Each year the Flavor and Fragrance (F&F) Industry introduces approximately 2,000 new chemical compounds (Furman, et. al., 2019). From enhancing the taste of our food and increasing the appeal of our personal care products, to covering up noxious odorants in our environment to convince us of the effectiveness of our household cleaners, these chemical compounds address our fervent need for everything to taste good and smell nice. We cannot blame the F&F industry for this issue; it is an issue of our own making.
The F&F industry claims that the chemicals they manufacture are a purer scent, allowing them to recreate and sell blends more consistently. In many cases, it is not as much about purity as it is about economy. For instance, it takes 2,000 rose petals to produce one drop of real rose essential oil. Alternatively, it takes the F&F industry a combination of at least three molecules (phenylethyl alcohol, rose oxide, and geraniol) to reproduce the scent of roses (referred to as rose fragrance oil). Compare the cost of fragrance oil at $20-30 per kilogram to the price of 100% organic rose essential oil at $5,000 per kilogram and you quickly see why it is not economical to produce household products with 100% organic rose essential oil.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much information about how these chemicals are affecting our long term health. Since 2008, the Tox21 Program has been testing chemicals produced by the F&F industry against 1,600 assays (tests) to determine their underlying inflammation-related disease risk. Endocrine active chemicals (EAC) are, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), “…substances that can interact or interfere with normal hormonal action.”
The endocrine system is a complex and not fully understood glandular system. It regulates hormone production needed for growth, reproduction, development, metabolism, immune, and nervous system functions. Disrupting these glands’ hormone production or receptor cells can impact almost every major organ in the body. Some endocrine active chemicals (EACs) are well understood and are effectively used in medications to control estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH) released into the bloodstream. Other EACs, including those used in baby wipes, shampoo, and anti-aging skin creams are not well understood in terms of their long-term health impact. We also have no way of measuring when the cumulative toxicity level in our bodies for these chemicals has been reached. We do know, however, that the predominant EAC exposure in our households comes from fragrances (Isaac and Stanfield, 2021).
Controversy continues within the scientific community on the links between EACs and increases in certain cancers, but I, for one, am unwilling to wait for their final decision to begin making changes to my environment. To start, I only use 100% organic essential oils to scent my household including laundry detergent, cleaning products (e.g., vinegar with any citrus essential oil and distilled water to clean floors), and diffusers to freshen the air or boost my well-being.
A word of caution: essential oils can also be adulterated. To obtain the full benefits of essential oils, be sure they are organically produced and are of high quality or work with a registered aromatherapist (RA) to develop a blend to meet your specific needs. Yes, you will pay more for this service or high-quality essential oils; however, I consider my health and the health of my family to be priceless, don’t you?