Are Natural Fragrances Really Any Better?

Awareness is growing about the harmful effects of synthetic, artificial fragrances. This is with good reason, but now, many people have jumped onto the natural fragrance and essential oil (EO) bandwagons, believing them to be safe alternatives.

Is this a good thing?

Some believe so, after all, what could be wrong with something that’s natural?

It’s time to have a closer look.

Why did we start using EOs and “natural” perfumes?

Like many, it may be because we heard that synthetic fragrances can be toxic a.f.

Have you ever wondered how and why that discovery was made? It’s certainly not because of ingredient lists. Fragrance ingredients are protected under trade secret laws and do not have to be disclosed.

The deeper realization that fragrances and fragranced products are harmful and toxic came about because people (most often people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities – MCS) have been  keeling over with all kinds of adverse health effects.  If that wasn’t enough, people with MCS have also been subjected to years of ridicule and abuse, much of it as a result of industry generated misinformation to avoid regulation.

Eventually though, a few independent researchers started digging into it.  It’s quite possible that some of them wanted to prove the human canaries wrong, to prove that fragrances were ‘safe’. Instead, they’ve all discovered numerous harmful substances in fragrances and fragranced products.

After the alarms started ringing, and a lot of public pressure, the industry decided to be a bit more transparent. It’s now possible to see a list of 3999 voluntarily disclosed fragrance ingredients (from 2016) on IFRA’s website. Some of those are not safe at any level of exposure. We don’t know what they aren’t disclosing. There are no laws forcing them to disclose anything.

People with MCS are also known as human canaries. We’re usually way ahead of the science curve re what is and isn’t harmful to others. When you dig in, pretty well everything human canaries have ever said is harmful, has been scientifically discovered to be harmful, only that for other people the problems take longer to manifest.

Non-canaries develop cancer, asthma, and other chronic health problems like heart disease and diabetes, diseases related to endocrine disruption, like thyroid problems, have trouble conceiving, and from epigenetic effects, their kids can have learning difficulties, and/or serious allergies, among other things.

We canaries are now sounding the alarm that people (many people) are having numerous adverse health effects from EOs and natural fragrances. Even the pure ones, even the therapeutic grade ones, even the organic ones. And even from previously tolerated essential oils and natural fragrances.

They can ALL cause adverse health effects, and some are life threatening. And it’s not just people with MCS  who are adversely impacted.

Now it’s people with MCAD/MCAS, allergies, autism, migraines, COPD, cancers, and many other health conditions, as well as teachers and kids in schools where they have started using diffusers and other methods of EO application.

Scientists are now beginning to find other adverse health effects from EOs, including endocrine disruption and harmful cardiovascular effects on blood pressure and heart rates.

Anaphylactic events from exposures are increasing. That is one of the life threatening effects, but there are others, some of which are slower to manifest. People are losing health, losing jobs, losing homes, and even being hospitalized.

When someone who uses EOs or natural perfumes, (or any fragranced products) goes to a hospital, they could cause a life threatening event for someone else in the hospital, especially if that hospital has a fragrance-free policy to protect patients and staff. We canaries don’t think anyone really wants to have that on their conscience.

Some people believe EOs are good medicine, well so are many other drugs, but people don’t go around forcing their drugs on everyone else around them. Why would anyone think that is it ok to inflict these personal medicines on others when any medicines can have counter-productive and harmful effects on others?

Essential oils and volatile chemical products release VOCs, some of which are hazardous in and of themselves, but they also form pollutants like formaldehyde, ozone, and fine particulate matter, which not only harm the growing number of human canaries and those who are allergic, get asthma or migraines, or have autism, but create pollutants that actually harms everyone!

As decent human beings, we’d use our meds privately in ways they don’t get transported in air via our skin, hair, or clothing.  We won’t knowingly do things that can harm others. Can anyone really be ok with the fact that these things are even denying other people safe access to school, jobs, food, health care, etc?

Because they do… and it’s not a joke.

Times have changed.

These products are simply not appropriate for public use in this day and age.

Too many people have been and continue to become chemically injured and no longer able to process the natural chemicals or VOCs, and serious sensitivities and allergies are skyrocketing.

Fragrance-free policies are being created to save lives. Natural perfumes and essential oils are not fragrance-free (despite what some people seem to believe).

Let’s think about how what we do and use affects others, because everything we do affects others, and we can choose for these effects to be good, to reduce harm.

To preserve the healing effects that plants have, and to preserve land use for food and good medicine, to reduce pollution from agriculture, manufacturing and transportation, we have to eliminate the toxic synthetics and the cosmetic use of oils and natural perfumes too. Human lives actually depend on this.

It’s not necessary to add fragrance to ourselves and to everything else. But breathing clean air is necessary.

