Perfume, Xenobiotics, and Perfino
by Dr Andie Siggers B.Med.Sci, BMBS, MRCP, MRCGP PGCME, IFMCP Mosaic Medical
The main aim of perfume is to create a pleasing scent - and mask any less pleasant odours. People have been using scents in this way for 4000 years 1 and this is likely to continue ad infinitum.
There is a joy in feeling that you have a ‘signature’ perfume, or being complimented that you ‘smell good’.
Unfortunately there is a problem...
Modern-day perfumes contain a lot of chemicals. There are currently over 3000 ingredients used within perfumes 2 3 and unfortunately, these can cause a variety of issues.
Most obviously there are people who have skin-based reactions 4 to some of these chemicals. In a way, they are given clear sign that what they are using is having an effect on health. For the rest of us, the signs are far more subtle but no less severe.
There has not been any regulatory body confirming the safety of long-term exposure to the chemicals within fragrances - the FDA in the US does not require cosmetic products and ingredients to have FDA approval before they go on the market 5. The Fragrance Creators Association states 6 that chemical exposure is low - which may of course be the case over each individual day but the issue is our broad-ranging daily exposure to such chemicals. Our modern lives expose us to an enormous variety of toxin exposure - most notable from foods, pesticides, plastics and cosmetics. A study in 2023 showed that women on average add 114 chemicals to their skin each day 7. The cumulative and combined effects are what gives us such cause for concern.
These are known as Xenobiotics - chemical substances ‘foreign to life’ that are detected in the body. These have been found within the umbilical cord of newborn babies so the issue is ubiquitous to humans. The health implications of xenobiotics are very broad ranging and outcomes depend on an individuals total exposome 8 - defined as the combined chemical exposure, in combination with a persons inbuilt susceptibility.
The chemicals are linked to a wide range of health conditions, from migraine and breathing difficulties to more long term effects such as cancer, obesity 9 and diabetes.
Some of the chemicals, such as phthalates, are known as ‘endocrine-disruptors’ and have an impact on our hormonal systems including thyroid and female reproductive systems 10 11 . Those at critical developmental stages are the most susceptible to this - so in puberty and when a foetus is developing. These endocrine disruptors are felt to be a part of why young girls are reaching puberty earlier and we are seeing that reproductive health is being affected.
But speaking as a woman who has had a lifetime of wanting to wear a pleasing scent I really don’t want worries about health tomorrow to affect choices today if at all possible. There are wonderful apps available now to help assess the toxicity of chemicals within skincare products and fragrances such as ‘Think Dirty’ and ‘Yuka’ however the reality is that these toxins remain hard to avoid.
Discovering Perfino recently was a real find. This product enables us to enjoy a wide range of perfumes from Natural essential oils without any absorption through the skin and all bound up in a truly stunning piece of jewellery. On a personal note, having a daughter who fell for the necklace as much as I did means that I can help her to reduce her risk of these very significant future health issues. And having cared for many patients who have experienced health problems due to toxins it is a real positive to see products such as Perfino helping us to change the landscape of health
4 Pastor-Nieto MA, Gatica-Ortega ME. Ubiquity, Hazardous Effects, and Risk Assessment of Fragrances in Consumer Products. Curr Treat Options Allergy. 2021;8(1):21-41.
5 https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/fda-authority-over-cosmetics-how-cosmetics-ar e-not-fda-approved-are-fda-regulated
6 Guardian.com ‘Why smelling good could come with a cost to healthLauren Zanolli, 23 May 2019,
8 Rappaport SM, Smith MT. Epidemiology. Environment and disease risks. Science. 2010 Oct 22;330(6003):460-1
9 Collaborative on Health and the Environment, Sept 2011
10 Al-Saleh, I., Elkhatib, R. Screening of phthalate esters in 47 branded perfumes. Environ Sci Pollut Res 23, 455–468 (2016)
11 Wang Y, Qian H. Phthalates and Their Impacts on Human Health. Healthcare (Basel). 2021 May