Fragrance Sensitivity Awareness


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Fragrance chemicals can have negative health effects. People with allergies can develop irritant-induced asthma as a result of repeated exposure to fragrance chemicals. Contains citations to dozens of research articles, abstracts and Web sources, with many links. Updated November 2014.

Published in: Health & Medicine, Technology
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  • That is a fantastic slideshow. Very informative, with great links and research to back it up.
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Fragrance Sensitivity Awareness

  1. 1. Sharing the air in the workplace
  2. 2. Fragrances can trigger serious health reactions in others:  Scented products can be respiratory irritants and allergens , causing:  asthma attacks  allergic reactions  headaches and migraines  sore throats  coughing  eye irritation … and other medical symptoms in some people. (U.S. CDC, 2009).  Fragrances can trigger migraines in some people (Wöber et al, 2006).  Personal fragrances affect some individuals the same way cigarette smoke affects others (De Vader, 2009).
  3. 3. Commonly-used fragranced products include:  Laundry detergent  Air fresheners  Shampoos  Hair spray  Skin care products  Body lotions  Body spray  Potpourri  Scented candles  Antibacterial hand soap  Hand sanitizer  Antiperspirants and deodorants  Dryer sheets  Hand cream  Wipes  Disinfectant aerosols  Cosmetics  Perfumes, colognes  Aftershave  Some essential oils extracted with solvents  Razors with scented handles or gel strips  Cleaning products (Schlueter, 1979; De Vader, 2010; Dodson, 2012)
  4. 4. What is in a fragranced product?  Any one fragranced product may contain 50-300 fragrance chemicals (Bickers, 2003).  Fragrance formulas are considered trade secrets. Companies are not required to reveal their formulas. Many of the chemicals are not FDA approved. (U.S. FDA, 2005).  More than 2600 chemicals can be used in fragranced products, including many that are known irritants and allergens (Bickers, 2003; Buckley, 2007; “European Commission,” 2012).  Among them are toluene, benzene, acetone and many others (Woolf, 2006).  Even some natural plant extracts can cause allergic reactions in some people (Canadian Lung Association, 2010).
  5. 5. Fragrance chemicals affect indoor air quality (EPA, 2012). They include:  volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), respiratory irritants that evaporate readily into the air (Dadd-Redalia, 2012).  petroleum-based synthetic compounds (Canadian Lung Association, 2010).  chemicals shown to be neurotoxins (Anderson, 1998).  phthalates, plasticizers used to dissolve and carry fragrances.  Phthlates are endocrine disruptors that can affect reproductive and thyroid hormones (Dodson, 2012).
  6. 6. Fragrance chemicals are getting stronger and more pervasive:  The combination of numerous minor irritants and allergens in a product can result in significant allergic and asthmatic reactions in some people.  Fragrances in some products are now time-released, so the scent persists (De Vader, 2010).  Products such as laundry detergent contain fragrances lasting for weeks after application.
  7. 7. Fragrance chemicals are lung irritants:  One in 11 children and adults (9%) in New York State currently has asthma (New York State Department of Health, 2009).  Fragrances can trigger asthma in about 72% of people with asthma (Shim & Williams, 1986).  Asthma is a chronic lung disease. Avoidance of lung irritants is key (NYS Health Dept., 2009; American Lung Association, 2011).  Exposure to fragrances can greatly reduce lung function in asthmatics (Anderson, 1998).  Colleagues and students with sensitivity to fragrance chemicals can experience decreased quality of life when exposed to these irritants and allergens (Ternesten-Hasséus).
  8. 8. Fragrance chemicals can cause new cases of asthma in susceptible adults:  Repeated exposures to various fragrances throughout the day can increase sensitivity and cause adverse health reactions in some people (Schnuch, 2010).  Repeated exposure to respiratory irritants such as fragrances can cause new cases of asthma in adults (Kogevinas, 2007).  About 17% of adult-onset asthma is caused by workplace exposures (Torén, 2009).
