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  • The Dark Side of Fragrance

    Posted by mikethair on March 3, 2024 at 8:26 pm

    The dark side of fragrance.

    Yes, it’s a complex issue.

    And it’s one of individual rights versus health.

    Progressive companies are now making their office spaces “scent-free.” Employees leave their colognes at home.

    The fact is that when employees find aromas “unpleasant,” this can have adverse side effects. These include aggression, plus negative and low productivity mindsets.

    However, there is another side to this argument. In some hospitals, for example, the sense of smell can ease anxiety. For a cancer ward, I did a fragrance consultancy using Vanilla. This had positive outcomes in reducing patient anxiety.

    Importantly, we must make a distinction between synthetic and essential oil fragrances. Safety assessments have not been conducted for many of the synthetic fragrances.

    Are fragrances a health hazard?

    Yes indeed.

    Many popular perfumes, colognes, and body sprays typically contain a dozen or more potentially hazardous synthetic chemicals. To protect trade secrets, cosmetics brands do not disclose fragrance ingredients. Therefore, you can’t rely on labels to know exactly what hazards are in products.

    And here’s the loophole used by brands. Cosmetic products must list all ingredients using the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) format. However, for fragrance blends, most brands lump these into a generic category of ‘fragrance’ or “parfum.” They do not identify the individual chemical components of a particular fragrance blend.

    And among these are chemicals associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions.

    These problems are not exclusive to any subset of the population. Some people have immediate health effects. But for others, the effects can be very subtle and insidious. And people may not realise they’re being affected until it’s too late.

    What to do?

    Read product labels carefully. Avoid any product that uses the words fragrance, parfum, phthalate, DEP, DBP, or DEHP in its ingredient list.

    Avoid closed areas with high fragrance levels such as department store fragrance counters.

    If any questions, feel free to ask.

    Dr Mike Thair

    Rockstargirl replied 1 month, 1 week ago 7 Members · 23 Replies
  • 23 Replies
  • PhilGeis

    March 4, 2024 at 8:16 am

    Mike - re.” Importantly, we must make a distinction between synthetic and essential oil fragrances. Safety assessments have not been conducted for many of the synthetic fragrances.”

    I dispute this statement. Extensive safety assessment IS conducted by major manufacturers for their perfumes and perfume ingredients - synthetic or otherwise. These data are not made public as they represent substantial investment by perfume suppliers. I’ll offer that natural ingredients including essential oils in general have much less (some no) analytical and safety data support - both as expected and as supplied.

    Further, we should avoid casual, unjustified scare mongering.. re. “Avoid any product that uses the words fragrance, parfum, phthalate, DEP, DBP, or DEHP in its ingredient list.”

    Consider phthalates. Citing its own findings and conclusions of CIR, CDC and NIEHS, FDA comments “… the FDA does not have evidence that phthalates as used in cosmetics pose a safety risk.”


    • mikethair

      March 4, 2024 at 7:38 pm

      Hi @PhilGeis,

      We will probably need to agree to disagree on this one. I have done extensive research of the published scientific literature (peer-reviewed), and come to y conclusions.

      • ketchito

        March 4, 2024 at 9:45 pm

        I think I might regret this, but could you share the peer-reviewed literature that you reviewed? It is a bit odd that all of those toxicologists (many of them independent) agree on the safety of those materials, while some organizations like the EWG which has less than qualified “reviewers” reached to different conclusions.

        • mikethair

          March 4, 2024 at 10:44 pm

          There is a lot in the literature, and my research interest and focus as a scientist as a skincare manufacturer is the role of fragrance as an Endocrine Disruptor. A limited selection below.

          doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2022.113677. Epub 2022 May 26.

          Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Jul;120(7):935-43. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104052. Epub 2012 Mar 8.

          Environ Health Perspect. 2016 Aug;124(8):1155-65. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1510529. Epub 2016 Mar 8.

          Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care. 2017 May;47(5):107-118. doi: 10.1016/j.cppeds.2017.04.002. Epub 2017 May 17.

          J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2022 Nov;32(6):864-876. doi: 10.1038/s41370-022-00485-y. Epub 2022 Nov 2.

          Environ Res. 2018 Aug;165:448-458. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.03.030. Epub 2018 Apr 25.

          Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2018 Oct 15;474:238-251. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2018.03.014. Epub 2018 Mar 27.

          Int J Mol Sci. 2023 Mar 10;24(6):5342. doi: 10.3390/ijms24065342.

          Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2019 Aug;106:349-350. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2019.05.007. Epub 2019 May 11.

          Dermatol Clin. 2020 Jul;38(3):371-377. doi: 10.1016/j.det.2020.02.009. Epub 2020 May 4.

