Petroleum in Perfume

By Stacy Malkan   |  11Comments|

Something doesn’t smell right, and not just in the Gulf. The horrifying destruction of life caused by the oil spill has everyone’s attention; what many people don’t realize is that the toxic effects of oil addiction are hitting much closer to home.

Humans have found many uses for oil, but one thing we can’t do with it is process it with our bodies to use as food or nourishment. So it’s not really a surprise, then, that synthetic chemicals made from oil byproducts don’t mesh so well with human health.

You may notice it in the funny, unpleasant feeling you get when standing in an enclosed space with somebody who is wearing too much perfume. If so, you’re not alone: adverse reactions to fragrance exposure are reported by a significant percentage of the population.

A new report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics illustrates why. The analysis of 17 top-selling fragrances – from Britney Spears’s Curious and Hannah Montana’s Secret Celebrity to Calvin Klein’s Eternity and Abercrombie & Fitch’s Fierce – reveals the products contain many secret petrochemicals not listed on labels and multiple toxins that can disrupt hormones or trigger allergic reactions such as asthma, headaches, wheezing, and skin rashes.

The majority of the chemicals in these products have not been assessed for safety by the cosmetics industry’s self-policing review panels.

The study comes on the heels of the recent report by the President’s Cancer Panel (see the must-read NYT piece), which sounded the alarm about the cancer risk of unregulated and unstudied chemicals used by millions of Americans in their daily lives. The panel recommended that pregnant women and couples planning to become pregnant avoid exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals due to cancer concerns.

Many of the fragrances contained these suspect ingredients: Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver (for men) and Glow by JLO each contained six different chemicals with the potential to act like estrogen in the body. Synthetic estrogens are a concern because of the science linking estrogen to higher risk of breast cancer.

One wonders if these celebrities even know what’s in their products. (Send these celebs a letter.) Average consumers are certainly in the dark, thanks to a loophole in federal law that allows companies to keep fragrance ingredients secret. The companies will argue that they’ve always kept fragrances secret. But, obviously, it’s a new day.

The oil spill is an ever-present reminder that it’s time to start doing things differently than we’ve been doing them. It’s time to rethink the petrochemicals we put on our bodies, too – and to require cosmetics companies to be honest about what’s in their products and to use the safest ingredients possible.

It’s time to shift every industry away from the toxic, polluting practices of the past, to kick the oil habit once and for all, and move the entire economy toward renewable energy, clean production, and green, safe chemistry.

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11 responses to Petroleum in Perfume
  1. Eeek, I never wear perfume anymore. It’s only natural essential oils for me. I wish some other people in my life would read this, I’m sick of smelling them! 😉

  2. What an eye opening blog!
    Thank you for sharing!

  3. Beth said on June 8, 2010

    Holy Toxins Batman! My husband can’t go into a mall with me where there are cosmetic counters because when he walks by the perfume, he gets a severe headache and his tummy cramps up and he has to run to the nearest bathroom. Thank you Stacy for this post – As Lauren stated – I wish other people would read this….I’m passing it on!

  4. Im passing this on too. My mom likes to use the plug in house freshiners. I get freqrent headaches and my asthma acts up whenever they are pluged in. The same thing happens when I walk by someone who wears perfume.

  5. I actually wrote a post recently about organic, natural perfumes and how to make your own! Perfume was the first thing that made me realize there was a problem with chemicals in beauty products. Certain types make me physically ill!

    It is also crazy how petroleum lurks in everything. It is so complicated to avoid it.

    Here’s to a better, oil-free tomorrow!

  6. I will pass this on. I will place it on my twitter page right away this is useful article. Safe the planet stop oil prodcution. But that will only happen once electric cars are cheaper to buy

  7. The original perfumes were attar, essential oil blends, so oil is not the problem. The problem is the combinations of clothing, cosmetics and foods that are secretly being laced with petrochemicals because the FDA and EPA are too blinded by multi-national corp $$ to make real scientific declarations to the public. It is NOT that they don’t know; it is that they don’t tell, cuz then this country would go bankrupt (officially).

  8. Thank you for sharing this great information with people! The terminology can be confusing. Some fragrances use the term “natural” or “nature identical” even though the ingredients are not plant-based. There are many alternatives to using these synthetic ingredients, though. Amidst growing awareness about the relationship between synthetic ingredients (potential toxins) and health challenges, we can all choose to better support our personal health and wellness with green alternatives, such as natural perfume blending with organic essential oils. Your readers may be interested in “Natural Perfume Making with Essential Oils” for info about essential oils and blending. Enjoy!

    Warm Regards,
    Dorene Petersen, President of American College of Healthcare Sciences

  9. Just heard this on the Diane Rehm Show yesterday: the best way to test if something has petroleum/oil in it is the human nose and taste buds. So, professional tasters are tasting shrimp and other seafood from the Gulf to see if it has been exposed to the oil spill. Yum!

  10. kim said on June 20, 2010

    to beth:

    that’s so funny coz i used to have the same effect when i was younger! especially when someone just put on some perfume and steps into a car..

  11. I think this is a great time to look more closely at the products that we use everyday for health and safety issues. Our world is finally attempting to become more aware of healthy lifestyles, environmentally friendly practices, and so on. The oil spill caused so many irreversible problems, but at least it is helping us become more proactive on issues such as these. I think writing a letter to these celebrities about their products is a great idea. I will be doing that today!

    -Jamie McMaster