Raising a Stink About the Dangers of Body Sprays & Other Fragrances

Dangers of Body Sprays

By Chere Di Boscio

Every time I hear the hiss of someone using a body spray in my gym, I walk (very quickly!) to the other side of the changing room. Why? Few seem to realize these air-freshener-like spray deodorants contain synthetic fragrances that are made up of hundreds of chemicals, many of which can be very harmful to the health of not only the person who is ‘wearing’ them, but all those breathing the air around them, too.

Body sprays and aerosol deodorants contain toxins like hormone-disrupting phthalates and synthetic musks, which have been associated with serious health risks, including heart disease. In fact, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) consistently rates Axe, Old Spice, and other commercial body sprays, deodorants and perfumes as moderate-to-high health hazards. Far from transforming men into virile beasts as the ads for these products suggest, the sprays may ironically impede men’s chances of reproducing, as a recent analysis of popular men’s fragrances confirmed that many contain chemicals that can disrupt male hormones and damage sperm.

Even worse, a study from the EWG found that teenage boys and girls are particularly susceptible to hormone-disrupting chemicals like  phthalates because of the ways the chemicals influence their rapidly developing reproductive systems. Animal studies have found that male rats exposed to phthalates during puberty had more testicular problems, and a report from the Journal for Applied Toxicology has suggested that there may be a link between spraying the hormone-disrupting chemicals contained in deodorants and breast cancer, especially those tumours found in the outer quarter of the breast.

Dangers of Body Sprays

No Controls

But these chemicals also have immediate negative health effects on many full grown adults, too, including triggering asthma, eye and throat irritation, dermatitis, and more. The manufacturers surely know it, too – otherwise why would there be warnings on the back of Lynx canisters that advise ‘use in short bursts in well ventilated spaces’; ‘avoid prolonged spraying’ and ‘keep out of reach of children’?

Even more worrying is the fact that the EWG points out that the Food and Drug Administration “has not assessed the safety of the vast majority” of secret chemicals used in spray-on products. “Fragrance secrecy is legal due to a giant loophole in the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973, which requires companies to list cosmetics ingredients on the product labels but explicitly exempts fragrance,” they report.

As such, the cosmetics industry has kept the public in the dark about fragrance ingredients, “even those that present potential health risks or build up in people’s bodies.”

Dangers of Body Sprays

Toxic Contents

Wondering what those fragrance ingredients that go into perfumes, body sprays and deodorants are? Here is just a short list of common chemicals in the most popular brands.

1. Butane, Isobutane and Propane

Why are they used? Propellants in body sprays, perfumes and spray deodorants.

Health effects: Headache; breathing difficulties; mood swings; nausea, to name a few. Like cigarette smoke, these propellants harm not only body spray users, but those around them, too.

2. Aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex GLY,  Aluminium chlorohydrate

Why are they used? In deodorants to clog pores to prevent sweat leaking through.

Health Effects: Skin irritation; mental decline. Aluminium is absorbed through the skin and there is evidence that a lifetime’s use of aluminium-containing deodorants may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Can cause cancer – In women, a combination of underarm shaving and aluminium containing deodorants has been linked to breast cancer. Spray formulations mean you inhale, as well as absorb these compounds, more rapidly and deeply.

3. 14 Butyl Ether

Why is it used? Preservative, solvent, antibacterial.

Health effects: Skin irritant, neurotoxin. PPG-14 butyl ether is a relative of propylene glycol and potentially toxic to the kidneys and liver. In the US it is a pesticide component. It is poisonous in high concentrations and can enhance the penetration of other more toxic chemicals.

4. BHT – butylated hydroxytoluene

Why is it used? Antioxidant.

Health Effects: Contact allergies/contact dermatitis. Cancer suspect. May cause reproductive defects. Once absorbed, BHT can accelerate the breakdown of vital nutrients such as vitamin D.

5. Parfum (Synthetic)

Why is it used? Body odour mask.

Health effects: Skin irritation, allergic reaction; breathing difficulties (including asthma); headache (including migraine; dizziness, nausea). Many of the chemicals used in parfum are persistent (i.e. they don’t break down in the environment and they accumulate in human tissue and breast milk), and yet they don’t need to be listed on the label because their combination is considered a ‘trade secret’.

