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Smell Of Autism - Synthetic Fragrances And Cause For Allergies, Asthma, Cancer, And Autism

Perfumes can contain toxins or harmful chemicals that may cause autism. More studies should be made about synthetic fragrances and autism to further explore the link between the two.

Author:Suleman Shah
Reviewer:Han Ju
Feb 12, 2024401 Shares13.3K Views
Is there a connection between synthetic fragrances and autism?
The widely believed notion that autism is genetically conveyed to the next generation has been seriously disputed.
The recent sequencing of the exomes of autistic children and each of their biological parents, as part of recent trio investigations, cast serious doubt on this paradigm.
Rather, environmental causation seems to have greater explanatory power.
The link between autism spectrum disorder and exposure to toxic ingredients in perfumes, even at minute (femtomolar) levels, has been suggested by recent scholarship.
Scents are known to have the capacity to reach the brain, including the brain of a fetus, whose mother uses perfume that derives from synthetic scents made from mutagenic chemicals.
The aim of this review was to discuss synthetic fragrances and causes for allergies, asthma, cancer, and autism.

Preliminary Discussion

For hundreds of thousands of years humankind has adored fragrances from flowers, fruits, and living organisms.
This co-evolution of civilization and fragrances has created a balance between humans and their environment, which means natural chemicals do not harm humans.
This adoration of pleasant scents developed into an art form as humans devised methods to capture perfumes and store them in bottles so that they could smell their captured odor year around.
The world’s age-old fascination with fragrance has resulted in the capacity to capture and preserve scents that promote pleasant, beautiful and positive sensory perceptions.
At least that is what the term fragrance has come to connote. In the mid-1900s, several counter-evolutionary events emerged.
Chemists began to synthesize perfumes and fragrances by utilizing benzene-ring-based petrochemicals. Tragically, benzene is a known mutagen and carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent.
Initially, perfumes were combinations of natural oils and synthetic compounds created in a laboratory.
Gradually, most natural fragrances were replaced by their synthetic imitations; thus, perfume production has become more dependent on the scientific laboratory, where outcomes are certain, than on the natural world, where outcomes are not certain.
These fragrances have now become part of our lives so much that they are now an essential part of our everyday lives, forming a part of household items where they are not needed, including:
hair productscosmetics
car and house freshenersfood flavors
Since synthetic perfumes are unnatural and do not have the beneficial effects of natural fragrances at the molecular level, their use has a deleterious effect on human immune systems causing many allergic reactions, such as sneezing and watery eyes, which constrict both bronchial tubes and pocketbooks.
Profits reaped by corporates that manufacture synthetic perfumes come with a heavy price, higher prevalence of asthma and respiratory illnesses.
Ironically, talented marketing professionals have led modern consumers by the nose to such an extent that fragrances have become an environmental hazard to a large segment of the population and have become a menace to children in particular.
This review summarizes some of the subjective concerns and attempts to date that have brought greater objective scrutiny to the debate over the safety of components used in the imprecise objects called fragrances.
A major challenge surrounding the use of such termsas fragrance or perfume is the elusive imprecision that cloaks them in what can be dangerous evasions of transparent labeling.
It may make good marketing sense, and of course dollars, to describe how chemicals will impart a tropical rainforest smell to a teen’s hair or a fresh smell to a baby’s skin, but there must be understandable substance to product descriptions in addition to clever phrases.
A product that invokes the imagery of tropical rainforests should contribute positively to human lungs, eyes, and skin rather than unleashing products that cause asthma, allergies, eczema, or cause autism in the unborn fetus, when an expecting mother is inhaling some of the most toxic chemicals found in fragrances.
Surely the term fresh should not mask carcinogens and fetal-brain-altering chemicals that threaten unborn, infants or humans of any age.

