The Undisclosed Dangers of Artificial Scent

By Betsey Silvester, Founder & CEO 2XChromosome

A few years ago, before the 2XChromosome brand was created, I purchased a package of nationally recognized sanitary pads from a large retail pharmacy chain. Even though I had never bought this brand before, the label described a product that appeared to meet all of my requirements. 

A few days later, when I opened the package, I got quite a surprise. What is that smell? The pads themselves had a distinctive, unpleasant odor, as if the manufacturer was trying to achieve a powder fresh scent but, instead, created a scent akin to month-old, wilted roses that was borderline offensive. I searched the product package, quite certain I never saw any mention of the pads being scented. I was correct – the label did not contain any reference to scent or fragrance and no ingredients were listed at all. 

This one experience raised many questions. Why are there no ingredients at all listed on the package? How can fragrance not be listed on the label and is this legal? Why is this noxious scent being intentionally added to a period product? Does the manufacturer think women like this odor? And cynically, I wondered, is it being added to shame women into thinking they smell badly during their period?

My research indicates that the simple word “fragrance” is a catch-all term that can describe a myriad of synthetic chemicals. And manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients contained in fragrance, as these chemical cocktails are considered proprietary information, an actual trade secret that should not be disclosed to the public. This corporate loophole also extends to the practice of simply not listing fragrance on the package, in cases where additional synthetic scent is added to a product for the purpose of disguising noxious chemical smells that result as a byproduct of the manufacturing process. 

Further reading about the types of chemicals contained in artificial scent indicates that these substances include phthalates, parabens, volatile organic compounds (VOC), benzene derivatives, petroleum derivatives, toluene, styrene, and aldehydes, a class of chemicals that includes formaldehyde. These chemicals negatively impact human health. As just a few examples, the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) classifies benzene as a human carcinogen. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, and exposure to them has been linked to breast cancer and fetal developmental issues. The list of side effects, allergic reactions, diseases, and examples of a lower quality of life are seemingly endless.

Artificial scent is commonly found in all types of household products including laundry soap, dryer sheets, plug-in fragrance diffusers, fabric sprays, and air fresheners. Chemical fragrance also hides in kitchen garbage bags, hand soap, and common household cleaning products. 

Unfortunately, artificial scent is included in many popular brand name menstrual products. Whether under the guise of helping women “stay fresh” during their period or to covertly cover up the smell of chemicals used in manufacturing, these chemicals are being put in some period products without adequate label disclosures. Additionally, some menstrual products are sold with unnecessary deodorants, usually containing artificial scent, sometimes labeled as a “Sport” brand or targeted to a younger buyer. These ethically questionable marketing tactics attempt to link menstruation with being unclean, as they indicate that one’s reproductive anatomy somehow requires special deodorization. 

A proponent of the reduction of chemicals, Susan Scott, R.N. tells 2XChromosome that the vagina is self-cleaning and does not require any perfume to make it “clean,” and chemicals in artificially scented products can potentially impact the body’s natural bacteria and pH balance. I have heard, anecdotally, from a few women that said they believe that scented period products themselves were actually creating the false impression that they had body odor; when they switched to unscented products, the odor that they noticed had disappeared. In today’s world we must all be educated and proactive consumers – read the labels, insist on natural or organic products, and return items that do not meet our expectations – especially when it comes to period products. I have high expectations as a consumer, and some would just call me super picky so, when I started 2XChromosome, I knew I needed to create period products that were free of artificial scents, deodorants, and perfumes. We work very closely with our manufacturing partners to ensure that these chemical scents, as well as chlorine and dioxin, never end up in our products. And, in further commitment to transparency, every ingredient is listed on our labels. 

Global Health Solutions

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