Monday, August 13, 2012

Are Fragrances Dangerous to your Pet?

Vintage atomizer, Creative Commons
When Clean + Green first contacted me about promoting their Fragrance Free Day last Friday and offered their products as a giveaway – I wanted to do my due diligence.

I wasn’t going to publish anything on my blog without looking into it, and I wasn’t going to promote something if I hadn’t researched it and didn’t believe in it.

So I asked a few questions: “Is going fragrance free really necessary? What’s the big deal?’

The press release that Clean + Green’s company SeaYu Enterprises sent me claimed that:

“the Environmental Protection Association (EPA) states that fragranced products like air fresheners, fabric refreshers and traditional cleaning products contribute to poor indoors air quality, which can lead to health issues, especially for pets with their faster metabolisms and respiratory systems, and close proximity to the ground.”

Fragonard perfume lab, Eze, France
That got my attention. Was it true? Here’s what I found out.

According to the EPA, "The EPA Indoor Environments Division (IED) understands that exposure to fragrances can cause some sensitive individuals to experience asthma episodes and other adverse health impacts and therefore notes this potential in several of their indoor air quality publications."

The Journal of Environmental Research International (as published by the US’s National Institute of Health) has studied synthetic musks in the environment, finding they persist and bioaccumulate, and do not degrade in wastewater treatment systems.

If they don’t degrade in wastewater treatment systems, then chances are they stick around in the home environment for a while, too.

We’re exposed to these musks when they are absorbed in the skin as we use soap, cosmetics, deodorants or cleaning products- or when we wear clothes washed with scented detergents.

Handmade soap, Wikimedia Commons
Musks can also be inhaled through cologne or cleaning sprays.

Around 8,000 metric tons of synthetic fragrances are made and distributed worldwide each year.

(To give you a sense of perspective, that’s enough to fill more than 44,000 bathtubs. If you were to take a bath a day in that stuff, it’d take you over 120 years to see the end of it!)

The important thing to know about these synthetic fragrances is what they’re made of.  It’s a two-part deal. There’s the scent or musk itself, and then there’s the carrier that allows the scent to retain its pungency.
These fragrance carriers are known as phthalates. And that’s important for you to know, because studies have revealed some pretty interesting things about phthalates.

Phthalates are endocrine disruptors. (The endocrine system is made up of glands and organs that regulate the body, such as thyroid, pituitary and adrenal glands.)

When dogs and cats lick their fur - cats especially, since they meticulously groom themselves - they are ingesting phthalates. These phthalates accumulate on their fur through airborne exposure in the home.

A 2010 article published by Environmental Health Sciences explains that “exposure to these chemicals is ubiquitous as demonstrated by the large percentage of the U.S. population found to have detectable levels of phthalate residues.”  (By the way, that article was entitled Phthalates May Double Breast Cancer Risk.)

Cat and dog by Penarc, Creative Commons
And when compared to a study by the CDC of over 5,500 humans, cats were polluted by phthalate residue at a consistently higher level.

In 2008, the Environmental Working Group did a study on how household chemicals impact our pets.

Here's what this study said:
“Endocrine (hormone) system toxins raise particular concerns for cats, since they include the thyroid toxins and fire retardants called PBDEs. 

"Thyroid disease (hyperthyroidism) is a leading cause of illness in older cats (Gunn-Moore 2005). 

"The growing use of PBDEs in consumer products over the past 30 years has paralleled the rising incidence of feline hyperthyroidism, and a preliminary study suggests that PBDEs are found at higher levels in cats stricken with this disease (Dye 2007).” 

And dogs don’t get a pass either. The study noted that blood and urine samples from dogs were contaminated with “11 carcinogens, 31 chemicals toxic to the reproductive system, and 24 neurotoxins." 

“The carcinogens are of particular concern, since dogs have much higher rates of many kinds of cancer than do people, including 35 times more skin cancer, 4 times more breast tumors, 8 times more bone cancer, and twice the incidence of leukemia, according to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center (2008).”

So, should you go fragrance free? I think these studies convinced me there's room for concern. When I go buy my laundy detergent tonight, I'm going to reach for the fragrance-free stuff.

Laundry waves in Scotland breeze, Wikimedia Commons

Next week: Our look at the KittyCam Study



Environmental Working Group report on contaminants in pets
A Whiff of Danger: Synthetic Musks May Encourage Toxic Bioaccumulation
Phthalates May Double Breast Cancer Risk 
WebMD: Does Perfume Have Hidden Health Risks?

"Does_Perfume_Have_Hidden_Health_Risks?" EPA study, via National Toxic Encephalopathy Foundation Report
EPA and fragrance
National Institute of Health’s Environmental Health Perspectives, Jan, 2005 
National Institute of Health study on bioaccumulation of phthalates (one of several)


  1. Interesting post. Have a great Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Sad sad sad and true apparenty. We don't use scented detergents but mom is a perfume buff...she may have to think it over.

  3. Whoa! We knew all this. We're not bragging and this info is very important. Between having cats and asthma, TW doesn't use any scented stuff. Even the stuff that claims to be natural can be toxic. We found this out because TW accidentally spilled some natural lavender oil on the floor. She panicked as she was cleaning it up that the odor might hurt me and looked it up online. Luckily I didn't get sick cos she cleaned it up really fast and locked me out of the room. We prolly should've shared it with our furrends at the time, like you did here. Another thing in perfumes and body products for humans to avoid are parabens. They're linked to breast cancer in woman and testicular cancer in young boys. No product with parabens has touched TW's body in about 5 years.

    1. Wow - great info!! Thanks for posting this, it's a great add to the above! (of *course* you're not bragging - this is really important stuff to know about!!)

  4. Great info in this post. Thank you for passing it on. Have a great mancat Monday!

  5. Mom's adamant about maintaining a fragrance free home. She doesn't even use scented candles anymore. She even asks her friends that normally wear perfume not to wear any when they come to the house.

    1. We're very careful about that - even in the workplace! Our stylist for our videos is highly sensitive (scents give her migranes) so all the cool holiday product videos are using "fake" potpourri & scentless candles to create their ambiance!

  6. Wow, lots of great information. We're not sensitive to fragrances here, but have friends that are. It's frightening to read the harm these can do. We'll be reading labels a lot more thoroughly, thank you!

  7. I always learn so much great stuff from you all! Thank you!

  8. Wow, interesting. We're gonna show this to our mom. Something for her to think about.

  9. This is really interesting. I am very sensitive to fragrances. Indoor air freshers do cause me to have difficulty breathing. Thankfully, I am not a fan of perfumes and such. :)

    Mommy Cathy


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