Minefield of Chemicals: Toxic Fragrance (part 2)

How to avoid fragrance chemicals:

  • Read labels: avoid “fragrance (parfum)” without any detail
  • Look for “fragrance-free” official label
  • Avoid air fresheners and perfumed cleaning products; try natural ways to eliminate odors
  • Choose products that disclose source of fragrance: essential oil blends or botanicals
  • Find trustworthy companies with certifications that backup claims of “no synthetic fragrances”
  • Switch to green cleaning or DIY cleaning

My last fragrance article focused on perfume/cologne, but fragrance chemicals are present in many more consumer products. We are so inundated with fragrance in our society that its prevalence often goes unnoticed. Go to a store like Target or Fred Meyer (subsidiary of Kroger), walk around all the departments, and notice where you find fragranced products. Fragrance is heavily used in personal care products, but it’s also used in clothing, children’s toys, cleaning supplies, trash bags, Kleenex, and even feminine hygiene products.

The heavy use of fragrance is one of the worst problems because it makes everyday life difficult for those with sensitivities, limits consumer choices, and exposes people to toxic chemicals without their consent. The use of fragrance in public space is similar to the secondhand cigarette smoke issue. Smoking and using fragrance are not just individual lifestyle choices because they affect other people without their consent. This also pertains to company choices to use fragrance in public spaces, such as air fresheners in hotels or workspaces. Additionally, individuals should not have to work so hard to find products that are free of fragrance chemicals or are not unnecessarily scented. Even products labeled as “unscented” sometimes contain fragrance to mask the smell of other chemicals. The EPA has defined “fragrance-free” as an official term manufacturers can use to indicate that a product contains no fragrance chemicals; this is part of the Safer Choice label program.

So, what are some of the toxic chemicals used in fragrances and why should we be concerned? In my last fragrance post, I went over briefly some of the health risks associated with fragrance ingredients. Here, we’re going to examine just a few of the chemicals found in fragrance to give you a snapshot of why synthetic fragrances are so concerning. I think an important thing to keep in mind is how unregulated the fragrance industry is, so we’re not just worried about the health risks alone, it’s a combination of these ingredients being potentially toxic and having basically no safeguards to protect us.

  • Acetaldehyde: Affects kidneys, reproductive, nervous, and respiratory systems. Classified by CA Prop 65ˆ as known/suspected carcinogen. IARCˆ (International Agency for Research on Cancer) and the NTPˆ (National Toxicology Program) list it as a possible carcinogen.
  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA): Possible endocrine disruption; also listed as carcinogen by CA Prop 65.
  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT): Stabilizer and preservative. Eye and skin irritant and possible respiratory system irritant. Limited evidence of thyroid damage, including cancer, from BHT.
  • Dichloromethane (methylene chloride): Shown to cause mammary gland tumors and classified as possible carcinogen by IARC and NTP. Also, possible carcinogen to individuals working with it. Use is restricted by European Commissionˆ and it’s been banned by the FDA.
  • Diethyl phthalate: Fragrance solvent that’s a possible endocrine disruptor and neurotoxin; poses threat to reproductive system. Irritates eyes, skin, and respiratory system.
  • Formaldehyde: known human carcinogen. Banned in personal care products in Japan and Sweden. European Union and Canada restrict it. CA Prop 65 states in gas form, its carcinogen. Individuals working with formaldehyde are at risk of cancer and immune system impairment.
  • MEA, DEA, TEA – ethanolamine: When used in conjunction with certain preservatives, they form nitrosamines (a chemical class). The IARC and NTP consider various compounds in this chemical class as possible or known carcinogens.
  • Oxybenzone (BP-3): This UV filter is a possible EDCˆ; it might be toxic to liver cells and can accumulate in the body. European Union regulates its use in cosmetics.
  • Propyl paraben (propyl p-hydroxybenzoate): Possible endocrine disruptor (EDC). Banned by Denmark for children’s products under 3 years old. European Commission restricts its use in cosmetics.
  • Styrene: Toxic to blood cells and liver when ingested; neurotoxic when inhaled. European Commission classifies it as a “category 1” endocrine disruptor, which means there’s strong evidence that it is carcinogenic.
  • 1,4-Dioxane: This is a byproduct of making other chemicals and a common contaminant in final products. Since it’s a contaminant, it doesn’t need to be disclosed on ingredient labels. Under CA Prop 65, it’s known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects. IARC and NTP both list it as possible carcinogen.

These substances are only a few of the thousands used in fragrance blends, but it gives you a good sense of the types of health concerns we’re dealing with. The evidence to support health risks is weak though, because most substances are not really tested. It’s difficult to make environmental and public health assessment on substances when there is insufficient data.