Main Discussion

Fragrance is a seemingly innocuous term added to healthand beauty products. Ultimately, this mysterious term may actually undermine both health and beauty.
Fragrance is a common euphemism for an undisclosed blend of chemical ingredients drawn from an arsenal comprised of about 3,100 total ingredients. For example:
  • “musky” may increase sales
  • “exotic” may attract customers
  • “floral” may sound beautifully natural
However, these terms may also conceal the existence of petrochemicals and other synthetic chemicals that, when blended with natural ingredients, can form dangerous cocktails of fragrance.
In a careful recent study of 17 name-brand products, 38 different chemicals were unidentified.
Here are some interesting data collected:
a. Seventy Seven by American Eagle Outfitters (AEO)
It conceals over three times that amount and outdid all 16 other name-brand products.
b. Eternity for Men
This Calvin Klein perfume has more covert chemicals than Eternity for Women. To produce its enticing fragrance, Eternity for Men veils 14 chemicals.
c. Coco Chanel
It comes in second with 18 hidden ingredients.
d. Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue
It hides the fewest number of fragrance ingredients from the public (n = 7).
e. Dream Angels Wish by Victoria’s Secret
It has 13 hidden fragrance chemicals.
Among the other culpable popular fragrances were:
  • Curious by Britney Spears
  • Fierce by Abercrombie & Fitch
  • Quicksilver
So, what are some of these chemicals that are found in the majority of these fragrances?
These include:
alpha-pinenediethyl phthalate
benzyl benzoatemusk ketone
butylated hydroxytolueneoctinoxate (octyl methoxycinnamate or OMC)
Many are known mutagens/carcinogens and may cause alterations in human fetal brain development.
One of the saddest situations is that after the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Springin 1962, the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in December 1970, and the protests staged by hundreds of environmental activist groups against DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and many other insecticides and chemicals, the fragrance industry realized that they need to find a way to limit any lawsuits resulting from adverse effects of fragrances.
Therefore, in 1973, American lawmakers passed the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), exempting fragrance makers from declaring the list of ingredients that form part of the fragrances created.
Fragrance concealment is not illegal and is often used by the industry to hide from the public the full list of ingredients, including substances that can cause grave health problems, including breast cancer and autism.
We have recently provided evidence, obtained from Ames test analysis of fetal brain cell lines, that exposure to femtomolar concentrations of various perfumes leads to mutagenesis and neuromodulations in human fetal brain cells.
The NPD Group reported that the annual global perfume industry sales revenue reached $27.5 billion in 2011, and it was most likely an underestimation.
In response to public concern over the impact of chemicals on cancer levels, the President’s Cancer Panel issued in 2010 a report on the risks of cancer from chemicals.
Their main conclusion was troubling:
There is a positive correlation between environmental chemicals and cancer rates.- President’s Cancer Panel - 2010 report
Given that many chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens, it should come as little surprise that such is the case.
Of particular note in the 2010 publication was the assertion that the number of cancer cases that were environmentally prompted had been vastly underestimated.
Benzene, commonly an ingredient in synthetic fragrance products, was of particular concern.
Despite concerns over the safety of fragrances for humans, their use is on the rise, not declining.
We hypothesize that one of the major reasons for the alarming rise in autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the rise in use of fragrances.
It should be noted that autism used to be a relatively rare disease at the turn of the 20th century, but it has now been found that 1 out of 88 children is suffering from ASD.
Again, this may be an underestimate.
Since a neonate’s brain is still developing after birth, we should expect a rise in other neurological but related conditions, such as:
  • regressive autism
  • attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
For example, a child is born normal but begins to show signs of autism after 18 months or later.
ASD is a developmental condition characterized by:
  • deficits in social interaction
  • deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication
  • obsessive/stereotyped patterns of behavior
In addition, there is evidence of impoverished language and empathy and a profound inability to adopt another’s viewpoint - a failure to construct a “theory of mind” for interpreting another person’s thoughts and intentions.
Although there is no reliable neurophysiological marker associated with ASDs, dysfunction of the olfactory bulb (OB) and mirror neuron system (MNS) has been documented.
The bars shown in the picture below indicate periods when organs are most sensitive to damage from teratogenic agents.
A chart on critical periods in human development, with a drawing of a blue child from fetus to infant
A chart on critical periods in human development, with a drawing of a blue child from fetus to infant
It is noteworthy that most of the research literature does not mention development of the olfactory system.
The brain starts developing 18 days after fertilization, and many times, mothers who become pregnant do not know they are pregnant until after a few weeks have passed.
Therefore, mothers who are exposed to certain synthetic fragrances, either through inhalation and epidermal exposure, and food-flavor chemicals, through ingestion (e.g., teas, chewing gum, and other food flavors), may put their embryo at risk without even knowing it.
It may seem counterintuitive but humans do not always make rational choices.
Even though they are almost always well-informed to make logical decisions, they do not always do so.
Fragrances are significant in producing not only perfumes but also detergents, foods, drugs, hygienic items, household products, solvents, and industrial greases.
