is fragrance bad for us?

You've probably heard or know from first hand experience that when you're pregnant, your sense of smell intensifies....dramatically. 

For me, the biggest offender is fragrance.  There is no way I could use perfume right now, and actually haven't been able to since I was pregnant with my 2 year old.  Any strong fragrance instantly gives me a headache and irritates my sinuses and throat.  My husband recently brought me the new InStyle sweet, except that the sample perfume pages were making me so sick I couldn't read it for days after I ripped out the offending pages.  

 It's no wonder we want to smell fragrant.  These women all look so sexy/happy/irresistible!

So today when I popped into CVS to grab shampoo, I should have looked at the label a little closer.  I chose a product quickly (no time to really dig into a label with a 2 year old in tow) .  Since it read "sulfate-free" I figured it had to be among the best, "healthiest" options I would find at this particular store.  Later in the shower, I experienced the instant reaction mentioned above as soon as I applied the shampoo.  It left me wondering - what's really in this shampoo that's is causing this and what else is it doing to me besides making me uncomfortable... and what about the baby!!??!

It turns out that the fragrance that makes our shampoo, make-up, deodorant, scented candles etc. smell so nice is loaded with phthalates.  We've all probably heard the word before and know it has a bad connotation.  I know I've read about them and made a mental note to avoid them, but sometimes you just want to walk into a store and buy products without needing a doctorate in chemistry- so you forget about all those big words and just buy the product you're familiar with or that has pretty packaging.  But if you want an easy way to avoid at least some phthalates, look for a product that's fragrance-free.  And here's a quick little explanation why:

  • A study by Dr. Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist at the University of Rochester Medical School found that the higher the level of phthalates in the mother's urine during pregnancy, the greater the problems occurred in young boys.  Asked what she found in babies, Swan said, "We found that the baby boys were in several subtle ways less completely masculine." 

  • Dr. Howard Snyder, a pediatric urologist at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, says Swan's findings line up with what he's seeing in newborn baby boys: an alarming increase in deformed sex organs. 
  • A three-fold increase in hypospadias, a birth defect that causes problems in urination. 
  • A two-fold increase in another abnormality: un-descended testicles. Snyder says something seems to be interfering in the womb with the production of testosterone, causing the male organs to form improperly. And he suspects it may be phthalates.
  • Phthalates in fragrances consist mostly of chemicals called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.  Some VOCs, such as formaldehyde, ethanol and d-limonene, cause eye, nose and throat irritation, difficulty breathing, allergy symptoms and headaches. Formaldehyde is considered a probable carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Women of childbearing age had the highest levels of phthalates. Since phthalates are particularly dangerous to fetuses, this is of great concern.
  • Phthalates are added to cosmetics and perfumes for multiple reasons. For example, their oily texture helps lubricate other substances in a formula. Phthalates also help lotions penetrate and soften the skin. They’ve become essential to scented products, however, because phthalates help fragrances last longer, according the American Chemistry Council.
  • Phthalates aren't required to be listed as an ingredient by the FDA because they're claimed as "fragrances" or as a part of trade secret formulas, and are exempt from federal labeling requirements."
So I'm not suggesting that we all stop using our favorite perfumes.  Just maybe eliminate fragrance where you can and indulge when necessary :)

To read more information on this topic check out these where I found many of the facts listed above: healthy child blog, CBS News

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