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What's the issue with synthetic fragrance?

Synthetic fragrance is used in products all around us, from perfume, hair care, skincare, air fresheners and cleaning products, making them smell beautiful.  But have you ever stopped to question what the impact of synthetic fragrance in your perfume or laundry powder is?  While companies may use them as a cheap way to fragrance their products, they can be extremely damaging to our health and the environment.

The term ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ as ingredients refers to thousands of unnamed and potentially harmful chemicals that are protected by intellectual property laws, meaning that companies do not have to disclose the ingredients in each fragrance to protect their trade secrets.  Despite this, 80% of the compounds in ‘fragrance’ are derived from petrochemicals such as petroleum or coal tar.  While the concentrations of these chemicals may be low, the cumulative exposure can be harmful.  Commentators, regulators and companies are starting to realise that these ingredients may be behind a range of health and environmental issues. 

Environmental impacts of synthetic fragrance
There are many implications of using synthetic fragrance on our environment, impacting our aquatic life and air quality.  According to Lenntech, detergents have been found to lower the surface tension in our waterways, making it easier for pesticides and other toxins to enter the water and as a result are absorbed by plants and animals, having a poisonous effect.  Phosphates in some of the chemical mixes have also been found to cause algae to bloom uncontrollably in waterways, depleting oxygen levels available for aquatic life.  A study by NOAA revealed that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are found in scented products create almost as much petrochemical air pollution in the atmosphere as the amount of petroleum burned as fuel.  VOCs are considered greenhouse gases and are extremely harmful to our atmosphere and air quality, exacerbating the issues that already contribute to climate change.

Health impacts of synthetic fragrance
The reported side effects of synthetic fragrance on our health are serious.  A 2018 Breast Cancer Prevention Partners study of personal care and cleaning products revealed that three quarters of the toxic chemicals detected in products came from 'fragrance'.  More and more people are reacting to them with headaches being one of the most common reactions.  Others range from irritability, mental vagueness, muscle pain, asthma, bloating, joint aches, sinus pain, fatigue, sore throat, eye irritation, gastrointestinal problems, laryngitis, headaches, dizziness, swollen lymph nodes, spikes in blood pressure, coughing and burning or itching skin irritations.  While this may be alarming, it is the long term effects that are the most concerning, with the EPA linking them to kidney, liver and nervous system damage and even cancer.  

The Environmental Working Group assigns ‘fragrance’ one of the highest hazard rankings possible in their score system. This is why we avoid them and is why we created WASH WILD - to offer a natural alternative to scented products for the home and body.