Maybe some day in the future,  after we get rid of all the everyday toxic chemicals in products and materials, when indoor environments are healthy, when our food system gets cleaned up, and when so many people are not chronically ill, then, maybe in 20-50 years, when we can smell a bowl of fruit again, maybe some occasional use of additional fragrance for fun might be ok… but now, our planet and living beings cannot deal with the agricultural and personal effects.

We need to reduce exposures, not increase them. We need to focus on bringing things back into harmony with life, and stop putting the toxic economy first. We need to stop covering everything up with manufactured fragrance, and clean up the world instead!

And why hurt anyone when we can do things that don’t hurt, but help others?

It might temporarily be a bit harder, but when we shift our focus together, it will become a lot easier, and present and future generations will be thankful for it.

. .

Instead of adding links to this post, most can be found in the following
post and comments:

Are Essential Oils Too Popular For Our Own Good?

If you don’t find them there or elsewhere on this site, then please feel free to ask.

15 responses to “Are Natural Fragrances Really Any Better?

  1. “Essential oils, widely used in society, emit numerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

    Some of these VOCs are considered as potentially hazardous under federal regulations. However, essential oils are exempt from disclosure of their ingredients on their label. Thus, the public may lack information on emissions and potential hazards from essential oils.

    This study examined VOCs emitted from a range of commercial essential oils, including tea tree oils, lavender oils, eucalyptus oils, and other individual oils and mixtures of oils. Using headspace gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), the study analyzed 24 commercial essential oils, including 12 with claims of being “natural” or related terms, such as organic, 100% pure, or plant-based.

    Results identified 595 VOCs emitted from the 24 essential oils, representing 188 different VOCs. The most common VOCs emitted were alpha-pinene, limonene, acetone, linalool, alpha-phellandrene, beta-myrcene, and camphene.

    Among the 589 VOCs identified, 124 VOCs, representing 33 different VOCs, are classified as potentially hazardous.

    All natural and regular essential oils emitted one or more potentially hazardous VOCs, such as acetaldehyde, acetone, and ethanol. Toluene was also found in 50% of essential oils.

    Moreover, for the prevalent VOCs classified as potentially hazardous, no significant difference was found between regular and natural essential oils.

    This study provides insights and information about emissions of commercial essential oils that can be useful for public awareness and risk reduction.”

  2. “From the hundreds of chemicals that comprise lavender and tea tree oil, they selected for analysis eight components that are common and mandated for inclusion in the oils.

    Four of the tested chemicals appear in both oils: eucalyptol, 4-terpineol, dipentene/limonene and alpha-terpineol. The others were in either oil: linalyl acetate, linalool, alpha-terpinene and gamma-terpinene. Using in vitro, or test tube, experiments, the researchers applied these chemicals to human cancer cells to measure changes of estrogen receptor- and androgen receptor-target genes and transcriptional activity.

    All eight chemicals demonstrated varying estrogenic and/or anti-androgenic properties, with some showing high or little to no activity, the investigators reported.

    Ramsey said these changes were consistent with endogenous, or bodily, hormonal conditions that stimulate gynecomastia in prepubescent boys.

    “Lavender oil and tea tree oil pose potential environmental health concerns and should be investigated further,” he said.

    Of further concern, according to Ramsey, is that many of the chemicals they tested appear in at least 65 other essential oils.

    Essential oils are available without a prescription and are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Thus, the public should be aware of these findings and consider all evidence before deciding to use essential oils. The NIEHS Division of Intramural Research funded this study through its support of Korach.”

  3. Perfume, essential oil or cologne and their bottles are considered Household Hazardous Waste!

    “Please make sure that the bottle is empty and dry. The empty bottle is considered garbage since it is not the same as a pickle jar or glass juice bottle.

    If there is still perfume/cologne/scented oil in the bottle it is considered Household Hazardous Waste (HHW).

    Household hazardous waste (HHW) MUST NOT be included in your curbside garbage, recycling collection, or poured down the drain.

    HHW, if not disposed of properly, can be harmful to people, animals and the environment.

    Please take this item to a Household Hazardous Waste Depot at your local Community Recycling Centre (CRC) for proper disposal, free of charge.”

    ~ screen shot from Peel Region, Ontario

    • “Most essential oils are extremely flammable — particularly tea tree, clove, frankincense, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, and peppermint — requiring extra precautions when disposing of them or cleaning up a spill. Flammable oils are considered household hazardous waste in small quantities, and the containers holding those items cannot be recycled unless the oil is washed from the container. Some cities require that containers of flammable liquids be thrown in the trash rather than recycled, as even trace amounts of flammable liquid can pose a danger to recycling plant workers.

      That being said, removing essential oils from a previously used container must be done carefully. Many oils — including the same ones listed above as flammable — are toxic to aquatic life, and can have long-lasting impacts on marine ecosystems according to their MSDS sheets. Most also come with a warning that the oils themselves should not come in contact with a water supply or groundwater, meaning they should never be dumped down the drain or toilet.

