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Tests for hormone disruption

Puberty is  triggered by hormone changes as girls and boys get older.  In the past, puberty in girls generally began around the age of 12 or 13.  More and more often now,  puberty is starting to happen to girls as young as 8.  This has many negative health ( and social and psychological) implications.


Some kinds of cancers (for example certain kinds of breast cancers) are linked to the production of sex hormones such as estrogen.  The more estrogen, the greater the risk. Many of the ingredients of fragrance (particularly the fragrances in detergent, the synthetic musks) have been found to be powerful "mimics" of estrogen and other hormones.  The body can't tell the difference between real estrogen, produced naturally in the body in appropriate amounts, and the chemical.  The effect is that the body is responding to a very much greater amount of the hormone than nature intended.


Many tests (some are referenced below) have shown that these chemicals accumulate in the body - because they mimic natural substances, the body doesn't flush them out.  The chemicals accumulate in many parts of the body, including the liver, the blood and fatty tissue.  They accumulate especially strongly in human breast tissue.   The milk that those breasts produce also accumulates the synthetic hormones, which means that the babies who drink that milk get a very large amount of them. 

Over the last few decades, hormone-linked cancers have become much more common. 

Interaction of polycyclic musk and UV Filter with the estrogen Receptor (ER), Androgen Receptor (AR) and Progesterone Receptor (PR) in Reporter Gene Bioassays.” Shreurs, RH,Sonneveld E, Jansen J, Seinen W,van der burg B at Utrecht University. The full test can be read in Toxicological Sciences, vol 83, no 2.

Two important ingredients of personal care products, namely polycyclic musk fragrances and UV filters, can be found in the environment and in humans. …We assessed the interaction of five polycyclic musk compounds and seven UV filters with the estrogen receptor (ER), Adrogen receptor (AR) and Progesterone (PR) receptor. Four polycyclic musks were found to be antagonists to words the ER, the AR and the PR. Octyl methocycinnamate (OMC) showed potent PR antagonism. … the anti-progestagenic effects of the polycyclic musks AHMA and AHTN were detectd at concentrates as low as 0.01uM. The activity of anti-progestagenic xenbiota at low concetrations indicate the need to undertake more research to find out about the endocrine [hormone] disrupting effects of these compounds in vivo.”

Take-home message: a common fragrance ingredient, polycyclic musk, had effects on sex-hormone receptors. Very low levels of the ingredient caused this effect.

In vitro and invivo antiestrogenic effects of Polycylic musks in Zebrafish” Schreurs, R and others, Utrecht University. the full study can be read at Environmental Science Technology, 2004, 38(4), 997-1002.

The polycyclic musks 6-acetyl- (AHTN) and another, HHCB, are used as fragrance ingredients in perfumes, soaps and household cleaning products. They accumulate in fish [and in human tissue]. Previous studies showed that these substances exert an antiestrogenic effect [they block the production or use of estrogen, a female sex hormone] on two human estrogen recepters in vitro (that is, in a test tube rather than a person). This test tested the antiestrogenic qualities of the musks in vitro (that is, on living creatures] on zebrafish [for ethical reasons these tests can’t be done on humans]. Antiestrogenic effects were observed . The tests also showed that the fish had concentrated the substances within their bodies about 600 times greater than the normal test doses.

Take-home message: zebrafish accumulate synthetic musks in their bodies in high amounts. These synthetic musks have been shown to cause hormone disruption in human cells in vitro [in a test-tube] and in zebra fish in vivo [living fish].

( Human tissue as well as fish accumulates synthetic musks, with their anti-estrogenic effects – and many breast cancers involve estrogen receptors.)


Here’s a selection of other peer-reviewed studies about the health effects of fragrance. Searching the relevant literature will reveal many more.

Elberling, J., Skov, P. S., Mosbech, H., Holst, H., Dirksen, A., Johansen,

J. D. (2007) 'Increased release of histamine in patients with respiratory

symptoms related to perfume', Clin Exp Allergy 37(11):1676-80

Summary: "Perfume induces a dose-dependent non-IgE-mediated release of histamine from human peripheral blood basophils. Increased basophil reactivity to perfume was found in patients with respiratory symptoms related to perfume."


Some more references to the large body of scientific literature about fragrance and health: 


Hagvall, L., Sköld, M., Bråred-Christensson, J., Börje, A., Karlberg, A.T.

(2008) 'Lavender oil lacks natural protection against autoxidation, forming strong contact allergens on air exposure' Contact Dermatitis 59(3):143-50

Summary: "Air-exposed lavender oil can be an important source of exposure to allergenic hydroperoxides."


Lessenger JE. (2001) 'Occupational acute anaphylactic reaction to assault by perfume spray in the face.' J Am Board Fam Pract. 14(2):137-40.

Lignell, S., Darnerud, P.O., Aune, M., Cattingius, S., Hajslova, J., Setkova, L., Glynn, A. (2008)

'Temporal trends of synthetic musk compounds in mother's milk and associations with personal use of perfumed products.'

Environ Sci Technol. 42(17):6743-8

Summary: "Women with a high use of perfume during pregnancy had elevated milk concentrations of HHCB, and elevated concentrations of AHTN were observed among women reporting use of perfumed laundry detergent. This strongly suggests that perfumed products are important sources of musk exposure both among the mothers and the nursed infants."


Millqvist E, Bengtsson U, Lowhagen O. 'Provocations with perfume in the eyes

induce airway symptoms in patients with sensory hyperreactivity.' Allergy, 1999 May;54(5):495-9.

Summary: "Asthma-like and other symptoms, such as irritation of the eyes, may be induced by exposure of both the airways and the eyes in patients with sensory hyperreactivity. This points to the importance of studying the sensory nervous system, not only in the airways, but also in other organs."

Caress, SM & Steinemann, AC (2009) 'Prevalence of fragrance sensitivity in the American population.' J Environ Health 71(7):46-50.

Summary: "a considerable segment of the American population has adverse reactions to fragranced products, with 30.5% reporting that scented products on others are irritating, 19% experiencing headaches, breathing difficulties, and other problems from air fresheners or deodorizers, and 10.9% being irritated by the scent of laundry products, fabric softeners, or dryer sheets that are vented outside."


Thyssen J.P., Linneberg A., Menné T., Johansen J.D. (2007) 'The epidemiology

of contact allergy in the general population-prevalence and main findings.'

Contact Dermatitis 57(5):287-99.

Summary: "The most prevalent contact allergens were nickel, thimerosal, and fragrance mix."

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