What scary ingredients are hiding in your favorite products?


What scary ingredients are hiding in your favorite products?

Personal care products: they are everywhere are are used by everyone. These products are in our homes, our yoga totes, and our places of work. With so many products to choose from (especially for the ladies, am I right?) it is very important to know what to look for, or what not to look for, in the products we choose to buy; because what is left out of the product is just as important as what’s in it.

Most personal care products on the market today are made with outdated chemicals that date back generations. Several of these chemicals have been linked to everything from cancer, to fertility problems, asthma, skin conditions and even birth defects but are still being used in products that we use everyday! Scary, right? And these chemicals aren’t always easy to find on the ingredient list. Among that ingredients list are umbrella terms like “fragrances”, and long scientific words that are near impossible to pronounce never mind identify; things like carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and synthetic colours and fragrances are often hiding in plain sight.

The eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing labels on these products do not always tell the whole truth either – something can be beautifully packaged and read phrases like “All Natural”, “Vegan”, “Plant-derived” leading you to believe that the product itself would be entirely safe, and even good for you to use on yourself or your family. But, the catch is that those phrases are not synonymous with safe.

Over the next few weeks, I will be releasing a blog series on a few ingredients that you might find in your own products. This will cover a breakdown of what the ingredient is, as well as the health and environmental impacts it has. My hope is that in doing this, I can educate those who wish to read on what exactly those long scientific words on the labels are, why they should be avoided; enabling everyone to make more informed choices!

If there is an ingredient that you are curious about or would like information on, please email myself at quinn.ponton@gmail.com and I will do my best to answer any questions you might have.

Fragrance – what does that term actually mean?

When the term “fragrance” appears on the label of personal care products, it can be hiding a long list of other chemicals that companies are not legally required to disclose. This umbrella term “fragrance” is legally used by companies as a way of “protecting” their unique scent compositions. Although this is indeed hiding specific fragrance formulations, it is causing a serious lack of transparency to consumers by hiding several harmful chemicals in plain sight! In fact, the International Fragrance Association has a list of exactly 3,059 different ingredients that have been listed as part of a fragrance formulation – that’s a long list, right? Of these, many have been reported to contribute to serious health effects ranging from sensitivities, to reproductive toxicity, to cancer. 

The term fragrance can be found on the label of many different products. It’s commonly found in everything from shampoos to creams, to makeup, and even feminine hygiene products. This term can also be found on the labels of other products such as home fragrance items like room sprays or oil blends, home cleaning products, laundry and dish washing detergents, air fresheners, deodorizers and many more. Fragrance can also be listed on an ingredient label as one of many guises; perfume, parfum, aroma, and “essential oil blend” (please note, specific essential oils listed as individual ingredients are very different!).

Health Impacts

The list of health concerns related to fragrance in products is extensive. Many ingredients that fall under the guise “fragrance” have links to allergies and sensitivities, while others have evidence linking them to effects as serious as cancer. A few ingredients that are able to hide under the term “fragrance” are benzophenone, acetaldehyde, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), chloromethane, and synthetic musks. But, what exactly are those ingredients?


Benzophenone and Butylated hydroxyanisole, which are listed under California’s Proposition 65 as potential human carcinogens, are endocrine disruptors that are also linked to organ system toxicity. Endocrine disruptors are defined as, “chemicals that can interfere with endocrine (or hormone) systems at certain doses. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders! 


Acetaldehyde is known to affect the kidneys as well as the nervous, reproductive, and respiratory systems. Due to these affects, it is listed as a possible carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer and is also listed under California’s Proposition 65 as a known carcinogen. 


Chloromethane, also called methyl chloride, is also listed under California’s Proposition 65 as a developmental toxicant as well as a male reproductive toxicant. Chloromethane can impact the liver, skin, and kidneys, as well as affect the nervous system. This substance has also been formerly used as a refrigerant, a pesticide, and a fumigant, but use was discontinued due to toxic effects! But yes, let’s keep putting it in our care products… that just doesn’t make sense!

Synthetic Musks

Synthetic Musks (aka tonalide, musk ketone, galaxolide, or musk xylene) are more ingredients that can hide under the term “fragrance”. Synthetic Musks are of great concern, as they are highly bioaccumulative, meaning they absorb into your body at a rate faster than they are being detoxed or excreted, causing them to remain in your body for an extended period of time. Their bioaccumulative nature has led to these substances being detected in human breast milk, body fat, and even the blood in an umbilical cord! Synthetic musks are also known to be endocrine disruptors, as well as potential developmental, reproductive, and organ system toxicants.


Research has shown that fragrances also contain harmful phthalates – a term that is a little more known to consumers now that classifies a group of chemicals with their own health concerns. Phthalates are another endocrine disruptor that have been connected to thyroid abnormalities, hormonal changes, and reproductive system problems in newborn boys. 

Phthalates are used to hold consistent scents in personal care products such as scented hair products, perfumes and colognes, deodorants, body washes, and creams among other products.  Phthalates are also being used as a plasticizer in food containers, plastic wrap, children’s toys, and various other products.

Environmental Concerns

Since some components of fragrances have the ability to bioaccumulate in humans, such as synthetic musks, they also have the ability to bioaccumulate in the environment. When these chemicals are released into the environment, they do not breakdown. Instead, they make their way into the water system where they attach to the fatty tissues of aquatic lifeforms. Once accumulated in the fatty tissues of aquatic organisms, it does not take these chemicals long to make their way up the rest of the food chain. 

Unfortunately, it is not only the aquatic life that is impacted by fragrance, but the water itself is affected. A study was done in 2015 in Venice, Italy, to determine the levels of 17 different fragrance chemicals in the water. Samples were taken from 22 different locations ranging from the center of the canals, to the rural, less populated areas. Traces of all 17 different fragrance chemicals were present in all samples, with samples from the city being 500 times more concentrated than those taken from the less populated areas.


Fragrances are also impacting the air we breathe on a daily basis, both indoor and outdoor. Most fragrances fall under the classification of volatile compounds, called VOCs. VOCs are substances that when released into the air, break down into a new composition, which are often more toxic than the original compound. VOCs are known to cause nose, throat and eye irritation, as well as dizziness and headaches. In higher concentrations, VOCs can also impair vision and memory, and are a potential carcinogen! 

Written by: Quinn Ponton, Holistic Nutritionist CNP

Questions for Quinn?

Reach her via email at quinn.ponton@gmail.com

Next week:

Next week, I’ll be covering an ingredient called methylisothiazolinone: what is it, and why is it banned from products in other countries? Stay tuned!