          • ketchito

            March 7, 2024 at 10:41 pm

            @mikethair Unfortunately I don’t have much time to go through all of those papers (althoug I’d love to), but just the first one gives you an idea of the terrible quality and huge bias of these articles. To assess the prevalence of endocrine disruptors, they used EPA CompTox Chemistry Dashboard data. I actually checked the site and it’s very cool. In the paper, they mention two of the most present phthalates in cosmetics -according to the paper- as being linked to male reproductive defects. So, I used EPA’s tool and as you can see in the image I attached, they both have very low ER bioactivity (https://www.epa.gov/endocrine-disruption/endocrine-disruptor-screening-program-edsp-estrogen-receptor-bioactivity). Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate even has a score of 0. You can do this with any of the endocrine disruptors they mentioned in the paper with more or less the same result. You can check the full list of possible endocrine disruptors EPA already evaluated, almost all not having convincing evidence of endocrine activity (except for 3 or 5 I think, that were recommended to be tested again). I’ll attach it in a different post.

  • Perry44

    March 4, 2024 at 9:09 pm

    I see no reason consumers should avoid fragrance. The toxicologists at IFRA would agree.

    • mikethair

      March 4, 2024 at 11:06 pm

      Of course, the toxicologists at IFRA would agree. Who is paying their salary?

      • PhilGeis

        March 5, 2024 at 5:28 am

        Mike you are not a toxicologist (nor am I) and it is not agreeing to disagree - it is risk assessment vs risk elimination (aka scare mongering). As with parabens and some of chemical targets of endocrine disrupting scare mongering, there are data of some effect (tho parabens data are often crap). Science addresses those data by estimating the risk in use - and that is the practice of toxicologists at FDA, CIR SCCP, IFRA, P&G, Unilever etc. Presence of data/potential risk/publishes articles means nothing practical until placed into a use context.

        The only totally safe material/chemical is the one that hasn’t been tested. Risk assessment considers exposure, effect, NOEL, product context, etc. by standardized and validated protocols and specified safety factors.

      • Perry44

        March 5, 2024 at 6:14 am

        Based on that logic, since you are (or were) a seller of fragrance free products, shouldn’t your opinion be similarly dismissed? Wouldn’t your salary be harmed if the opposite of what you claim is true?

    • PhilGeis

      March 5, 2024 at 10:55 am

      Let’s also remember the limited relevance of “endocrine disruptor”. In its basic form - it means binding to estrogen receptors - esp. membrane receptors - to start a cascade for gene activation including those of sexual maturity. Parabens e.g. do indeed bind - with an affinity orders of many magnitude less than estrogen and in an a noncompetitive manner so readily displaced by estrogen. That it activates is unsure. but estrogen itself is listed as a carcinogen in this regard.

      “Endocrine disruptor” is bandied about by activists with ignorant horror of a zombie invasion while researchers conduct experiments irrelevant to application but eagerly extrapolate data to were all going to die.

  • Onur

    March 5, 2024 at 10:03 pm

    Many popular perfumes, colognes, and body sprays typically contain a dozen or more potentially hazardous synthetic chemicals.

    What exactly are non-synthetic aromachemicals? Are they the aldehydes like “hexyl cinnamal” in my chamomile tea, or the citral in my lemon cake, or are they like the terpenes and linalool in my tea-tree oil toner?

    They’re all natural but they’re a lot more sensitizing than the synthetically produced Ethyl Vanillin, which is very tolerable. Even your shea butter has volatile chemicals in it that makes up the scent profile of the oil.

    If they’re used within legal limits and consumers are comfortable with the finished product, it shouldn’t be an issue. Personally, I prefer creating fragrance-free formulas for the leave-on but I’m all for indulging in a heavenly scent for rinse-off systems!

    • mikethair

      March 6, 2024 at 1:48 am

      All I can reply is that my opinions are based on my experience as the co-founder and Master Formulator of
      a skincare manufacturing factory in Viet Nam and Malaysia since 2006. We exported globally into some of the most rigours skincare compliance regimes in the world. Plus, I am a scientist who has consulted globally for 30+ years.

      My opinion, you can take or leave.

      • PhilGeis

        March 6, 2024 at 6:37 am

        Please explain the experience as the co-founder and Master Formulator of a skincare manufacturing factory in Viet Nam and Malaysia since 2006 that qualifies one as a toxicologist - esp. one with superior technical insight vs. those of CIR, FDA, CDC, SCCP. etc.

        • mikethair

          March 7, 2024 at 12:18 am

          Hi @PhilGeis

          Of course, my experience as the co-founder and Master Formulator of a
          skincare manufacturing factory in Viet Nam and Malaysia since 2006
          DOES NOT qualify me as a toxicologist. And I have never made this claim.

          From my experience, any toxicology issues are determined for each product as the product details (including the ingredient list) are presented to the regulatory authorities for Notification approval before we can release them on the market.