In addition to these chemicals, there is some evidence that certain chemical compounds found in essential oils may be harmful to our health and the environment. My next post in this fragrance series will dive deeper into that aspect.




ˆ Denotes a term that is defined/explained under the terms/concepts/glossary page of blog. Symbol found following the word the first time it’s used in a post.

Cookware and Cosmetics: Try These on for Size

Hello, I know it’s been a few days since I’ve updated much. I’m working on a longer segment looking at alternative energy sources and some of the problems with current resources we’re using.

In the meantime, I’m giving a quick update on what I’ve been doing this past week.

New cookware!

First off, I just bought a new non-stick pan, which I’m extremely excited about when I found it on sale for about $13.00. Its a water-based non-stick that doesn’t contain PFOA and is made by a company called Ecolution.

A little background here…... Teflon, which is the traditional non-stick coating, contains a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or C8) that is extremely toxic to humans and environmentally persistent. Environmental persistence refers to the chemical’s durability and resistance to chemical breakdown. PFOA has been proven to cause birth defects, developmental problems, hormone disruption, and high cholesterol. It has also been linked to increasing the chances of developing cancer. PFOA is one of many related chemicals called perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs. These various chemicals are found in clothing, upholstery, and even in the lining of microwaveable popcorn bags.

So, Ecolution: this company has developed a line of non-stick cookware using Hydrolon, which is a water-based non-toxic formula. You can find these on Amazon, and they’re mid-range as far as price is concerned. I found the one I bought at my local grocery store – it was a rare find and I grabbed the last one! It was originally $25 for an 11 inch pan. Their products got pretty good reviews on Amazon, and from doing an internet search the company doesn’t appear to be greenwashing. Another, more expensive option in the line of eco-friendly cookware is GreenPan. These can be found on Amazon also, but they are crazy expensive. I’ve been using my Ecolution pan for a few days now I love it. It’s easy to clean, it feels sturdy and it doesn’t require as much heat as the stainless steel pans I’ve been using since I ditched my Teflon pans. Like other non-stick pans, you cannot use metal utensils as it will scratch the coating and decrease the life-span of your pan. Use only plastic or wooden spatulas and turners on these pans!


I bought some makeup from a company called Maia’s Mineral Galaxy and here’s the scoop on them:

This is the bag that Maia's Minerals came in within the shipping envelope. I thought it was a cute touch.

Loose mineral eye shadows: Their chemical-free mineral makeup eye shadows are intense in color and they go on very well. They are a little pricey, at $10.00 for 3 gram jars. The Honeybee Garden eye shadows seem of higher quality and contain the same ingredients. Their jars are only 2 grams for $7.00 (or $4.99 through Vitacost.com), so they may be semi-comparable in price per gram. A 2 gram jar is really plenty of powder to last a while though, and the advantage is that Honeybee Gardens’ products can be purchased for cheaper on Vitacost.com.

Eyeliner: I bought, for about $10.50, a deep jade green mineral eye pencil and it was awful. The color was more of a light brown and didn’t transfer to my skin at all. I tried wetting the pencil tip, but that barely helped with application. I ended up crushing the pencil filling and mixing it with another color and got a heavy bronzy-purple eye shadow of a thick consistency. All-in-all, I would go for Honeybee Gardens again – when their pencil tips are wetted, they’re easy to apply and the color shows up. I have a green and a purple eye pencil from them. Their pencils are $7.99 on their website, and a few dollars cheaper through Vitacost.

Lipstick: I bought a sample lipstick that I was hoping would be a bright ruby red. It turned out to be more of a burnt sienna brown color. Too bad for that. The Honeybee Gardens lipstick I have right now is a great color, but it fades after about two minutes of wear.

I bought chemical-free black nail polish from Zoya and I love it!

And a quick plug for them – for the next 2 days, in honor of earth day, they are doing a nail polish exchange! Check it out here to see the details: http://www.zoya.com/content/38/category/Nail_Polish_Exchange.html

Anyway – the bottle cost $8.00 and is excellent. It doesn’t contain toluene, formaldehyde, DPB (phthalates) or camphor. These are all toxic chemicals found in conventional polishes. I put a coat on my toe nails about two weeks ago and it’s barely flaked off. It looks great and its staying on very well. Zoya has a huge selection of colors and includes sparkly polishes and matte-finishes. I highly recommend looking into this, since it’s an easy and cost-competitive method of decreasing your toxic chemical exposure – especially if you are like me and wear nail polish all the time!

This is getting long, so I will be coming back to talk about some of the mineral eye shadows I’ve been experimenting making this week in my next post, which will hopefully be later tonight.

