DR ANNE STEINEMANN, Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia
Fragranced products have become commonplace throughout the world. These are items to which chemically derived scents have been added to the product. Exposure to them is associated with adverse health effects, especially in vulnerable populations such as asthmatics.
Ten million asthma attacks from air fresheners
In addition to people with asthma collectively experiencing millions of attacks from air fresheners, for more than 20 million people, illness from exposure to fragranced products in the workplace is associated with lost workdays and lost jobs. Further, over 24 million asthmatics have health problems from fragrance exposures that are potentially disabling.
Given that fragranced products are reported to trigger asthma attacks in an estimated 25% of asthmatics, and additional types of health problems in more than 50% of asthmatics, reducing exposure would appear to be a logical, cost-effective, and medically effective approach to asthma control.
The consumer’s task: Avoid all fragrances
To that end, fragrance-free products offer practical alternatives and can reduce fragrance compound emissions.
Studies show that fragrance-free policies and fragrance-free environments are preferred by a majority of the population, both asthmatics and non-asthmatics.
“Fragrance” needs to be listed on all products
To assist in reducing exposure, an important step would be the required listing of “fragrance” on the label for all types of consumer products (not only for foods, drugs, and cosmetics).
Analysis of fragranced consumer products found that 2/3 did not disclose that the product contained fragrance (Steinemann 2015). Further, an “unscented” product may not be “fragrance-free”; it may still contain fragrance but with a masking fragrance to cover the scent (Steinemann 2015).
A next step: Companies should list fragrance ingredients
A further step would be the disclosure of fragrance ingredients.
Analysis of fragranced consumer products found that most ingredients (over 90%)--including even potentially hazardous compounds–were not listed on the product label, safety data sheet, or elsewhere.
One approach is the listing of certain fragrance ingredients such as allergens (e.g., EU 2009). However, allergens may not address all major health effects of concern associated with fragranced consumer products, as this study demonstrates.
It should not be surprising that fragranced consumer products can be associated with asthmatic exacerbations and respiratory difficulties, as noted by Weinberg et al. (2017).
Why is the problem not recognized?
What is surprising, however, is that a seemingly obvious and effective approach—reducing exposure to reduce adverse effects—is not more widely recognized and implemented. However, results from this study may provide the foundations for more effective approaches to reduce the burden of asthma. Read the research article here.
Anne Steinemann is an internationally recognized expert in engineering and sustainability. She is a professor at James Cook University and the University of Melbourne, Australia. Professor Steinemann serves as adviser to governments and industries around the world.
She received the prestigious US National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and teaching awards at the college, university, and national levels.