      If an oil is contaminated or rancid and cannot be used, it must be disposed of through a hazardous-waste collection service. Most cities offer hazardous household waste programs, which can be found through local waste-management programs.

      Container recycling can also pose challenges. All quality essential-oils products come in glass containers, since pure essential oils can degrade plastic. Glass bottles can be recycled in most cities, though some cities, such as New York, require all glass that previously held flammable or hazardous materials be thrown in the regular trash. With 106 kilotons of essential oils produced in 2014 alone, that’s a lot of glass bottles potentially ending up in the trash! Essential oils sold to consumers come with a plastic lid and either a rollerball or drop-dispenser — due to recycling constraints, these typically end up in landfills as well.

      So how can essential oil aficionados best reduce their waste? Some companies allow customers to return bottles for recycling. If that service isn’t available, the best way to recycle essential-oils packaging would be to dispose of the oils following the recommendations of your local waste-management company.”

      (While there is some good info in this article, their closing paragraph (not copied here) is a bit lame, it doesn’t go far enough re what needs to be done, which is that this industry needs to be regulated to stop causing all the harm they are causing, because it has become abundantly clear that they won’t stop, they’ll just cause more harm, when left to their own devices.)

  4. Interesting story about indoor pollution, not just scents or cleaning products, etc,, but how much cooking releases toxic compounds, too:

    • Yes! It explains why so many people with MCS are adversely affected by cooking fumes!

      Also mentions the VOCs from peeling an orange setting off their meter!

      “The conversation turned into a kind of play-by-play pollution commentary. When Vance peeled an orange for the cranberry sauce, Arata noted that its fragrance—that is, its monoterpene VOCs—had made the readings on his instrument soar.”

      Once the baseline emissions for things like cooking a stir-fry or an English breakfast and mopping with Pine-Sol or a bleach-based cleaner had been established, the scientists began to layer activities together.

      A group of volunteers would spend the day in the house, cooking breakfast and lunch, checking their e-mail, cleaning up, making dinner, and running the dishwasher, in order to see whether, say, the emissions from frying vegetables in teriyaki sauce would react with the bleach fumes from mopping the kitchen floor afterward.

      Farmer told me that, based on her preliminary data, it seems as though they did, producing temporary spikes of chloramines, a class of chemicals that are known to inflame airway membranes.

      Another product of the marriage of bleach-based mopping and gas-burner ignition is nitryl chloride, a compound that is known to atmospheric chemists for its role in coastal smog formation. No one had expected to find it indoors.

      Novoselac and another Homechem researcher, Richard Corsi, recently collaborated on a separate study of nearby high schools and found that the highest emission levels were always of the same two chemicals, found in exactly the same ratio at every location.

      After a little bit of detective work, they identified the culprit: Axe body sprays, which the teen-age boys of Texas apparently apply lavishly in classrooms between periods.

      By the end of a month of stir-fries, mopping, and antiperspirant, even researchers who’d doubted whether indoor air would be interesting had come around. One converted skeptic, Philip Stevens, an atmospheric chemist at Indiana University Bloomington, had contributed an instrument designed to measure the hydroxyl radical, a compound so reactive that it is known as “the Pac-Man of the atmosphere.”

      The dominant source of VOCs in Los Angeles is now emissions from consumer products, including toiletries and cleaning fluids. In other words, vehicle emissions have been controlled to such an extent that, even in the most car-clogged city in America, indoor air that has leaked outdoors may create more smog than transportation does.

      “Wow,” he said. “Those kinds of levels will lower your cognitive functioning, at least in the short term. Whether it has any long-term effect, we don’t know.”

  5. Essential Oil Poisoning Is on The Rise.

    “As is often the case with natural remedies, it can be easy to oversell the benefits while downplaying the risks. Around the world, medicine regarded as alternative sits at a “crossroad” of regulation, seeking the benefit of science’s stamp of approval without the sense of control and authority.

    Knowing just how to categorise and regulate the use of essential oils as a medical treatment is therefore easier said than done.

    The researchers have some places we could start.

    On an individual level, we can all start by simply seeing essential oils as potentially dangerous substances.

  6. When visiting the doctor, go fragrance free

    … “Many people in our community, especially those with chronic health conditions, are chemically sensitive,” says Kaiser Permanente workplace safety consultant Drew Tomita. “They can become ill when exposed to things like cologne and perfume, scented body washes and soaps, and essential oils.”

    “We’re committed to making sure all our facilities are accessible for everyone,” says Tomita. “We appreciate everyone’s help in making this possible.”

  7. Essential oils are NOT benign (for pets or for humans)!
    Canadian Veterinary Medical Association:

    Some general guidelines to the use of essential oils in homes with cats are as follows:

    Never apply essential oils directly to cats, feed oils to cats, or leave oils in areas where they may come in direct contact with cats.