  9. 9. If you use scented products:  What you may think is a light fragrance can be overpowering to others with fragrance sensitivities.  People may not detect their own fragrance if they use it consistently.  Ask others if your fragrance can be detected an arm’s length away.  A two-foot radius is considered one’s personal zone. Fragrance should not be detected outside your personal zone.  Your personal zone is greatly reduced in meetings, automobiles and other small enclosed spaces.  Awareness of fragrance sensitivity can go a long way in creating a pleasant and healthy work and learning environment. (“Fragrance Sensitivity Awareness,” 2011; NYS Dept. of Health, 2011)
  10. 10. To reduce the impact of scent at work:  Avoid wearing fragranced products to work.  This includes laundry detergents, deodorants and other personal products.  Avoid using fragranced products at work.  Abstain from using scented candles, moisturizer, air fresheners, cleaning products with VOCs, etc. in the workplace.  Use simple home-made cleaning products on work surfaces: baking soda, white vinegar, etc.  Consider using fragrance-free products.  Check the label for the words “fragrance” or “perfume.”  “Unscented” or “fragrance-free” products may still contain masked fragrance chemicals. (Canadian Lung Association, 2011). Check product labels for chemicals known to trigger medical reactions. University of Tennessee’s Fragrance Sensitivity Awareness brochure lists common irritant/allergen fragrance chemicals.
  11. 11. Fragrance Sensitivity Awareness Summary:  Scented personal products can cause medical distress in some people with allergies, asthma and migraines. They can cause new cases of asthma in some people.  Your colleagues and students have the right to breathe clean air at work and school.  Consider ways to reduce the strength and number of scented products you wear to work.
  12. 12. For more information:  American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology  American Asthma Foundation  U.S. Centers for Disease Control Asthma Data  Mayo Clinic: Migraine: Causes
  13. 13. For more information:  About health effects of fragrance chemicals:  Videos: Indoor Air Quality: Scents from New Brunswick Lung Association, Canada  David Suzuki Foundation: Go fragrance-free  Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Fragrance Sensitivity from the Job Accommodation Network (Simpson, 2011).  American Lung Association: Asthma  For alternatives to chemically fragranced products:  The Guide to Less Toxic Products from Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia  The book Toxic Free by Debra Dadd-Redalia (2012)
  14. 14. For more information:  For more research about fragrance sensitivity with handouts, links, articles, interviews and unscented alternatives, see: Fragrance Sensitivity Awareness
  15. 15. References: Compiled by Joyce Miller Created August 2012; last updated November 2014 American Lung Association. (2011, November). Asthma in Adults Fact Sheet. Retrieved July 26, 2012 from American Lung Association, Anderson, R., & Anderson, J. (1998). Acute toxic effects of fragrance products. Archives Of Environmental Health, 53(2), 138-146. Retrieved July 29, 2012 from MEDLINE with Full Text database. Bickers, D., Calow, P., Greim, H., Hanifin, J., Rogers, A., Saurat, J., & Tagami, H. (2003). The safety assessment of fragrance materials. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology: RTP 37(2), 218-273. Retrieved July 26, 2012 from ScienceDirect database. Buckley, D. A. (2007). Fragrance ingredient labelling in products on sale in the U.K. British Journal of Dermatology 157 (2), 295-300. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from Medline with Full-text database. Canadian Lung Association. Scents. Canadian Lung Association Website. Retrieved on July 31, 2012, pollution-pollution/indoor-interieur/scents-parfums_e.php Dadd-Redalia, D. (2012). Toxic Free. New York: Penguin. David Sukuzi Foundation and Canadian Lung Association. (n.d.). “Go Fragrance-free.” David Sukuzi Foundation Website. Retrieved June 29, 2012 from De Vader, C. (2010). Fragrance in the workplace: what managers need to know. Journal of Management & Marketing Research, 1-17. American Society of Business and Behavioral Sciences Website. Retrieved July 5, 2011 from and Business Source Complete database. De Vader, C.L., & P Barker. (2009, February). Fragrance in the workplace is the new second hand smoke. In Proceedings of the American Society of Business and Behavioral Sciences 16 (1). Retrieved July 5, 2011 from http://www.national-toxic-encephalopathy-foundation. org/fragsmoke.pdf Dodson, R., Nishioka, M., Standley, L., Perovich, L., Brody, J., & Rudel, R. (2012). Endocrine disruptors and asthma-associated chemicals in consumer products. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(7), 935-943. Retrieved July 25, 2012 from CINAHL Plus with Full Text database. Elberling, J., Linneberg, A., Dirksen, A., Johansen, J., Frølund, L., Madsen, F. & Mosbech, H. (2005). Mucosal symptoms elicited by fragrance products in a population-based sample in relation to atopy and bronchial hyper-reactivity. Clinical and Experimental Allergy: Journal of the British Society For Allergy And Clinical Immunology 35(1), 75-81. Retrieved July 26, 2012 from Medline with Full-text database. - Continued -
