Fragrant or Toxic? The story behind the smells in products we use

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The smell of pumpkin spice wafting through your home just puts you in the fall spirit, but are you getting way more than your bargained for? The price of that fragrance is costly, but it’s about more than the actual price tag.

For mom Elena Griffin, her four-month-old baby girl is her world.

And for mom Jessie Glase, it’s 15-month-old Jackson. “He is the reason why we’re doing the things that we’re doing to try to clean things up around our house,” added Glase.

When she said clean up, Glase means it. She’s eliminating products with toxic ingredients, and there are a lot of them.

“We decided to start with the household cleaners,” Glase explained.

Griffin added, “Skincare, my makeup, even for hair care.”

But why?

Glase’s story starts in 2019, when she tried to start a family. She reached out to a fertility clinic, but as many in her position could relate, “I needed things to move quicker. And so I reached out to people, like an acupuncturist, and other people who knew more about the ‘why’ of infertility. And that was when the conversation started for me about endocrine disruptors.”

Endocrine Disruptors

FGCU Professor Dr. Nora Demers studies endocrine disruptors for a living. “Endocrine disruptors are man-made chemicals present in our environment,” noted Demers. “It’s likely that at least some of them have chemical structure that interferes with the hormones involved in our growth, development, behavior, reproduction.”

Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) posted a chart that showed how Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals hurt you.

Problems range from early puberty to ADHD to infertility, even cancers and diabetes. Ted-X, a science based non-profit, feels it’s necessary to warn families after studying chemical compounds and hormone function the last two decades.

But it’s hard to remove all the chemicals. They’re in everything – our food, hygiene products, even the air. But, there is one place Dr. Demers recommended you start, avoid scented products.

“If it’s a fragrance, they don’t have to share the precise structure, chemical structure of it,” said Demers.

So what do you have in your cabinet? WINK News Anchor Lindsey Sablan went through hers and then Dr. Demers went through the products with her.

“It’s nice and lemon scented. It’s quite possible that’s not really lemons in there,” said the doctor. “They show the ingredients by the one they most use first so water’s first, glycerin second, the fourth one in here is fragrance.”

Where do you start?

Everything failed. So, where did the moms start?

“The household cleaners and things that are easy to find on the market right now,” explained Glase. She traded in bleach and cleaners for a homemade concoction of hot water, vinegar and natural dish soap.

Griffin started with products she uses daily. “Your hair care or your skincare that you wash your face with your deodorant even,” she added.

Deciphering labels

She and Dr. Demers recommend the Yuka app. It helps you make sense of labels on food and cosmetics. The French-based company said it doesn’t accept money from brands in order to maintain independence when rating products. It lets you scan items, rates them, lists the ingredients, and cites studies that link health impacts from those ingredients. It then recommends other products.

Griffin and Glase know making a lifestyle change is daunting.

“I have not bought into all of it. You can’t, you just can’t,” she rationalized. “For me, it’s picking and choosing the things that are going to affect me and my child and my family the most first.”


The substitutes can cost more, but it really depends on the product. Cetaphil, Native and Aveeno are available at regular stores with costs comparable to other brands.

We reached out to the Household and Commercial Products Association–which represent companies that make and sell cleaning products.

The Household & Commercial Products Association (HCPA), in partnership with environmental and public health NGOs, supported the enactment of California’s Cleaning Product Right to Know Act, or SB 258, in 2017 that was signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown. This law requires companies to disclose ingredients, including natural and synthetic substances considered endocrine disruptors, on the product label and online to help consumers make informed decisions about the products they use.

Manufacturers of cleaning products take great care to create products that are safe for human health when used according to the directions on the label, and that comply with SB 258, so consumers have access to ingredient information about the products they use.

And since that 2017 law, California’s taken it a step further. Companies have to disclose ingredients and certain toxic ones are no longer allowed.

You might also want to watch: Check those labels; what’s in your shampoo or makeup?

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