6. Distearate

Why is it used? Moisturiser, emulsifier, emollient and antioxidant in stick deodorants and other cosmetics. Adding PEG to a product will prevent moisture loss during storage.

Health effects: Cancer. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds can be contaminated with various carcinogens, including ethylene oxide, 1,4-dioxane and polycyclic aromatic compounds (including benzene, benz(a)pyrene, DMBA, and 1-nitropyrene) – potential breast cancer triggers. Neurotoxic – PEGs can be contaminated with heavy metals such as lead, iron, cobalt, nickel, cadmium, and arsenic, which are toxic to the central nervous system.

*Source for all information above:

Dangers of Body Sprays

The Good News

Fortunately, you can still smell wonderful without ruining your health! There are several alternatives to perilous spray deodorants that you can make at home or buy. If you want to get all boho and create your own body deodoriser, baking soda can be mixed with a small amount of water or oil to cornstarch, to absorb moisture.

The equivalent effect of antiperspirant deodorants can be obtained using witch hazel, as it constricts the pores so sweat can’t seep through and mix with the bacteria on the skin. Alcohol and lemon may even help kill bacteria that cause odours, and beeswax, mineral salts and essential oils are also tried and tested deodorant alternatives.

Not feeling up to a DIY job? No worries!  Read about our Top 10 Natural Deodorants here.

It’s especially important to encourage self-conscious teens, whose bodies are still developing, to use natural fragrance products. And it’s also important to remember that even if you don’t use toxic body sprays yourself, your health can still be affected by those around when you breathe in what they’re spraying.

Don’t be afraid to raise a stink about the dangers of body sprays to your friends, family, and even fellow gym members. A little education goes a long way, and if we all spread the word, I’m sure one day, we’ll regard spray fragrances with the same disdain we do with cigarette smoke.

Chere Di Boscio

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  • Reply
    Mar 29, 2013 at 6:20 am

    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on this issue. And he just bought me lunch for that, so let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

  • Reply
    Good For You Girls
    Jun 18, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    As always, right on the money! Keep up the great work.

    • Reply
      Jun 18, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks so much! Especially important read for young girls…!

  • Reply
    Jun 19, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Great post!

    And crucial to watch out what our cosmetics come in too!

    • Reply
      Nov 3, 2014 at 12:00 am

      Couldn’t agree more, Matt! Glad to see you standing up for the dudes!

  • Reply
    Nov 4, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Sprays are the worst! I prefer underarm creams that are free of chemicals. Lavilin is a really good one.

  • Reply
    Jun 23, 2016 at 12:44 am

    Just to clarify, is exposure to these body mists only dangerous if one is repeatedly exposed to them? Could a one-time close exposure do serious harm?

    • Reply
      Jun 23, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Hi Laura! Surely a one time exposure wouldn’t pose a serious risk! A big spray could cause asthma or a skin rash in some people though. Hope that helps!

  • Reply
    Sep 15, 2016 at 12:50 am

    Ever since I read this article I’ve been looking for an alternative product for my 15-yr old son. He uses deodorant (not anti-perspirant) but still feels the need to wear Axe. Is there any safe body spray or cologne-type that of product that I can buy to replace the Axe? When I search all I find is alternatives for deodorant but nothing for body spray. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Oct 8, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    As my son in his teens was absolutely obsessed with Lynx and other body sprays/deodorants and carried on to more expensive sprays and aftershaves, I read this article in a little shock. He is currently a 40 year old in hospital after suffering a heart attack last week, about to have heart bypass for severely clogged arteries. Not a bad diet, bit of exercise, non smoker and and a cholesterol of 4.8, it wasn’t expected. We are searching for answers so it doesn’t repeat in a few years. This really opened my eyes

    • Reply
      Oct 8, 2019 at 9:31 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear that, Jean! How terrible! Lynx now has a new spray that even changes your body temperature to ‘stay cool’. What kind of nasty chemicals do that, I wonder? I hope your son recovers quickly! All the best.

  • Reply
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