Fragrances and Perfumes
Fragrances and perfumes are used in a large range of household products including cleaning products, laundry detergents, air fresheners, cosmetics, lotions, deodorants and sunscreens. Fragrances and perfumes contain a number of compounds that persist in the air after use. These include volatile organic compounds such as limonene, benzene, terpene, toluene and formaldehyde, and phthalates such as diethyl pththalate which is used to make perfumes last longer (Steinemann et al. 2019, Cowie et al. 2014). Increasing evidence shows that fragrances can exacerbate asthma. A landmark study across four countries found that 57% of people with asthma reported worse health effects when exposed to fragranced products, 25% experiencing an asthma exacerbation (Steinemann et al. 2019). The main sources of fragrance exposure were: someone in the near vicinity wearing a fragranced product (38%), air fresheners/deodorizers (37%), scented cleaning products (33%) and laundry product fragrance dissipating though the dryer vent (18%) (Steinemann et al. 2019).
Preventing exposure to fragrances and perfumes
Despite the potential for fragranced products to disproportionately affect people with asthma there are no laws in any country requiring the full disclosure of ingredients in products that are not food, cosmetics or pharmaceuticals, and subsequently most products do not list all the constituent chemicals (Dodson et al. 2012, Steinemann et al. 2019, Steinemann 2020). This makes it very difficult to reduce exposure. The best option is to avoid fragranced products and use products that are ‘fragrance-free’ whenever possible.
A review of fragranced laundry products found that switching from fragranced to fragrance-free laundry products can reduce dryer vent emissions of limonene by up to 99.7% (Goodman 2020). ‘Green or natural’ products may use substitutes for hazardous fragrances, however a study testing conventional and alternative household products found that while there were less of the known asthma-associated chemicals in the alternative products, they had been substituted with less well known chemicals that have not been well-tested, therefore the safety of these ‘green’ products for people with asthma is unknown (Dodson et al. 2012).
Asthma Australia has more information about minimising the effect of fragrances and perfumes here.
Spray Cleaning products
There is increasing evidence that use of spray cleaning products in the home can lead to asthma (Dumas & Le Moual 2020, Prasad et al. 2018, Zock et al. 2007). Sprays causing particular issues include glass-cleaning, furniture and air freshener sprays (Zock et al. 2007). The recent COVID-19 pandemic has led to a greater use of cleaners. A survey carried out by Asthma Australia found that 29% of people with asthma had increased asthma symptoms due to the increased use of cleaning products at work and home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is also some evidence to suggest that use of cleaning sprays during pregnancy may impact on the foetus, increasing the risk of wheeze and eczema in early life (Prasad et al. 2018).
An analysis of 28 substances in spray cleaning products found that the chemicals with the most potential to cause asthma are chloramine and benzalkonium chloride (Hadrup et al. 2022). Chloramine and benzalkonium chloride are found in cleaning products containing chlorine such as chlorine bleach, scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners and dishwasher detergents.
Preventing exposure to spray cleaners
It has been shown that cleaning products not applied as sprays do not lead to asthma (Zock et al. 2007). Following the advice of Asthma Australia it is recommended that pregnant women with asthma reduce their use of cleaning sprays where possible, replacing with non-spray alternatives. In particular, chlorine-based products are to be avoided.