Essays

The Moral Argument Against Fragranced Products

Use fragranced consumer products in public? You may be causing other people pain and suffering.

fragrance signIn the TV series, The X Files, Dana Skully says to Fox Mulder: “I have identified the effect. I am still looking for the cause.”1 When something happens (an effect) it can often be a mystery to determine why it happened (the cause). For many effects, there can be more than one cause. One cause and effect relationship many people are unaware of is how fragranced consumer products can trigger health problems—including migraine headaches and asthma attacks—in a significant percentage of the population.2 If products containing fragrance are proven to cause harm to others, then consumers have a moral responsibility not to use these products in public.

Countless home cleaning and personal care products have fragrance added to them. These products include perfumes, colognes, aftershaves, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, air fresheners, deodorants, and soaps.3 In 2010, the Environmental Working Group did laboratory tests and found that “the average fragrance product tested contained 14 secret chemicals.”4 Fragrance companies do not have to list the chemicals on the product label due to trade secret protections.5 The combined ingredients are identified as “fragrance” or “parfum.”6 According to the International Fragrance Association, there are 3,999 different ingredients (both natural and synthetic) used in making fragrance.7

Fragranced consumer products can harm a person’s health. A 2016 Australian study of more than 1,000 people found that 33 per cent of respondents reported health problems after exposure to such products.8 Negative effects included “migraine headaches, asthma attacks, contact dermatitis, respiratory difficulties, and mucosal symptoms.”9 Nearly eight per cent of respondents had lost work days in the past year because they were exposed to fragrance.10 Exactly why fragrance can trigger health problems is not fully understood by scientists, but the effects are real.

If an individual uses a fragranced consumer product at work (or in other public places), other people may be negatively impacted. Even though it is legal to use these products in public, just because something is legal does not make it moral. It is a universal moral principle that no one should intentionally harm an innocent person.11 If this principle is true, then it is morally wrong to use fragranced products in public because doing so will cause other people pain and suffering.

A lot of suffering in this world is unavoidable; however, the pain and suffering caused by fragrance is 100 per cent preventable. Instead of buying products with fragrance, consumers can buy brands that are labelled fragrance-free. (Fragrance-free means the product has no added fragrance, while unscented means it contains a fragrance that masks the odor caused by other chemical ingredients.12) Fragrance-free products are often higher in price, but the more people who buy them, the more corporations (and small businesses) will produce them, and the more alternatives there will be for consumers.

Notes

  1. The X Files, “Teliko.” Directed by Jim Charleston. Written by Howard Gordon. Fox, October 18, 1996. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0751214/
  2. Anne Steinemann, “Health and societal effects from exposure to fragranced consumer products.” Preventative Medicine Reports Vol 5 (2017): 45, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5122698/
  3. “Fragrances in Cosmetics,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, December 29, 2015, https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm388821.htm
  4. Heather Sarantis et al., “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance,” Environmental Working Group, May 2, 2010, 3, https://www.ewg.org/research/not-so-sexy
  5. “Cosmetic Labelling Guide,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, accessed October 31, 2017, 23, https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Cosmetics/Labeling/UCM391202.pdf
  6. Clare Pain, “Something in the air: From scented candles to cleaning products, our lives have become fragranced like never before. What’s the effect on our health.” New Scientist 234 No. 3129 (2017): 34-37.
  7. “Ingredients,” International Fragrance Association, http://www.ifraorg.org/en-us/ingredients#.WCDfWRIrJmB
  8. Steinemann, “Health and societal effects,” 45.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Steinemann, “Health and societal effects,” 46.
  11. Nigel Warburton, “The Harm Principle: How to live your life the way you want to,” BBC Radio 4, 2:00, posted November 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9IM3ZKNMCk
  12. Jessica Chia, “The Truth About ‘Fragrance-Free’ Products,” Prevention, January 23, 2014, https://www.prevention.com/beauty/skin-care/truth-about-fragrance-free-products

15 comments

  1. Another symptom I have from fragrances, smoke, and chemical exposure is fibromyalgia, or muscle pain, usually accompanied by headaches and great fatigue. There is so much harm that comes from people using these air polluting products. Sometimes, I have breath difficulties, and, always, sinus problems. Yet, I’ve done all I can do — not using these products, giving up so many activities where it’s too crowded with people. People think I am just complaining, but, really, I’m making a call for people to, literally, clean up their act.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Scented products are mixed with fixatives — toxic chemicals — to make the scent last longer, and they can last for years, unwashed, in a cupboard. It can take from 6 to a dozen washes to get it out! The amount of damage that fragrances and chemicals do to people and the environment is pervasive.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Today I went to the laundromat and used my unscented soap, but laundromats are pervasively scented and I get stuffed up right away. AND, to make it worse, a sock from someone else, was in the dryer I used and I did not notice it, and it was like putting a chemical laden, scented dryer sheet in with my stuff and now it ALL smells scented, itches my skin and scalp, and made my nose stuff up from laying my head on my pillowcase. I’ll have to go back tomorrow and re-do it all!!! —– just because people use scented and chemical products and contaminate the world!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Essential oils are as bad as chemical fragrances. You are right about them containing terpenes which are cell killing compounds. I am just as allergic to patchouli and lavender as Tide or Shout or Febreeze. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree 100%!! It is so hard to get people who use fragrance stuff to quit! They say it is my problem, not theirs and my choice not to use it, but their using it affects all around them, whether the effects are immediate or delayed (such as build up of chemicals in the lungs). Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for shedding some light on this topic and providing statistics. I was in the dark about fragrance sensitivity until I met my boyfriend’s father who has bad reactions to any scent.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a dirty shame that you have a good piece all polluted by a reference to someone who brainwashes people into thinking the worst toxic chemicals, which are the basis of any fragrance product and cleaning product today, essential oils, are good and he sells them like candy. Essential oils are most toxic by nature, since many are terpenes and Dr. Anne Steinemann and others have proven they create formaldehyde and VOC’s which make them toxic/carcinogens. They are also steam distilled processed and that creates benzene, yet another carcinogen. What a shame you are so brainwashed to reference someone who is doing so much harm promoting toxic essential plant oils. Those essential oils are fragrance and create ADA barriers for anyone suffering with chemical sensitivity. Babies and children are the most sensitive and parents are being so brainwashed, and folks like the guy in your reference who sells them simply laughs all the way to the bank. Why not remove that toxic reference, and if any others are equally toxic remove them, too? Kindly keep scientist like Anne Steinemann who scientifically prove exactly what I am writing about today.

    Like

  8. VERY GOOD CHRIS—- THANKS FOR SHARING THE INFORMATION– ALL OF US WHO SUFFER FROM MCS ARE ALWAYS THRILLED WHEN SOMEONE ELSE IS SHARING MUCH NEEDED INFORMATION—–AND THANKS FOR STOPPING BY MY BLOG—– 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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