Fragrance compounds: The wolves in sheep's clothings

Med Hypotheses. 2017 May;102:106-111. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2017.03.025. Epub 2017 Mar 22.


In the past few decades, synthetic fragrance compounds have become ubiquitous components of personal care and household cleaning products. Overwhelming consumerism trends have led to the excess usage of these chemicals. It has been observed that this fragrance-laden unhealthy lifestyle runs parallel with the unprecedented rates of diabetes, cancer, neural ailments, teratogenicity, and transgender instances. The link between fragrances as and the multiplicity of pathogens remained latent for decades. However, now this health hazard and its role in homeostasis breakdown is getting attention. The adverse effects of the fragrance constituents as phthalates, paraben, glutaraldehyde, hydroperoxides, oil of turpentine, metals, nitro musks, and essential oils, among others, are being identified. The endocrine-immune-neural axis perturbation pathways of these chemicals are being proven. Despite the revelations of cause-effect nexus, a majority of the vulnerable populations are unaware and unmotivated to avoid these 'slow poisons'. Hence, the researchers need to further validate the toxicity of fragrance compounds, and raise awareness towards the health risks. In this regard, a number of pathologies triggered by fragrance exposure, yet proven only scantily have been hypothesized. Analysis of the health issues from multiple facets, including the pivotal 'stressors - extracellular acidosis - aromatase upregulation - estrogen hyperproduction - inflammation' link has been proposed. Fragrance compounds share configurational similarity with carcinogenic environmental hydrocarbons and they provoke the expression of cytochrome group monooxygenase enzyme aromatase. This enzyme aromatizes androgens to form estrogen, the powerful signaling hormone, which underlies the majority of morbidities. This holistic review with a repertoire of preliminary evidences and robust hypotheses is expected to usher in deserving extent of research on this pervasive health risk.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Depression; Endocrine disruptors; Gynecomastia; Synthetic fragrance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / physiopathology*
  • Endocrine System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Endocrine System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Perfume / poisoning*
  • Risk Factors


  • Perfume