Car air fresheners are not something new. In fact, they’ve been on the market for a while and pretty much everyone is accustomed to them. The most common type is the “tree” air freshener you can hang from the review mirror but there are many others these days. People like them because they smell nice. What’s behind the smell though?
This seems to be a question that not many of us ask. It’s also a question that rarely gets a straight answer from the manufacturers and distributors of car air fresheners. However, the fragrance in these products can impact our bodies in a negative way, causing migraines, headaches, dizziness, and other, more serious, health problems.
The Dangers of Chemical Air Fresheners
The fragrance of car air fresheners is rarely natural. Actually, it’s almost never natural. If the scent would be natural, you’d be able to identify it on the ingredients list. But all you see is “fragrance”, which oftentimes means the scent is synthetic.
The problem with synthetic scents is that they pose a real health risk. The dangers are so serious that some publications call fragrances the new second-hand smoke. That’s because approximately 95% of the chemicals commonly used in car air fresheners are petroleum derivatives. On the list of these derivatives, there are many toxic chemicals including aldehydes, toluene, and benzene derivatives. All these chemicals are linked to a variety of health-related problems, such as cancer, birth defects, allergies, and central and peripheral nervous system damage.
Unfortunately, car air freshener manufacturers are not forced to disclose the list of toxic chemicals they use to scent their products. However, they always claim they are safe. In an effort to be transparent with the public, the International Fragrance Association, also known as IFRA, put together a Transparency List. This list contains “all fragrance ingredients used in consumer goods by the fragrance industry’s customers worldwide”. You can check it out to see how many chemicals can actually be in basic fragrances.
Since no one, except for manufacturers, knows the chemicals used for making the fragrance of car air fresheners, it is best to avoid them. Fragrances can be made with one or an unlimited number of different chemicals. A study of The Environmental Working Group found that nearly 75% of the fragrance mixtures found in cosmetics and body care products contain phthalates (we will explain in the following paragraphs why this is not a good thing). In addition, automotive air fresheners are not tested for safety. One more reason to avoid using them.
Dangerous Chemicals in Car Air Fresheners
All the dangerous chemicals used to make car air fresheners are worrisome since they are linked to many different health problems. While the list of chemicals can be endless, we think we should discuss the most common ones one by one to understand the risks we’re exposing ourselves to on a daily basis.
When someone is exposed to large concentrations of aldehydes, they risk breathing and other respiratory system problems. Spraying air freshener in the air or driving a car with a tree air freshener hanging by the review mirror is enough aldehydes exposure to cause breathing problems.
Toluene is troublesome because it is linked to a long list of health problems that go from mild to severe. This neurotoxin can cause headaches, irritation, brain fog, damage to the central nervous system, heart, lungs, kidney, and liver. Plus other serious problems, such as hearing or vision loss, memory loss, and even death when a person is exposed to high concentrations.
Phthalates help fragrances to last longer. That’s why they are so common in air fresheners of any kind, including car air fresheners. The Natural Resources Defense Council, in their study Cleaning the Air: Hidden Hazards of Air Fresheners, found that found 86% of air fresheners, including those labeled as all-natural or unscented, tested positive for phthalates. They go on to mention that phthalates “can cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems.”
Car Air Fresheners Exposure Risks
While we discussed some of the risks of exposing ourselves to car air fresheners when we analyzed the chemicals that can be present in these products, we have to inform you that we barely scratched the surface. There are many other risks. These toxic chemicals can affect the body and its systems in many different ways.
Immune and Lymphatic System
Fragrances can weaken the immune system, leaving it at risk for developing serious illnesses. According to a report that analyzes the Immune effects of respiratory exposure to fragrance chemicals, some chemicals found in fragrance, particularly isoeugenol and cinnamal, are irritants to our bodies and can induce cell proliferation.
The National Academy of Sciences found that styrene, a chemical that is often used in fragrances is a human carcinogen, which means it can cause different types of cancer.
The phthalates we discussed earlier can create hormonal imbalances that can lead to many problems, such as early puberty for girls and an increased breast cancer risk for women. They also increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
For men, aside from hormonal changes, phthalates damage sperm DNA and are linked to the inability to stay focused and with reduced sperm motility. Women and men alike can develop thyroid problems due to phthalates exposure.
Liver and Kidneys
Our liver and kidneys are responsible for filtering out toxins from our bodies. When we expose ourselves to toxic chemicals, the functionality of these organs is affected and they fail to work properly, leaving us to deal with the consequences. In many cases, this means skin problems like dermatitis, acne, rashes, and eczema. However, some chemical toxins, such as toluene also attack the central nervous system and they are a very severe asthma trigger for many people.
Since the chemicals enter our system through our airways, they easily make their way to the limbic section of the brain, affecting the nervous system. Some of the most noticeable effects are changes in mood, blood pressure, and heartbeat. Toxic chemicals can also increase stress and anxiety in some people.
Research conducted by Campaign for Safe Cosmetics shows a connection between chemicals in fragrance and depression, memory loss, and other nervous system disorders.
Any type of scent has an effect on our respiratory system. However, natural scents don’t cause damage, they just please our senses and, sometimes, even promote respiratory system health. On the other hand, synthetic scents have a negative effect. According to a study published by The American Journal of Medicine, exhalation volume is reduced by 58% when people are exposed to synthetic cologne.
A different study discloses that one-third of the respondents reported at least one health problem caused by scented products, such as fresheners, cleaning solutions, and personal care products. Amongst the most common health problems listed by people who participated in the survey are shortness of breath (17%), mucosal symptoms – watery eyes and congestion (14%), and asthma attacks (7.6%).
Aromatherapy as an Alternative to Car Air Fresheners
You don’t have to abandon nice scents to stay healthy; you just have to replace synthetic scents with natural ones. In the world of car air fresheners that means replacing scented “trees” or other fragrance air fresheners with aromatherapy.
All you need to make your commute pleasant and safe is a car vent diffuser and your favorite essential oil. This way, there will be no chemicals, no artificial smells, and no damaging health effects. Depending on the type of essential oil you choose, you can actually get some real health benefits on top of the nice aroma.
For example, our Organic Mighty Immunity Blend has natural antibacterial and antiseptic properties that may help prevent common colds and strengthen your respiratory system instead of damaging it. All these thanks to the mix of Sweet Eucalyptus, Siberian Fir, and Citronella essential oils. Aside from the health benefits, this essential oil blend is great for enriching the atmosphere with a purifying scent. Exactly what you need during a long commute.