Friday, August 30, 2013

Does smelling a perfume mean your health is comprised?

Please provide scientific support for this statement: "Smelling a chemical doesn’t necessarily mean that your health will be compromised (think perfumes)." Hahaha! Perfumes are made from petrochemicals and they have trade secrets. Read "Scent of Danger"

 “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.” Paracelsus (1493-1541)

While toxicology has evolved into a complex discipline, to answer that question, it is important to understand its basic concepts. Only then can we better understand how decisions based in toxicology are used to protect populations from the harmful effects of chemicals.

For one: Toxicity is the relative ability of a substance to cause harm to a living organism.

The “relative ability” depends not only on dose (concentration) but also depends on route of entry (inhalation, oral, dermal etc.), duration of exposure (one hour, three days straight, thirty years), frequency of exposure(night time, all day etc.), intra-population differences, among others.

Scientists uses many tests to protect people from exposure to harmful chemicals. They test for and/or estimate the doses at which people may experience harmful effects from chemical exposures. This allows them to limit exposure levels, exposure frequency, duration etc. Once those thresholds are determined, standards are issued. 

What the questioner is alluding to is the controversy surrounding phthalates use in cosmetics.  While phthalates are suspect endocrine disruptors and teratogens effects (based on rat exposure in the laboratory), research and risk assessment shows that estimated exposure at federally regulated standards to the human population minimal (as per the Federal Food and Drug Adminstration FDA and other studies).

·         J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2004 Dec;67(23-24):1901-14. Estimated exposure to phthalates in cosmetics and risk assessment. Koo HJ, Lee BM.
·         Api, A. M. 2001. Toxicological profile of diethyl phthalate: A vehicle for fragrance and cosmetic ingredients. Food Chem. Toxicol. 39:97–108.

Hence, smelling a perfume doesn’t necessarily mean you have been poisoned.


  1. Smelling a perfume doesn't necessarily mean you haven't been poisoned.

    Smelling hazardous pollutants means you have been exposed to hazardous pollutants.

  2. TXSharon - it depends on all the above mentioned factors... Dose, exposure length, route of exposure of the particular chemical... etc.