Do perfumes make you stupid?

Virtually no research is being done on the possible short- and long-term effects of artificial perfumes on the human brain. If you can smell something, chemicals are entering your brain. The brain is rich in fat, making it a prime site for the build-up of artificial perfume chemicals, and it cannot detoxify or repair itself easily.

An artificial musk banned in 1995 – musk ambrette – was found in the blood of human volunteers nine years later in a study funded by Greenpeace (Meijer et al., 2004) This chemical is classified as neurotoxic (SCCNFP, 2000); i.e. it damages the nervous system, which of course includes the brain. Perhaps we should be examining human brains post-mortem to see if there are associations between levels of artificial chemicals and brain diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s.

The frequency of air ‘freshener’ use has been linked with depression, headache and migraine in mothers: evidence that the chemicals may indeed be damaging the brain (Farrow et al., 2003).

Research reported in 1991 found that galaxolide (see above) significantly increased the time that healthy young adults took to solve a problem, and that effects occurred even with concentrations so low that they could not smell it (Lorig et al., 1991).

Maybe manufacturers think that consumers are already stupid. The 2005 Unilever patent application referred to above says in relation to an antiperspirant stick:

“...the smell from a fragranced composition often increases perceptibly when it is applied to the skin...This confirms to the user that the composition has been applied.” (my italics) I don’t know about you, but I do not usually require any such assistance to indicate that I have applied something!

Adverse effects on cognition should be a cause for great concern. Consider the implications for children’s ability to learn and to pass exams. Yet galaxolide is one of the 39 chemicals still favoured for use in laundry products, which release their noxious fumes from clothes worn by children as well as by adults.