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Fatal Fragrances

It’s funny, I used to wear perfume every day. I had specific scents for different occasions—seasons, work, going out, dates with my then-boyfriend… I really loved being able to change my mood by changing my fragrance, and it also added an elegant feel to otherwise blah days.

But after I had a baby and was advised to stay away from perfume while she was in the Intensive Care Nursery, I just stopped wearing it altogether. The result is that now, when I smell perfume on someone, I am usually sort of disgusted; all I smell is alcohol, and even if it smells not-half-bad, it still bothers me.

And it’s no wonder I’ve developed this sensitivity; the fragrance—or “parfum”—of a perfume, lotion or other scented product isn’t very good for us. Since every perfume has its own secret patent, they’re allowed to keep their ingredients on the label secret, too—which is unfortunate for the people spritzing the stuff all over their bodies.

One single perfume can contain hundreds of ingredients, including stuff that can cause allergies, hormonal imbalances, birth defects, infertility, and liver and kidney damages—just to name a few! In fact, when the Environmental Working Group studied a range of products—including everyday beauty products from Revlon, Cover Girl, Dove, Pantene and L’Oreal, 75% of them had phthalates in them—and were not labeled as such.

If you recall, phthalates are those little ingredients that are used to give plastic its durability; they’re also the nasty causers of all of the problems listed above—and the very substances that are being phased out due to their dangers in many places. The United States National Research Council has fought with the EPA in establishing better guidelines for the research of phthalate levels in different products—and of course, should the EPA ever get around to really giving that big of a damn about people’s health, we may see them eliminated from our products sometime in our lifetimes.

And just for a little bit of perspective, we pay a lot for perfumes. The U.S. spends $8 billion each year on cosmetics, while the combined purchases just in perfume between the U.S. and Europe total $12 billion annually. Do we really stink that much? That’s enough money to give basic healthcare, nutrition and clean water for the world.

So how about instead of spending money to get ourselves sick, we fork over the funds we normally spend on perfume and donate them to, say, UNICEF, or adopt a child in need?