    While some oils do have insect/pest repellant activity, the risk of serious or fatal reactions in cats with these oils is high, and very safe and effective alternatives exist.

    Avoid the use of the oils on the above lists pending further research.

    Avoid the use of essential oils in households with cats with asthma, allergies, or similar conditions.

  8. From the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

    News of 28/04/2020

    ANSES calls for vigilance concerning essential-oil based sprays and diffusers

    Described as having the ability to “cleanse” or “purify” the air, essential-oil based sprays and diffusers are increasingly present in our homes. Continuing the studies undertaken in 2017 on indoor air purification techniques, ANSES is publishing a toxicovigilance study on exposure to these essential-oil based products, along with a review of scientific literature on the health effects of the substances emitted.

    An analysis of the cases of poisoning reported to the French Poison Control and Monitoring Centres highlighted a range of adverse effects in normal conditions of use, mainly irritation of the eyes, throat and nose, and respiratory effects.

    These products also emit volatile organic compounds, which may be a source of indoor air pollution.

    ANSES is alerting the public authorities to the need to better inform consumers of the precautions to be taken when using these products, particularly in the case of people suffering from asthma or other chronic respiratory diseases, owing to the irritating substances potentially emitted by these products.

    Following the expert appraisal conducted by ANSES on emerging indoor air purification techniques, the French Directorate General for Health and Directorate General for Risk Prevention asked the Agency to analyse the cases of poisoning by essential-oil based sprays and diffusers reported to Poison Control Centres and to review scientific literature on the health impact of these products and their potentially harmful effects on health.

    Also see

    #COVID-19 and essential oils: essential oils are not a solution against the coronavirus

    In the context of the COVID-19 health crisis, ANSES and the network of French Poison Control Centres are closely monitoring calls made to the centres for reasons related to COVID-19. The purpose is to identify specific risk situations in order to issue recommendations. The Poison Control Centres have identified a number of sources of risk situations, including the use of essential oils.

    Various specific risk situations have been identified: self-medication, where essential oils are taken orally in order to boost the body’s natural defences and combat the coronavirus, spraying of essential oils by a person at risk (an asthmatic) to “purify a confined space”, or inappropriate use, to disinfect a surgical mask, for example.

    ANSES reiterates that essential oils are not a solution against the coronavirus. It is important to use these oils correctly (route of administration, dosage, area of application, etc.).

    ANSES and the Poison Control Centres advise against the use of essential oils by people suffering from respiratory conditions (particularly asthma), or by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Before using essential oils and if you have any questions, ask a pharmacist for advice.

  9. Volatile chemical emissions from essential oils with therapeutic claims

    Received: 20 August 2020 /Accepted: 3 September 2020


    Essential oils emit many volatile organic compounds (VOCs), with some considered potentially hazardous. However, little isknown about specific emissions from essential oils that make therapeutic claims for health and well-being.

    This study investigatedVOCs emitted from 14 commercially available essential oils with therapeutic claims, such as beneficial for coughs, colds, flus,relaxation, sleep, tension, headaches, stress, or skin irritation.

    The essential oils were selected from different brands and types, such as tea tree oil, lavender oil, eucalyptus oil, geranium oil, peppermint oil, bergamot oil, orange oil, and oil blends.

    Analyses were performed using headspace gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).

    The analyses found 1034 VOCs emitted from the 14essential oils, representing 378 VOC identities.

    The most prevalent VOCs (in more than 90% of the oils) were acetaldehyde, alpha-phellandrene, alpha-pinene, camphene, limonene, methanol, terpinolene, 3-carene, acetone, beta-phellandrene, ethanol, and gam-ma-terpinene.

    Among the 1034 VOCs emitted, 251 VOCs, representing 60 VOC identities, are classified as potentially hazardous.

    The most prevalent potentially hazardous VOCs were acetaldehyde,limonene, methanol, acetone, ethanol, and 3-carene.

    Toluene was found in more than 70% of the essential oils.

    Each of the essential oils emitted 9 or more potentially hazardous VOCs.

    Fewer than 1% of all VOCs identified and fewer than 1% of all potentially hazardous VOCs were listed on any essential oil label, safety data sheet, or website.

    Results from this study provide new findings on VOC emissions from essential oils with therapeutic claims,which can help to improve public awareness about potential exposures and risks.

  10. Pingback: Dental Office Scented - Debra Lynn Dadd

  11. …”Consequently, the use of essential-oil-based cleaning products might generate a long-term increase in the indoor formaldehyde concentration, and the maximum levels might be sustained for several hours after cleaning. Thus, essential-oil-based cleaners should be seriously considered as versatile and significant sources of fragrance molecules and formaldehyde.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.