f) Fragrance
(e.g., perfume, cologne, after-shave), and

(g) Other.


Fragranced consumer products are exempt from full disclosure of ingredients to the public.

Fragranced products emit a range of volatile organic  compounds (VOCs), such as terpenes (e.g., limonene), which often dominate pollutants found indoors, and generate secondary pollutants such as formaldehyde

For air fresheners, cleaning supplies, laundry products, and other consumer products, labels are not required to list all ingredients, or the presence of a fragrance in the product.

For personal care products and cosmetics, labels are required to list ingredients, except the general term “fragrance” may be used instead of listing the individual ingredients in the fragrance.

For all products, material safety data sheets are not required to list all ingredients.

Fragrance ingredients are exempt from full disclosure in any product, not only in the U.S. but also internationally.

“This is a huge problem; it’s an epidemic”
says Professor Steinemann.

Fragrance-free policies within buildings and other places are a relatively simple and cost-effective way to reduce risks and improve air quality and health.


The full article is available, free of charge:

on Dr. Steinemann’s website:

or the journal website:

12 responses to “Fragranced Products: Risk to People and Profits

  1. One would think those stats would get someone’s attention. The sad thing is that the last four people who have come to my house all go fragrance free and yet all couldn’t stay at my house because their clothes were “loaded” with toxic chemicals because they had been out with the general public.

  2. It’s absolutely fascinating that so few people actually take these stats seriously. I feel like I have these conversations on a daily basis with people who all understand what I’m saying yet they refuse to take action.

    Hopefully in time this conversation will become loud enough that they will pay attention

  3. Pingback: 11 Reasons To Stop Using Fragrances and Implement Fragrance-free Policies | Seriously "Sensitive" to Pollution

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