Not too long ago I washed my clothes with laundry detergent that smelled of “fresh rain.” I knew it wasn’t the real thing, but I never stopped to think about what ingredients actually made that smell. I certainly wasn’t wondering if the scent could be made from chemicals potentially hazardous to my health. If you’re wondering why I’m writing about laundry detergent for a fertility blog, well, good question. It’s a connection that has received little attention considering how much of the current research links fragrances found in many of our household products to reproductive harm, infertility, allergies, and developmental disorders. Not something you want to be thinking about while folding your bath towels.
The recently released report What’s That Smell? by Women’s Voices for the Earth raises some real concerns about fragrances within household cleaning products. The report compiles peer-reviewed studies that show the effects of fragrance exposure on human health and the environment. Turns out, fragrance is not just a drop of lemon in your dish soap or an extract of pine needle in your furniture polish. The term “fragrance” is actually a combination of hundreds of different man-made or natural ingredients that convey an odor or scent. The problem is companies are not required to list the ingredients that go into these fragrances on the product label; so we as consumers have no idea which chemicals we are exposed to when we breathe in those lemon or pine scents in our cleaners.
Testing done on household products show synthetic musks to be commonly used in products. Synthetic musks are a man-made chemicals meant to mimic the musk scents originally obtained from musk deer and musk ox. Studies show that these chemicals are linked to animal and human hormone disruption of estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormone. Disruption of these hormones can have significant lifelong effects on reproductive health and development. Though more research needs to be done on how synthetic musks affect our reproductive health, studies show that these chemicals are now being found in the blood and fat of virtually every person tested.
Truly this issue is not limited to
our own bodies, but poses a real threat to future generations. Synthetic musks
are commonly found in breast milk, and are present in 7 out of 10 newborns in
Though we cannot buy our way out of the problem, avoiding products that list fragrance as an ingredient is a good first step. Becoming a conscious shopper is important, but ultimately real change will occur when companies remove chemicals of concern from their products. You can help by asking your favorite company to list the ingredients on their product label and remove synthetic musks and phthalates. Additionally, federal legislation has been introduced that would require all household products to bear a label including a full list of product ingredients. Ask your legislators to support The Household Product Labeling Act. A fun way to get involved is to make your own cleaning products from baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice. It’s more cost effective in the long run and you don’t have to wonder what concoction of chemicals are creating that lavender or citrus smell.
Companies should not be allowed to keep ingredients that may impact your reproductive health a secret. Join Women's Voices for the Earth and demand that they remove harmful chemicals like synthetic musks and phthalates and reveal to consumers what really in in their products. I like when my clothes smell like fresh rain, but until I know exactly what's in my laundry detergent, I'll stick with fragrance free
Erica Bloom is the Outreach Intern for Women's Voices for the Earth. She recently completed her M.S in Environmental Studies from The University of Montana and plans to continue working within the environmental health field.