What’s In Your Body? You’d Be Surprised…

This is the first post on the subject of body burdens (check the Terms and Ideas page located on the top menu of the blog). Unknown to many people, the products we use today now contain hundreds of different synthetic chemicals that are harmful to the environment and human health. Chemicals are easily absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin and can have damaging effects on internal organs and have been linked to various cancers. People get a secondary dosage through consuming contaminated food and water; communities living closer to industrial and manufacturing plants are at an even high risk of exposure due to the increased concentration of chemicals in their water. Many of these body burdens can remain in a person’s bloodstream their entire life, and in pregnant women these chemicals are transferred to their developing fetuses.

Why are these chemicals still being used?

Many people ask the question that if these chemicals are so dangerous, why are they still being used, and more importantly, how come no one is doing anything about it? As I see it, there are four main reasons that this cycle continues without changes:

  1. They are cheaper or the only ingredient that will work.
  2. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is flawed in regulating chemical contamination.
  3. The FDA does not have the authority to regulate chemicals used in cosmetics, and this is connected to a lack of proper, publicly advertised health risk testing.
  4. Lack of public awareness or activism to protest their use.

These chemicals are cheaper than their organic counterparts, or provide qualities that no organic ingredient could provide. Companies are putting their need for profits above public health. Propylene/Butylene Glycol is a cheap substitute for glycerin, or glycerol, which is an ingredient found in soap and it relatively low in toxicity. Propylene glycol has been linked to brain, liver and kidney abnormalities and is considered highly toxic by the EPA.

The EPA has been called out time and time again for not truly putting the public and environmental interests above large corporations. The EPA is an agency under the executive branch of the government, and it is up to them to interpret environmental statutes; basically they are in charge of the details of a law, which leaves a lot of flexibility. The EPA lacks the authority to enforce many regulations and requirements. One of the biggest issues that has been in the news the past few years has to do with the EPA’s regulations on water quality. The article “Clean Water Laws are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering” by Charles Duhigg, which is part of a series by the New York Times called Toxic Waters, examines water pollution caused by toxic chemicals. The article opens with the following frightening scenario, occurring right here in the United States:

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va. In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

The chemicals found their way into the ground as a result of near-by coal plants. The EPA and the regulations laid out in the Clean Water Act imply that things like this should not occur. Unfortunately, they do. According to the New York Times research, between 2004 and 2009, manufacturing plants and other industrial sites violated the Clean Water Act regulations over half a million times. These violations manifested as dumping toxic chemicals at high concentrations and neglecting to report emission levels. The EPA has failed to punish violators as they continue to break laws that are meant to protect public health and well-being. Under the Obama Administration and the EPA’s new administrator Lisa P. Jackson, we are hoping for change. Given the current circumstances, the environment seems to be on the back burner unfortunately. You can read this full article, which was written in 2009, but still provides much-needed insight into regulatory problems of the EPA: Clean Water Laws are Neglect, at a Cost in Suffering.

The FDA is not doing anything —- the FDA is in charge of cosmetic regulations, but they do not actually regulate what goes into cosmetics before they are released to the public. Unlike their control over food and drugs, the FDA does not have the authority to regulate what is used in cosmetics. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, approximately 89% of the ingredients/chemicals used in cosmetics are not tested officially for possible related health problems. Visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for a more detailed explanation of the FDA’s control on cosmetic ingredients.

Deformed frogs, such as this one, are becoming more common as a result of toxic chemicals in water.

The last aspect of the continued use of these chemicals lies in the lack of public awareness. Most people do not think about what they put on their skin, hair, nails, etc…and assume that it is safe. At a certain point you can’t drive yourself crazy since these chemicals are so prevalent, but the public should be outraged that companies are getting away with dousing them in cancer-causing chemicals. The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting public awareness and pushing for public health and environmental laws in Washington. We NEED to push for public awareness and those who can afford it should start buying chemical-free alternatives. As consumers, we do have power through what we buy. If everyone stopped shopping at Wal-Mart, they couldn’t stay open. Unfortunately, there are too many people who refuse to pay more, or simply cannot afford to pay more, for products. It’s a vicious cycle, but I am a firm believer that slowly we can change things if we care to. If more people understood how serious these invisible toxins are when it comes to our health, I like to think that they would care more.


