Friday, April 04, 2008

Toxic Chemicals in Popular Perfumes

What do some of the most popular perfumes made by Estee Lauder, Calvin Klein, Yves Saint Laurent and Kenneth Cole have in common? According to the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, an online safety guide for cosmetics and personal care products, they rank among the most hazardous in terms of toxic chemicals of any of 733 fragrance products the group tested. Look up your favorites here.

What kind of toxic chemicals are we talking about? Ingredients that cause cancer, endocrine system disruption, neurotoxicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity and much more.

Now, to be perfectly sane about this, is the average person's exposure to one of these fragrances likely to do significant harm? Not for most people. However, the amount of cosmetics and body care products that contain similar ingredients (think: shampoo, deodorant, skin lotion and other products most of us use everyday) is disturbing. Many of these ingredients have cumulative effects, the majority have never been safety tested, they show up in breast milk, and are being found in the environment at levels that may be affecting wildlife (including food we might eat).

Are all-natural perfumes like my own which are made with only essential oils and jojoba safe? That depends on what you mean by safety. Should you drink them? No! Should you cover your entire body with them as if they were massage oil? You probably could with many of my formulas but, generally speaking, natural perfumes are not intended to be used to this extent. Many essential oils should be avoided in pregnancy and it's best to stay away from all essential oils in the first trimester of pregnancy. And many essential oils accumulate in the body as well. This can be used intentionally—and is recommended—for healing effects. The effect of using any perfume—even one with all-natural ingredients— daily for years at a time, though, has not been tested.

My personal belief, because fat soluble substances (including essential oils and some vitamins) do accumulate in the body for better and for worse, is that a person should take a break from using aromatherapy products (any health and beauty product, actually) after a few weeks to see if you even need them anymore. I don't even take vitamins except when I've been stressed for a long time and am feeling rundown. If the body doesn't need it why dump hundreds of dollars of vitamins down the toilet for no good reason? And substances that are great for you in reasonable quantities can become a problem when used to excess. For example, red wine and chocolate have wonderful antioxidant effects and other health benefits but we all know the importance of moderation with these substances. You don't need to be afraid to use aromatherapy. It just makes sense to use moderation and avoid making "therapy" a substitute for paying attention to what's really going on with yourself as time goes on.

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