Public policy responses show sufficient sensitivity towards problems posed by fragrances, but only in limited instances.
Some hospitals and government offices have limited the use of scents in their premises.
Those wearing fragrances are not allowed to enter the Oklahoma City Hall in Tuttle. The city of Portland in Oregon has requested that custodians utilize cleaning products that are unscented and prohibits city employees from wearing fragrances.
Consistent with its policy for other employees, resident physicians in South Carolina’s Palmetto Health System have been instructed that fragrances are not to be worn during work time.
These fragrances include but not limited to:
  • aftershaves
  • colognes
  • perfumes
The policy has a well-founded rationale: fragrances are a potential cause of allergic reactions in coworkers and patients.
Such a trend in public policy is understandable, especially since it has been found out that a number of ingredients in fragrances have either been inadequately analyzed or regulated.
These are not new concerns but analysis and regulation seem to have not kept pace with aggressive marketing and sales pitches carried out to promote synthetic scents in the marketplace.
In 1986, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences identified the category “fragrances” as one of the six areas that should receive high priority in the field of neurotoxicity testing.
The remaining categories were:
food additivesselected air pollutants
heavy metalssolvents
It is definitely a matter of concern that synthetic petroleum-based compounds accounted for as much as 95% of the chemicals from which fragrances derive their desirable scents.
If a product is advertised directly and openly, revealing the potential harms associated with a perfumed product, sales would likely plummet, particularly if it were reported to consist of carcinogens known to:
  • cause autism
  • cause birth defects
  • trigger allergic responses
  • harm the central nervous system
What would happen to sales if labels were to openly mention the presence of carcinogenic ingredients, alerting the public about the dangers these fragrance ingredients can cause?
These cancer-causing ingredients include:
benzene derivativeslimonene
Concerns about neurotoxicity have been raised over the inclusion of ingredients, such as:
  • 1-Butanol
  • 2-Butanol
  • acetyl ethyl tetramethyl tetralin (AETT)
  • hexachlorophene
  • isobutanol
  • musk ambrette (2,4-dinitro-6-t-butyl-3-methylanisole)
  • t-butyl toluene
  • tert-Butanol (tBA)
  • zinc pyrithione
Testicular atrophy has been observed in lab tests with animals, as has neurotoxicity (demyelinating disease).
Nerve damage is an obvious threat when the myelin sheath, which shields nerves from damage. Time does not bring the regeneration one might hope for because the myelin sheath is not capable of regeneration.
The EPA code regulations aim to protect the population from hazardous practices and substances, including:
benzyl benzoatemethylene chloride
butylated hydroxytoluenemethyl ethyl ketone
ethanolmethyl isobutyl ketone
Each of these hazardous substances, according to code, is to be disposed of according to prescribed hazardous waste disposal guidelines. Ironically, each of them has been found in fragrances.
Throughout American history, time and time again, the government has regulated industry practices to protect the general public.
Self-regulation by businesses themselves has made its contributions, but the potential for self-interested self-regulation and for unethical collusion are very real in a capitalistic society.
Yet greater federal regulation of fragrances seems in order.
A report by the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stated that from a partial list of 2,983 fragrance chemicals, some 884 were identified as toxic.
If such toxins were smeared on a person’s skin involuntarily, a lawsuit may be brought.
Ironically, individuals seeking to wear the scent of success and popularity inadvertently may be damaging their or other people’s central nervous system.
An unborn fetus who has inhaled a single breath of air can get affected by these toxins that will never allow him/her to be protected against “these wonderful fragrances” that kill olfactory neurons.
As a result of this exposure to hazardous fragrances, a child will never know the smell of them in his/her entire lifesince the exposure had killed his/her neurons that would have developed into smell-recognizing senses.
Two outlines of a human head and each with a drawing of a brain, and real human hands, with one holding a perfume
Two outlines of a human head and each with a drawing of a brain, and real human hands, with one holding a perfume
Awareness of the potential negative side effects of perfumes is growing.
In January 2013, a team from the Department of Cardiology at Kasturba Hospital (Manipal, Karnataka, India) reported an unusual situation: a hospitalized dental patient suffered from a totally unexpected case of cardiac arrest and succumbed on the ninth day of hospitalization due to sepsis.
They concluded that some poison, perhaps from a hand sanitizer, had triggered the peculiar anaphylactic reactions.
Suspecting the role of potential toxins in this case, doctors found that a commonly used hand sanitizer had perfume added to isopropyl alcohol and glycerin.
In a study of 256 Turkish university students regarding barriers to sleep, as much as 53.1% mentioned “room scents (sweat, perfume, humidity, naphthalene, etc.).”
Advertisers have been creative in their use of advertisement strips scented with cologne or perfume.
They have paid greater attention to profits than to the adverse effects such strips might have on persons allergic to their products, including asthma patients; for example, can the inhalation of perfume embedded in magazine scent strips exacerbate asthma?
A research team headed by P. Kumar found the answer to be yes.
Following perfume challenges, one in five (20.7%) of the asthmatic patients they tested experienced wheezing and tightness in the chest.
Asthmatic exacerbations of some sort were experienced by 36% of patients suffering from severe asthma, with declining yet still troubling rates for those with moderate asthma (17%) and mild asthma (8%).
Scented strips can obstruct airways, particularly in those who are already asthmatic.
We maintain that fragrances should be studied for their potential effects on the molecular pathogenesis of ASD.