Toxic Chemicals:

The following are just some of the hundreds of toxic chemical ingredients found in consumer products: (these are the main ones to AVOID)

  • Phthalates
    • Found in: nail polish, hair-straighteners & sprays, body lotions & deodorant; makes fragrances last longer, and plastics soft and malleable
    • Linked to: birth defects and reproductive disorders
  • Parabens (methyl-, propyl-, butyl-, ethyl-, benezyl-)
    • Found in: conditioners, hair styling gels, nail creams, foundations, concealers, mascara, facial masks, skin creams, deodorants, sunscreen, hair coloring; germicide and preservative
    • Linked to: hormone disruption, breast cancer, heart problems
  • Fragrance (parafum/scent)
    • Found in: skincare, cleansers, laundry products, air fresheners, and anything else scented; blanket term for thousands of different chemicals
    • Linked to: cancer, asthma, allergies, immunotoxicity, headaches, vomiting, dizziness, skin discoloration

      This shows a variety of common beauty products and the secret toxic chemicals they contain.
  • Triclosan (antibacterial)
    • Found in: soaps, toothpaste, deodorant
    • Linked to: cancer, hormone disruption, developmental and reproductive problems
  • PFCs (Ferfluorochemicals)
    • Found in: Teflon (PFOA), other non-stick substances
    • Linked to: organ damage/failure, cancer, developmental problems, raised cholesterol
  • PBDEs (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers: flame retardant)
    • Found in: clothing, bedding, furniture, computers
    • Linked to: thyroid hormone disruption, learning and memory impairment, behavior alteration, hearing problems, delayed puberty, decreased sperm count, birth defects, cancer possibly
  • Formaldehyde (embalming fluid)
    • Found in: shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, liquid antiseptic hand wash, lotions, bubble bath, hair care products, deodorant, nail polish, mascara, mouthwash, make-up remover, talc, and produced in body from aspartame (which is found in diet sodas and chewing gum)
    • Linked to: memory loss, nervous system damage, brain damage, symptoms of fibromyalgia (this is a condition causing prolonged and chronic pain in joints, muscles, and connective tissue.
  • SLS and SLES (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate)
    • Found in: toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, face soap, body wash, bath salts, hair spray; used as a foaming agent and emulsifier
    • Linked to: skin and eye irritation, skin rash, hair loss, eye damage, immune system damage, death
  • DEA, TEA, MEA (Diethanolamine, Triethanolamine, Amonoethanolamine)
    • Found in: shampoos, soaps, hair spray, sunscreen, foundation, eyeliners, face powder, shaving cream, hair color, hair spray; used as an emulsifier, pH adjuster, preservative, foaming agent
    • Linked to: hormone disruption, cancer (liver and kidney cancer increase)
  • Propoylene/Butylene Glycol
    • Found in: deodorant, lotion, body wash, hair conditioner, hair gel, creams, lipstick, baby wipes, windshield fluid; cheap substitute for glycerin
    • Linked to: brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities; EPA considers these chemicals toxic and to avoid inhalation or skin contact
  • PEG (Polyethelene Glycol) (Petroleum)
    • Found in: skincare products
    • Linked to: cancer, dry skin, increased aging and susceptibility to bacteria and diseases

The list goes on of chemicals to avoid, but these seem to be the most prominent ones and have received the most attention. Many of these chemicals are by-products of coal and oil, which comes back to the huge environmental issue of us being an oil and coal dependent country. If we end our dependence on fossil fuels, we eliminate the ability to create some of these chemicals. My mind immediately jumps to the question of “if these chemicals cannot be made, won’t we just find another way of making cheap and just as toxic chemicals?” The hope is that we won’t, and that through changes in legislation and energy production, we can change every aspect of society from agriculture to ingredients in our products.

I will be going into these issues further and will be exploring current policy and regulations on these chemicals.


An excellent book on this topic is called Slow Death by Rubber Duck by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie

The EPA actually has a good amount of information open to the public available at www.epa.gov

The EWG has a lot of information, along with Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database, which is a project under the EWG

Lastly, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has a plethora of information

Hope that wasn’t too depressing everyone – just remember, everyone has the power to do something! Have an excellent day!

And so it begins…

Dear everyone out there in the internet world:

This is my first blog, which as I mention under the About page is for my senior project, and I’m hoping for a successful launch to kick off the beginning of spring. I plan, especially if this actually gets some momentum and attention from people, to continue writing past graduating college this coming June.

So, a little about what you’ll find here as much as I can describe or plan:

Again, as you can read about in the About page, I’m at school for essentially environmental studies (self designed major), but I have focused on green building, technology and health/environmental problems found mostly in urban areas.

I became interested in public outreach during a class I took earlier this year when we learned about body-burdens and the lack of public awareness of what many consumer products are made from. Body-burdens are the chemicals found in almost everything we use daily that are then absorbed into the body. A well known example would be mercury from tuna; if someone consumes too much tuna mercury levels can rise in their bloodstream, which can lead to a number of health problems. This got me motivated to investigate further into consumer products and chemical-free alternatives.

I am also extremely interested in technology, and in stride with the theme of sustainability, I am  focusing on how technology can allow us to reduce resources, limit waste, and conserve energy.

Knowing me, there will be posts that may be less related to sustainability than most, but I’m trying to stick with my broad themes for the most part. And I guess we will just see where this experiment takes me!

Thanks everyone and I’d love any suggestions or comments on how I can improve this blog!