Toxins In Scented Products


TOXINS IN SCENTED PRODUCTS Speaker: Kerri Brock from Splash Concepts Written by: Sheena Jain & Esha Jain

            Scents, whether from the fragrance of one’s perfume or the aroma of a burning scented candle, can create strong emotional connections for people. Where the scent of an ocean breeze candle can take an individual back to a family vacation at the beach or a mountain scented glade plug-in can bring someone back to the first time they climbed the Himalayan Mountains. Scents can be a great marketing tool for production companies; however, 95% of these aromas are synthetic and contain chemical toxins that are detrimental to our health. Some chemical toxins in particular are the nitro polycyclic musks. Polycyclic musk’s are known as “endocrine disrupters” which along with other toxins can enter our bodies through inhalation, ingestion and dermal inhalation, which is absorbed through our skin. These endocrine disruptors have adverse effects on the pituitary gland, thyroid, ovaries and testes. Some of their effects include low fertility, late puberty or early menopause. Women are exposed to approximately 12 products per day which can be as many as 150-160 chemicals per day.   

            Although many are aware of how detrimental these products can be to their health, scented products and the toxins that they emit is still a complicated concept. This is due to 3 layers: The corporate layer, the government layer and the human behaviour layer.

The Corporate layer: is focused around the fact that $7 billion are made on scented products.

The Government layer: relates to the way products are tested and labelled. Scented products contain approximately 13,000 chemicals, many of which are largely petroleum based. Of these chemicals only 10% are tested. These chemicals are tested in isolation of one another rather than collectively. Therefore the synergistic effects of multiple chemicals that are usually present in one product are not tested together. Regardless of what is tested, many times these chemicals are not included in the ingredient list of product labels.

The Human Behaviour Layer: is centered on why we continue to conduct ourselves in a particular manner regardless of the knowledge we possess e.g. why we still buy scented products knowing their adverse effects.

  • Some reasons why humans may still gravitate towards scented products, is possibly due to being unaware of safer alternatives, due to habit, or for convenience. Many people may not realize the harmful effects of these products at the time of use as they may not have concrete evidence in front of them at all times.
  • Another theory that exists is the Choice/Utility Maximization, which is where people make their choices based on how useful products are to them.
  • Three approaches as to how humans make decisions include: Economic, Cognitive and Social Psychological.
    • Economic choice refers to how we spend our money.
    • Cognitive choice is focused around giving individuals access to the information so that they can gain knowledge and make their decisions accordingly.
    • Social Psychological choice is centered on how one’s purchase connects them with others. Many studies have also been conducted around the effects of “over choice.” It has been found that even with more choices individuals are more prone to go towards either polar spectrum. Regardless of having infinite amount of choices people will still gravitate towards the product that is the cheapest, easiest and the fastest, thinking that since these products are available on store shelves that they must be safe.

  The scented products that people use is ultimately their decision based on their own personal reasoning. There is however some alternatives that have similar effects to scented products but are safer.  People can create “Do it yourself” cosmetics using products from the grocery aisle such as fruits, vegetables, oils and seeds. Individuals can use the safe cosmetic database to assess whether the products they currently using are non-toxic. Other alternatives include looking for clean certified products, giving our bodies permission to sweat and cleanse or even joining the effort to change the default by participating in chemical management plan conversations.  


1)  What ingredients should we avoid when purchasing scented products? What are their effects?

Often times production companies include the term “fragrances” on ingredient labels. This refers to a group of chemicals that may be toxic to our health. These include:

Parabens - Hormone disruptors

 →Interfere with hormone production and release

- “estrogenic effects”

-  Breast Cancer

- Males: Infertility

- Contact Dermatitis in people with damaged skin

- Skin aging

Phthalates - Carcinogen - Liver/Kidney Damage             

- Asthma

- Obesity

- Type II Diabetes

- Neurodevelopmental Issues

 → Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder

 → Autism Spectrum Disorder

 → Behavioural Issues

 → Low IQ

-Reproductive Effects

 → Birth Defects

 → Decreased sperm counts

 → Early breast development in males & females

 → Male fertility issues

Synthetic Musk - Hormone disruptors

- Can accumulate in the environment, fat tissue,

  breast milk and in umbilical cord blood

- Breast Cancer

- Low fertility

- Late Puberty

- Early Menopause



Propylene Glycol - Hyperosmolality

- Lactic Acidosis

- Intravascular Hemolysis

- Central Nervous System Depression

- Seizures

- Coma

- Hypoglycemia

- Renal Failure

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) - Skin Irritant/ Skin corrosion

- Eye Irritant

- Eye deformities in Children

- Hormone imbalance

 → Menopausal symptoms

 → Males: low fertility (massive drop in sperm count & sperm motility), breast enlargement

 → Gender confusion in males or pregnant women

 → Breast Cancer

- Skin Cancer

Triclosan - Liver Problems

- Depression

- Cancer, Uncontrolled cell growth

- Abnormal Endocrine system/thyroid hormone signaling

- Weakening the immune system

- Children exposed to antibacterial products at an early age:

 → Increased chance of developing: allergies, asthma & eczema

- Developmental & Reproductive toxicity

2)  When burning candles what precautions can be taken to ensure that less toxic chemicals are being emitted into the air?

  • Use beeswax or soy based candles instead of paraffin based candles which are a by-product of petroleum
  • Using non-scented candles because they emit less soot and less particles into the air
  • Using candles with wax that has a hard consistency, since soft gel wax is produced from petroleum oils which emit toxins.
  • Avoid use of wicks that are thicker. Use wicks that are thin, braided and curl when lit.
  • Using candles with a tapered shape (fatter base that gradually gets thinner as you get closer to the wick). Tapered candles are less likely to cause asthma or other lung conditions.
  • If candles with multi-wicks are used ensure that the entire candle burns evenly.
  • Burn candles in a well ventilated room.
  • Avoid burning candles in a room with a draft, as a draft can emit up to 50% more soot.

3)  How to get rid of toxins already emitted into the air from previous use of scented cleaning products?

Many scented products contain artificial fragrances that give off a citrus or pine aroma. Limonene mimics the scent of citrus and alpha pinene produces a pine-like fragrance. It is not these chemicals themselves that are toxic to our health but rather it is the formaldehyde that is produced when these chemicals are emitted into the air that is harmful. Formaldehyde is harmful due to its carcinogenic, skin and breathing irritant effects, causing illnesses such as cancer and asthma.

            Studies have shown that the presence of various houseplants has the ability to naturally remove chemical toxins (i.e. formaldehyde) emitted into the air by scented products. Some of the common house plants that were used during the experiment were:

- Chlorophytum (spider plant)

- Dracaena (dragon tree)

-  Scindapsus (golden pothos)

- Hedera helix (English ivy)


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3) By This SLS Standard Level of Irritation, It. "SLS Health Implications." SLS Health Implications. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. (

4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. (

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6)  Mercola. "Does Your Perfume Include Toxic Chemicals?" N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. (

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8)  Westervelt, Amy. "Chemical Enemy Number One: How Bad Are Phthalates Really?" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. (