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Assaulting olfactory systems

Why fragrances are a terrible idea

by: Leah Oathout/Production Manager

perfume nation photo graphic

Graphic by Leah Oathout

My freshman year of high school, I was the only girl in a class of 16. I loved it. Not for usual reasons but for the fact I had the locker room all to myself. Why is that a big deal? Simple; I am extremely allergic to perfume, cologne, deodorants, air fresheners, et cetera. I am not alone. Ever-increasing numbers of Americans suffer with me. Yet, millions more have no problem drenching themselves in scented products. I tell you now, this scent-sation must cease for more reasons that millions of stuffed noses.

Let us be honest, at least 50 percent of perfumes and colognes on the market are atrocious. About 40 percent are tolerable and the remaining ten are actually pleasant. Anyone who went to high school probably remembers plugging their nose at the horrid mix of sweaty socks and Axe body spray coming from the boys’ locker room after P.E. or the sickly sweet cloud emanating from the girls’ bathroom. Adults are no better. A perfume counter aside, how many times has someone brushed by you in the mall and you can still smell them five minutes later? Moderation, people. A tiny spritz on the wrist is all it takes. Not everyone likes the smell of chocolate laced with toxic waste.

Speaking of toxic, 13 of the most common ingredients in perfume, cologne, shampoo and air fresheners are health hazards. Julia Kendall, Co-Chair for Citizens for a Toxic-Free Marin compiled the list in the late 1990’s using Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Acetone, considered a hazardous waste by the Enviormental Protection Agency (EPA) and commonly found in cologne, can cause everything from a dry throat to drunken symptoms to a coma. Benzaldehyde, in virtually every scented product, is a narcotic as well as a sensitizer and “may cause kidney damage.” Ethanol, a component in gasoline as well as thousands of perfumes, hairsprays, fabric softeners, dishwashing fluids and air fresheners, is another hazardous waste that can cause drowsiness, upper-respiratory problems and has been linked to various central nervous system diseases. The list goes on and on.

Might I also mention that these chemicals are in scented baby products? We are, in fact, exposing developing children to toxins that can cause fatal diseases before they are even out of the womb. According to an article by, a fetus “is extremely vulnerable to outside influences…exposure to chemicals in perfumes and scented beauty products can block the hormones needed to properly develop the reproductive organs.” Infertility by perfume. Other studies show that chemicals in scented products can affect growth and development of the brain after the baby is born. Asthma in children has skyrocketed in the last twenty years as more and more people drown themselves in scents. Essentially, we are destroying our species just so we smell “nice” today.

Still need a reason to cut back on your spritzing? How about we take a look at the environmental effects of fragrances, specifically the water you drink. According to an article written in 2008 by Klaus Ferlow of Positive Health Online, “Waste water treatment does not remove the constantly increasing quantity and types of fragrance chemicals, many of which are persistent and accumulate in the environment.” Remember, a lot of these chemicals are considered hazardous waste by the EPA. This means that they are toxic to plants, animals and/or humans. Same goes for the air we breathe.

I am not saying that everyone should go back to bathing in a creek once a month and rubbing plants in their armpits. I am simply saying that we need to cut back on our use of smell-good-toxic waste. Not only for the sake of those with stuffy noses, migraines and allergic reactions, but for the sake of humanity. This stuff is killing us silently and stinkily and it needs to stop.

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