FREE GUIDE – 8 Common Endocrine Disruptors at Home & How to Avoid Them

Is our love affair with fragrance a toxic one?

Do you still have a love affair with fragrance?  For many people, fragrance makes them feel better.  It makes holidays and seasons more festive and many consumers define clean by the scent, whether its laundry or household cleaning products. According to a 2017 study, 72.8% of people surveyed in the US use air fresheners and deodorizers at least 1x a week. ⁠But are we in a toxic relationship with artificial fragrance?

What you’ll see on the label

The word “fragrance” or “perfume” is what you’ll typically see on labels.  It’s a catch-all phrase for a specific mixture of chemicals and formulators have over 3,000 different chemicals to choose from when creating their unique scents. In the US, NONE of these need to be disclosed on consumer packaging (“proprietary” trade secrets ya know – wink wink 😉).

Acute effects from artificial fragrance

Some chemical ingredients in fragrance (in addition to being endocrine disrupting and carcinogenic) are also incredibly irritating to some people, with almost 35% of people reporting at least 1 or more adverse health effect like respiratory issues, migraines, asthma, skin problems, and more.  (PMID: 27867426)

Many of the acute effects experienced from fragrances are as a result of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are emitted from them.  A study by Anne Steinemann, an expert on pollutant exposures and indoor air quality, found more than 156 VOCs were emitted from 37 fragranced consumer products, and of those, 42 were classified as toxic under US federal laws. (PMID: 27867426)

For air fresheners alone, she found 18 chemicals with health effects and none of these appeared on the product label, or even the Safety Data Sheet released by the manufacturer.⁠

An on-going exposure to Phthalates

In personal care and other products, you’ll also find phthalates hidden inside artificial fragrance blends to make the scent last longer.  The most common type of phthalate used in fragrance is diethyl phthalate or DEP.

The more scent or fragrance something has, the more phthalates are likely present and according to the American Chemistry Council, diethyl phthalate can make up as much as 50% of the fragrance ingredient.

DEP has a molecular weight small enough to easily be absorbed into the skin and is an endocrine disrupting chemical that can contribute to a long list of health issues like thyroid dysfunction, fertility problems, early puberty in girls, increased breast cancer risk, fibroids, endometriosis, reduced IQ, and behavioral problems in children. DEP and other phthalates are also classified as obesogens, linked to insulin resistance.☹

Biomonitoring has shown that nearly everyone has levels of phthalate metabolites in their urine, with the highest concentrations being in women of child-bearing age.  This makes sense as they are likely using more scented personal care and household products but this is also the most sensitive group to the hormone disrupting qualities of the chemicals. 

Going fragrance-free

The good news is a three-day trial led by researchers at UC Berkeley had participants switch to fragrance-free products and found significant drops in levels of these chemicals in the body. Metabolites of diethyl phthalate, commonly used in fragrances, decreased 27 percent in just three days.

This is one area where moving away from artificially fragranced products can have a big impact in a short amount of time.  If anyone in your home is pregnant or dealing with allergies, asthma, any kind of hormonal issue, any kind of issue that involves sensory overload (like autism), fertility issues, and even metabolic issues, artificial fragrances should be avoided. 

Instead look for fragrance-free products or those scented with high quality essential oils or oil blends.  Be wary of the term “unscented”, which can still contain artificial fragrances to neutralize or mask strong chemical odors.

This is something I help clients identify and swap out in their homes.  There are so many options that perform well without putting our health at risk.  For more information on my Healthy Home Assessment, click here:



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Written by Sara Parsons