There are numerous hypotheses and thousands of articles published in peer-reviewed journals, defining the illnesses associated with and potential causes of ASD.
However, numerous investigations into the genetic basis of ASD have only limited definitive associations.
We hypothesized that a better understanding of the interplay between genes and environment should speed up the progress in the field of ASD.
In particular, the development of OB and MNS, which are generally found to be underdeveloped in the brain of autistic children, can be investigated in the context of fetal development.
Of note, the whole maternal-fetal unit is a highly integrated metabolic, endocrine, neuropeptides, and neurodevelopment co-system and is influenced by environmental factors.
Therefore, the fetal-brain development must be explored in light of brain-modulating factors to which the pregnant mothers are exposed during their pregnancies, and this may provide us clues to the etiology of ASD.
This article brings forth a new way of looking at the pathogenesis of ASD and the role of fragrances, which are found in every part of modern society and may be an important contributing factor in ASD.
These chemicals may be harmful to the developing fetal brain and to adults (e.g., it may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases).
Most of the fragrances have a benzene ring as a base and are petrochemical in nature, which may be a cause of cancers, severe asthma, obesity, and other neurological illnesses.
The occurrence of these ailments can increase corresponding to an increase in the usage of synthetic fragrances.
Our hypothesis combined mutagenic and neurodevelopmental aspects of perfumes, and it proposed to determine the mechanisms by which environmental factors such as perfumes and other fragrances can modulate the neurodevelopmental pathways, taking into account the roles of hormones and neuropeptides that may cause male gender bias.
Therefore, there is a strong relation between synthetic fragrances and autism.
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Suleman Shah

Suleman Shah

Suleman Shah is a researcher and freelance writer. As a researcher, he has worked with MNS University of Agriculture, Multan (Pakistan) and Texas A & M University (USA). He regularly writes science articles and blogs for science news website and open access publishers OA Publishing London and Scientific Times. He loves to keep himself updated on scientific developments and convert these developments into everyday language to update the readers about the developments in the scientific era. His primary research focus is Plant sciences, and he contributed to this field by publishing his research in scientific journals and presenting his work at many Conferences. Shah graduated from the University of Agriculture Faisalabad (Pakistan) and started his professional carrier with Jaffer Agro Services and later with the Agriculture Department of the Government of Pakistan. His research interest compelled and attracted him to proceed with his carrier in Plant sciences research. So, he started his Ph.D. in Soil Science at MNS University of Agriculture Multan (Pakistan). Later, he started working as a visiting scholar with Texas A&M University (USA). Shah’s experience with big Open Excess publishers like Springers, Frontiers, MDPI, etc., testified to his belief in Open Access as a barrier-removing mechanism between researchers and the readers of their research. Shah believes that Open Access is revolutionizing the publication process and benefitting research in all fields.
Han Ju

Han Ju

Hello! I'm Han Ju, the heart behind World Wide Journals. My life is a unique tapestry woven from the threads of news, spirituality, and science, enriched by melodies from my guitar. Raised amidst tales of the ancient and the arcane, I developed a keen eye for the stories that truly matter. Through my work, I seek to bridge the seen with the unseen, marrying the rigor of science with the depth of spirituality. Each article at World Wide Journals is a piece of this ongoing quest, blending analysis with personal reflection. Whether exploring quantum frontiers or strumming chords under the stars, my aim is to inspire and provoke thought, inviting you into a world where every discovery is a note in the grand symphony of existence. Welcome aboard this journey of insight and exploration, where curiosity leads and music guides.
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