          • PhilGeis

            March 7, 2024 at 4:00 am

            Regulators/bureaucrats are as uninformed as you, Mike. Hopefully their safety decisions re. ingredients and products decisions are based on appropriate review and risk assessments by toxicologists. That is precisely the basis for FDA’s position on phthalates.

            To repeat. Citing its own findings and conclusions of CIR, CDC and NIEHS, FDA comments “… the FDA does not have evidence that phthalates as used in cosmetics pose a safety risk.”

            I’m not familiar with Malaysian regulator authorities or their scientific support. For P&G I reviewed and offered comment for ASEAN micro standards and protocols some years back - and was not impressed. What is their position on phthalates?

            • mikethair

              March 7, 2024 at 8:26 pm

              Hi @PhilGeis ,

              Re the position of the ASEAN standards and their position on phthalates, they identify the two most commonly used are DEP and DMP. They also identify three phthalates, DBP, BBP, and DEHP which are prohibited for use in cosmetic products in Europe and ASEAN.

              They also mention that DEP and DMP, are usually used at low levels and that these have been
              assessed to be safe for use in cosmetic products, including products intended for infants and children by the European Union’s scientific advisory panel, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP), the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

  • Cafe33

    March 12, 2024 at 10:57 pm

    Not to derail the conversation but customers want fragrances. Through and through they select fragrances over essential oils. We had a group of customer who came to visit our facilities here in Mexico all the way from Switzerland and they had a hugely developed natural story for their brand. They are Tulum like people, mother earth, bamboo everything, natural and organic everything. I prepared my team not to suggest anything that does not fit the “natural/earthy” tag.

    Result: they selected a creamy coconut (synthetic) which they found to be natural “smelling”, Vanilla (synthetic), Chocolate (Synthetic) and a list of other sweet and sometimes fruity scents with a few essential oils blends. They even picked a herbal shampoo fragrance I personally detest. We experienced the same phenomenon with a Canadian customer who is a zero waste influencer (composting /, recycled toilet paper, etc).

    I started with essential oils only and found out very quickly that ultimately most “naturally-inclined” people do not care.

  • mikethair

    March 13, 2024 at 12:44 am

    Hi @Cafe33 yes I agree with you. Most do not care. But when building and maintaining a brand I looked at things differently.

    First, I needed to differentiate my brand and products. I shared my brand philosophy and identity. This is what customers are buying into. And coupled with this I redefined skincare and set new standards. This elevates customers to a higher level of existence. As well as price. Our products were not cheap!! Our focus was to replace more functional benefits with experiential ones, namely essential oil fragrances.

    Secondly, some customers are allergic to synthetic fragrances. And my wife is one of these. And I’m the same. At the slightest whiff of a synthetic fragrance, she and I have adverse reactions. And it is worse when my wife is menstruating. These people usually remain quiet, but as we discovered, this reaction to synthetic fragrances is more common than most people realise. And this drew people to our brand because we built trust.

    Thirdly, we were very transparent in the sourcing of our ingredients, especially the essential oil fragrances. And this was part of our trust-building.

    So yes, I agree, most customers don’t care. But with my brand, the mission was beyond filling a market gap, and beyond making a profit only. The focus was on the WHY. And this became the core of my brand and our marketing. Why the world was a better place with my products. Customers with bad reactions to synthetics could safely use my products.

    And it worked. The products I formulated were enormously successful globally. And in a short time, I was manufacturing Private Label for brands globally. This became 90% of our turnover. And I spent years perfecting our essential oil fragrances, it’s something I have been doing for 30+ years. Many of our customers were drawn to our unique essential oil formulations.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by  mikethair.
    • PhilGeis

      March 13, 2024 at 6:43 am

      Mike - none of that supports your melodramatic, chemophobic “dark side title or discussion and the allergic comment is no more valid for synthetics than for natural (so-called and real). Curious re. the “we discovered”. Is the we - Mike the toxoicologist? Please tell us the data and its analysis.

      I understand your marketing effort to differentiate. Please explain “very transparent” in sourcing. Are suppliers names and address on your labels?

    • Perry44

      March 13, 2024 at 8:32 am

      This discussion demonstrates very clearly the difference between a marketing mindset & a scientific mindset.

      To be a successful scientist you spend your time and effort trying to discover what is true. You always must remain open to new data which can make you change your mind. For a scientist no conclusion is 100% definitive. You care about unveiling what is true.

      To be a successful marketer you spend your time finding evidence that supports what you believe. Any evidence to the contrary is ignored, dismissed or minimized. You make statements that are definite and leave no room for changing your positions. You are not driven by truth but rather by ideology and for many, by storytelling that will motivate consumers to buy what you’re selling.

      Unfortunately, a marketing mindset is much more monetarily successful in our industry. I completely understand how even people with science backgrounds can embrace the marketing mindset.

      • Rockstargirl

        March 13, 2024 at 9:15 am

        So well said. This should be a poster.

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