  16. 16. References continued Fragrance Sensitivity Awareness brochure. (2011, March). University of Tennessee, Knoxville Safety Office Website. Retrieved July 24, 2012 from Kogevinas, M., Zock, J., Jarvis, D., Kromhout, H., Lillienberg, L., Plana, E., & Norbäck, D. (2007). Exposure to substances in the workplace and new-onset asthma: an international prospective population-based study (ECRHS-II). Lancet 370(9584), 336-341. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from ScienceDirect database. New York State Department of Health. (2009, February). Asthma overview. New York State Department of Health Website. Retrieved October 25, 2011, from New York State Department of Health. (2011, May). A guide for employers to New York State's Clean Indoor Air Act. New York State Department of Health Website. Retrieved August 3, 2012 from New York State Department of Health. (2009, October) . Information on asthma in New York State: New York State asthma surveillance summary report. New York State Department of Health Website Retrieved July 26, 2012 from Petsonk, E. L. (2002). Work-related asthma and implications for the general public. Environmental Health Perspectives Supplements 110, 569. Retrieved July 26, 2012 from and MasterFILE Premier database. Schlueter, D., Soto, R., Baretta, E., Herrmann, A., Ostrander, L., & Stewart, R. (1979). Airway response to hair spray in normal subjects and subjects with hyperreactive airways. Chest 75(5), 544-548. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from and Medline with Full-text database. Schnuch, A., Oppel, E., Oppel, T., Römmelt, H., Kramer, M., Riu, E., & Jörres, R. (2010). Experimental inhalation of fragrance allergens in predisposed subjects: effects on skin and airways. The British Journal Of Dermatology, 162(3), 598-606. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from Medline with Full-text database. Shim, C. , Williams, Jr., M.H. (1986, January). Effects of odors on asthma. American Journal of Medicine 80: 18-22. Abstract: (Chart of common asthma triggers: Simpson, E. (2011, September 20). Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Fragrance Sensitivity. Job Accommodation Network Website. U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from the Ternesten-Hasséus, E., Lowhagen, O., & Millqvist, E. (2007). Quality of life and capsaicin sensitivity in patients with airway symptoms induced by chemicals and scents: a longitudinal study. Environmental Health Perspectives 115(3), 425-429. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from Medline Full-text database. - Continued -
  17. 17. References continued Torén, K., & Blanc, P. (2009). Asthma caused by occupational exposures is common - a systematic analysis of estimates of the population-attributable fraction. BMC Pulmonary Medicine, 97. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from Medline Full-text database. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, July 12) Indoor Environmental Quality: Chemicals and Odors. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Website. Retrieved August 3, 2012 from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2012, July 23). Asthma: EPA's Coordinated Approach on Asthma. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency Website. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2005). Dockets FDA, 99P-1340. Food and Drug Administration Website. Retrieved July 31, 2012 from Wöber, C., Holzhammer, J., Zeithofer, J., & Wessely, P. (2006). Trigger factors of migraine and tension-type headache: experience and knowledge of the patients. Journal Of Headache & Pain, 7(4), 188-195. Wolff, P. (2006). Campaign for fragrance-free health care in the U.S. Massachusetts Nurse, 77(3), 10-11. Retrieved from and from Academic Search Complete database. Selected Additional References on next slide. Some of these sources are freely available full-text on the web. For those that are not, please request a copy through interlibrary loan at your local public library.
