Barb Wilkie's EHN Website
Last updated 2008

EHN Board President Barb Wilkie was very ill from chemically-induced kidney disease for several years. She passed away May 31, 2011. EHN presents this site both as a tribute and as valuable information. Many links and references will be out of date but Barb's research holds up over time. We will be transferring the site page by page, with updated details, to EHN's main site. If you would like to reach an EHN staff person, please contact us directly.

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Fragrances and Aromatic Substances
should not be used indiscriminately indoors

Statement of the Committee on "Indoor Air Hygiene"
concerning the use of scents and aromatic substances

Permission to mirror, graciously granted by:
Umweltbundesamt/Federal Environmental Agency, Germany

The Federal Environmental Agency's Committee on "Indoor Air Hygiene" is warning against the rash use of aromatic substances indoors. These substances are marketed for the enhancement of well-being and to improve the quality of indoor air and are supplied in the form of sprays, gels, incense sticks or in extracts and liquids to be used with vaporisers. According to the committee which is made up of scientists from universities and Federal and L”nder authorities it cannot be ruled out that problems with health arise when scents and aromatic substances are used. Studies have shown that scents and aromatic substances may be one of the causes of allergies and general discomfort. As regards the assessment of aspects of health there are in part still major uncertainties and many open questions concerning most of all the fragrant substances made from natural essences. This is why people should consider carefully whether to apply scents and aromatic substances in order to mask, for instance, obnoxious odours or the stuffiness of indoor air. In order not to impair the health of sensitive people scents and aromatic substances should not be used in public buildings such as offices, department stores or cinemas.

The statement of the Committee on Indoor Air Hygiene of the Federal Environmental Agency reads as follows:

Since recently the direct use of fragrant substances is being increasingly advertised as a suitable means to improve the quality of indoor air and well-being. Apparently the market is expanding rapidly.

The consumers are offered a variety of formulations and products such as sprays, scent gels, perfumed candles, incense sticks and different types of extracts and liquids to be used in vaporisers. Aromatic substances are dispersed into the air of a room and, when present in relevant concentrations, will produce a certain impression of smell which is said to trigger positive mental associations. The subjective perception may range from "hardly noticeable" to "very strong".

Fragrances and aromatic substances are being applied first of all for the following purposes:

  • to provide a positive perception of objects: aromatic substances are employed, for instance, in cosmetics, ready-to-serve food products, household care and cleaning products and other products.


  • to influence personal well-being and performance: this refers to individual aroma therapies as well as to the dispersal of aromatic substances through the air conditioning systems in buildings.


  • to mask undesirable smells indoors: there is a broad range of products to conceal that the air in a room is bad; these include WC fresheners and pine needle spray.

Aromatic substances can be substances which are made synthetically as well as compounds occurring naturally. The latter are obtained either by extraction of natural produce, predominantly from plants, or they are also synthesised chemically in a form which is identical to the natural compound. However, in principle, the origin of these substances is not of particular importance for judging their characteristics in terms of health. The assessment of natural extracts in such terms is frequently associated with larger uncertainties than that of synthetic products since the latter usually are well-defined and constant in composition. Natural extracts, in contrast, can vary considerably in composition as well as in the relative concentration of the individual compounds they contain; this depends on the origin and on the conditions under which the raw materials have been grown, and how they have been processed, transported and stored. The use of both natural extracts as well as synthetic compounds has already been restricted previously on the basis of the results obtained in toxicological studies, i.e. either voluntarily by the manufacturers for certain applications or by the Government with the regulations contained in the ordinance on cosmetic products. Examples are synthetic musk compounds (e.g. musk-ambergris) and natural extracts like oak moss- or essence of bergamot.

Every user of aromatic substances should be aware of the fact that by using them additional chemical compounds are added to the pollutants which are present in the air anyway and on which often only limited influence can be taken. This goes directly against the basic recommendation to keep the concentration of avoidable airborne substances as low as possible indoors also which is aimed at reducing the likelihood of detrimental effects on health for reasons of prevention.

We consider it necessary that aromatic substances are applied only with sufficient knowledge about possibly undesired side effects. We recommend to observe the following points:


  1. It is recommended not to use vaporisers (e.g. lights for teapot warmers or the like) which make use of essences, perfume oils and other liquids, in order to prevent increasing unnecessarily the concentration of the substances getting into the air of the room.


  2. If, in spite of this, aromatic substances are intended to be used in a room this should only be done with the consent of everybody using the room, simply in order to avoid any discomfort. It is advised against dispersing aromatic substances throughout the building in air conditioning systems, especially if the users of the room(s) are unaware of this. Since it can be safely assumed that public buildings such as department stores, cinemas, etcetera, are also being frequented by sensitive or already sensitised persons it is urgently recommended not to apply aromatic substances there, in line with the principles of consumer protection.


  3. If people are complaining about allergies, general discomfort and unspecific symptoms aromatic substances should also be considered as one of the possible causes. In case of doubt the people concerned should refrain from using aromatic substances altogether.


  4. It is urgently advised against employing aromatic substances to mask the stuffiness of the air in a room. It is more important to uncover the cause for this and remove possible sources of bad smells. Obnoxious smells which cannot be avoided to occur for short periods should be toned down by airing the room sufficiently.


  5. Formulations and products containing aromatic substances should always be stored and used outside the reach of children. The perception of attractive colours and smells can induce children to take the items into their mouths and ingest them ('candy effect') - with the possible risk of poisoning.

Berlin, April 14, 2000

EHN thanks
Umweltbundesamt/Federal Environmental Agency, Germany



To see an industry ad, "Common Sense about scents," visit
Scented Product Education and Information Association of Canada (SPEIAC)

Notice their line: "They contain primarily water and alcohol --
of the same type and purity we drink in beverages . . ."

Now visit the Citizens' Petition currently before the US Food and Drug Administration


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perfume, fragrances -- The Environmental Health Network (EHN) [of California] is a 501 (c) (3) non profit agency and offers support and information for the chemically injured. Learn about the toxicity of fragrances from the work of Julia Kendall and Betty Bridges, RN, get The BEST of the Reactor, join EHN and receive The New Reactor. See what influence the Chemical Manufacturers have had against those of us with EI. The URL for this page is