Spirituality & Health Magazine

Two air fresheners spraying in the air

The Danger of Second-Hand Scents

Fragranced products cause health concerns for one-third of Americans.

I recently saw a commercial where a woman “cleaned” the air in her home by spraying a chemical product all over her living room. If this makes you raise an eyebrow, you’re not alone. According to a researcher at the University of Melbourne, over one-third of Americans report health problems when they are exposed to the most commonly used fragranced consumer products—like that air freshener.

In a study published in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, professor Anne Steinemann, from the University of Melbourne School of Engineering, polled 1,136 Americans via a web-based survey. Steinemann is an expert in environmental pollutants and air quality. Her earlier research found that fragranced products—even the ones labeled with titles such as “green,” “natural,” and “organic”—emitted hazardous air pollutants. In her new study, she found that 34.7 percent of Americans suffer health woes when exposed to fragranced products, such as air fresheners, cleaning supplies (for example, dish soap, disinfectants), household supplies (examples include trash bags, baby products), laundry products (dryer sheets, detergents), scented candles, and personal care products (perfumes, deodorant, sunscreen, shampoo). “Basically, if it contained a fragrance, it posed problems for people,” Steinemann wrote. Study participants reported a wide range of symptoms, including breathing difficulties, headaches, dizziness, rashes, stuffy noses, seizures, nausea and other woes.

But worse, these symptoms were so severe that 22 percent of Americans surveyed said they couldn’t go into some places because fragrance makes them sick—imagine a hotel room that’s been recently cleaned with scented cleaning products or someone in the cubicle next to you wearing perfume.

“These findings have enormous implications for businesses, workplaces, care facilities, schools, homes, and other private and public places,” wrote Professor Steinemann.

The study found that customers leave a business as quickly as possible if they smell air fresheners or other fragranced products, and that more than 15 percent of the population has had lost workdays or a job due to fragrance exposure. In fact, 50 percent of the Americans surveyed would prefer an entirely fragrance-free workplace.

To avoid the hazardous air pollutants associated with fragranced products, Steinemann suggests using products that do not contain any fragrance at all. She also recommends fragrance-free policies be instituted within buildings and other places. The health effects from second-hand scents, she writes, are a “huge problem; it’s an epidemic.”


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