  18. 18. Selected Additional References: American Lung Association, American Medical Association, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, & U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Indoor Air Pollution: Introduction for Health Professionals. (CPSC Document #455.) Retrieved July 28, 2012 from U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: Baur, X., Aasen, T., Burge, P., Heederik, D., Henneberger, P., Maestrelli, P., & ... Wilken, D. (2012). The management of work-related asthma guidelines: a broader perspective. European Respiratory Review: An Official Journal Of The European Respiratory Society 21 (124), 125-139. Retrieved July 28, 2012, from European Respiratory Review Bornehag, C., Sundell, J., Weschler, C. J., Sigsgaard, T., Lundgren, B., Hasselgren, M., & Hägerhed-Engman, L. (2004). The Association between Asthma and Allergic Symptoms in Children and Phthalates in House Dust: A Nested Case--Control Study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 112 (14), 1393-1397. Retrieved July 26, 2012 from Academic Search Complete database. Brooks, S., Hammad, Y., Richards, I., Giovinco-Barbas, J., & Jenkins, K. (1998). The spectrum of irritant-induced asthma: sudden and not-so-sudden onset and the role of allergy. Chest 113(1), 42-49. Retrieved February 28, 2012 from and MEDLINE with Full Text database. Caress, S., & Steinemann, A. (2009). Prevalence of fragrance sensitivity in the American population. Journal Of Environmental Health 71(7), 46-50. Retrieved July 26, 2012 from University of Washington, Dales, R.E., Cakmak, S., Leech, J., Liu, L. (2013, February). The association between personal care products and lung function. Annals of Epidemiology, 23 (2), 49-53,, ( Abstract: function_. European Commission pushes to drastically increase allergen list. (2012). Perfumer & Flavorist 37(3), 10. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from Associates Programs Source database. European Commission, Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety. (2012). Public consultation on Fragrance allergens in cosmetic products Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety website. Retrieved August 3, 2012 from - Continued on next slide -
  19. 19. Selected Additional References, continued Fitterman, L. (2013 Summer). Scents & sensitivity. Allergic Living, 50-54. (Includes interview with Joyce Miller.) Available at Lessenger, J. (2001). Occupational acute anaphylactic reaction to assault by perfume spray in the face. Journal of the American Board of Family Practice / American Board of Family Practice, 14(2), 137-140. Retrieved July 26, 2012 from Niles, M.T. & Lubell, M. (2012, April 9). Integrative Frontiers in Environmental Policy Theory and Research. Policy Studies Journal 40, 41–64. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from Business Source Complete database. Prisco, J., Quijano, M. (2013, March 4). What smells good to one Staten Islander may cause severe physical distress to another. Staten Island Advance. (Includes interview with Joyce Miller.) Available at: ess_to_another.html. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Division of Respiratory Disease Studies. (2010, December 20). Asthma and Allergies: Exacerbation of Asthma Research Website. Retrieved July 25, 2012, from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Division of Respiratory Disease Studies. (2010, July 12). Workplace Safety & Health Topics: Indoor Environmental Quality. Retrieved July 28, 2012 from University of Toronto. (2009). Towards a Scent-reduced University Environment. Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. Retrieved September 4, 2012 from Current scent-free guideline: Urbina, Ian. (2013, Apr 14). "Think those chemicals have been tested?" New York Times. ProQuest. Web. 18 Aug. 2013.Full text available in New York Times database. Waserman, S., Keith, P., Caress, S. M., & Steinemann, A. C. (2009). Fragrance Sensitivity Article Questioned. Journal of Environmental Health, 71(9), 51-52.
  20. 20. Thanks to the University of Tennessee’s Safety Office for permitting the use of content from their Fragrance Sensitivity Awareness brochure. Mark D. Smith, Director Environmental Health and Safety University of Tennessee Knoxville, Tennessee Susan Fiscor, CIH, CSP, CHMM UTIA Safety Office University of Tennessee Knoxville, Tennessee
  21. 21. Joyce Miller has been a reference and instruction librarian for more than 20 years. She has earned a Master of Library Science, a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Administration and Management, and a Certificate of Advanced Management Studies. Slide show created August, 2012; updated April 2013, August 2013, February 2014, July 2014. For more information about fragrance sensitivity, handouts, links and unscented alternatives, see: Fragrance Sensitivity Awareness