The link between perfume and cancer leaves a foul smell

An Instagram user claims perfumes are full of hormone-disrupting chemicals that cause cancer.

The claim is misleading. Experts say perfumes may contain chemicals that can cause cancer, but people would need to be exposed to extraordinary amounts of the substances to have adverse health effects.

The text of a video with the message (screenshot here) reads: “Did you know that store-bought designer perfumes are full of hormone-disrupting chemicals that cause cancer?”

The caption of the post adds: “I was never told how toxic perfumes or perfumes were and for a very long time I suffered from skin problems and pain, migraines, depression, hormonal imbalances and anxiety”.

The Instagram post says commercial fragrances can cause a long list of illnesses, including cancer.

However, experts said AAP Fact Check exposure to chemicals in fragrances is well within safe limits and is not a recognized cancer risk.

Professor Ian Olver, an oncologist and cancer researcher at the University of Adelaide, says some perfumes contain potentially carcinogenic substances, but the small amounts used negate the risk of exposure.

“For some chemicals, you would have to bathe in them for long periods of time or ingest them before you are at risk. (Certain components of some fragrances also contain agents that may kill cancer),” Professor Olver said in an email.

“In general, while it’s true that some fragrances contain unhealthy chemicals, the exposure may be far too low to trigger cancer.”

Dr Ian Musgrave, a molecular pharmacologist at the University of Adelaide, says the post’s claim is “deeply misleading”.

“Commercial perfumes typically contain small amounts of phthalates, which are used as solvents or to stabilize the smell of the perfume,” Dr. Musgrave said. AAP Fact Check in an email.

Phthalates known as di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) are chemicals that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies as “endocrine disruptors.” These are natural or man-made chemicals that mimic or interfere with hormones in the body.

Dr. Musgrave pointed to an IARC study that looked at phthalates as a possible carcinogen based on animal research. However, the overall results concluded that no human data or research showed a clear association.

He also cited other studies — see here, here, and here — that explored whether fragrance chemicals caused cancer.

“Phthalates in perfumes are in low to trace amounts and are not generally associated with cancer. The main phthalate in perfumes, diethyl phthalate (DEP), has a very good safety profile,” said Dr Musgrave .

Perfume bottles on a dressing table (file image)
Experts say people need to bathe in perfume for long periods of time or drink it to get sick.

Dr Musgrave echoed Professor Olver in saying that large amounts of perfume would be needed to cause adverse effects.

“The European Commission’s Scientific Committee for Consumer Products has calculated that the safety margin between the amount of phthalates people are exposed to via fragrances and any adverse effects is around a thousand times,” he said. declared.

“The concentrations are in the order of milligrams per kilogram of perfume, people generally apply less than one gram of perfume per day and the phthalates present are very poorly absorbed by the skin (less than 10%)”, he said. -he declares.

Dr Musgrave said that although perfume may contain phthalates and other chemicals, the exposure was “generally recognized to be within safe limits as well”.

Leading cancer research and support organizations also say fragrances are safe to use.

Cancer Council Australia states: “There is no evidence linking the use of scented products with an increased risk of cancer in humans. Some fragrance ingredients have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, but only at concentrations several times higher than those used in consumer products.

Similar advice is listed by Cancer Research UK.

The verdict

The claim that perfumes are full of chemicals that cause cancer is misleading. While some fragrances may contain carcinogenic chemicals, the levels are far too low to have a negative impact on health.

Several studies show that there is no evidence linking perfume use to cancer.

Misleading – The claim is correct in part, but information was also presented incorrectly, out of context or omitted.

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