Lighting a scented candle at the end of a long day brings a soothing vibration to the room. There's nothing better than relaxing at home, wrapped in the scent of great smelling candle!
But is it good for you? What if your family home is being filled with a fragrance oil that is hazardous to human health?
What Are Phthalates?
Phthalates (pronounced tha-lates) are a group of chemical compounds. There are hundreds of phthalates used across many industries. Some are used as solvents in plastics manufacturing to make plastic more flexible. They are also used in pharmaceuticals, household goods, and the cleaning industry.
For reassurance we look to the FDA (and TGA in Australia), which regulate listings of cosmetic ingredients. However, businesses are expected only to simply mention the term ‘fragrances’ on labelling, instead of the full list of ingredients. Fragrance houses do this to preserve trade secrets - which is ironic since reverse engineering enables fragrance houses to analyse and mimic any fragrance.
For even more reassurance, we look to a watchdog type government agency. However, the fragrance industry is regulated by the industry’s own international body, IFRA, also known as The International Fragrance Association and its research arm, the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM).
There is an obvious conflict of interest here - like the fox guarding the henhouse. This raises questions as to whether studies have been presented in a skewed light to benefit fragrance manufacturers.
Although RIFM claim they also make use of an autonomous expert panel to review fragrance ingredient safety, the RIFM expert panel operates behind closed doors, and is not subject to public oversight. In a recent report released by national women’s health non-profit Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) Unpacking the Fragrance Industry: Policy Failures, the Trade Secret Myth and Public Health, the author, Alexandra Scranton, notes that
“There is no independent review of laboratory practices, appropriate controls, levels of significance or any of the hallmarks of authoritative science... There is no evidence that the RIFM panel has reviewed the safety of several of the most controversial fragrance ingredients, such as hormone-disrupting phthalates and musks or carcinogens, including styrene and pyridine, in the last 30-40 years...”
DEP: Phthalate Used In Fragrance
The phthalate that most concerns us in our industry is DEP. IFRA has indicated that the phthalate diethyl phthalate (DEP) is used commonly in fragrance. It’s effective and inexpensive.
To make fragrance, one has to have a solvent. DEP is a solvent which enables materials, which otherwise couldn’t merge, to blend, to dissolve raw materials, and increase hot throw. Without using DEP, fragrance manufacturers would have to rely upon ingredients such as vegetable oils, which aren’t as effective.
Phthalates have a reputation for being dangerous. Ongoing research has demonstrated they can impact human health negatively, as endocrine disruptors, linked to heightened risk of breast cancer, and causing fertility problems. Other industries such as the toy industry have banned their use because of toxicity, and yet they continue to be used in fragrance.
Unlike phthalates in kids’ toys, however, no scientific investigations to date have produced evidence of DEP, specifically, being toxic in fragrance when used as candles. But the term 'phthalates' incorporates many other phthalates that have indeed been shown to be toxic. For example, DBP (dibutyl phthalate), DEHP (diethyl hexyl phthalate), and DMP (dimethyl phthalate). Fragrance oils don’t contain any of these.
IFRA published a statement in 2005 declaring that DEP is safe for fragrance.
The World Health Organization (WHO) published a document (Concise International Chemical Assessment Document) about DEP, indicating that there were no problems with it in regards to human health.
Should We Avoid Using Fragrance Oils Altogether For Candles?
If you’re thinking that using pure essential oils is the way to go, that can be problematic too.
Essential oils are far more expensive that fragrance oils, and rely upon trade relationships, crops and weather. Essential oils also cannot provide the variety that fragrance oils can. For example, there is no such thing as vanilla essential oil, or a strawberry essential oil.
Why We Only Sell Phthalate-Free Fragrance Oil
In so many cases throughout history, something may have appeared to be safe, until it was shown not to be. Many phthalates that were once approved for use are now banned. We don’t want to take that risk with DEP.
Perhaps if candles were burned in well-ventilated spaces that would be reassuring, but we have no control once fragrances leave our premises. The idea of customers cooped up in garages with doors closed, manufacturing candles with DEP- filled fragrance oil is a concern. Again, the burning of candles or use of DEP fragranced products around children and pets is worrying.
Until there is an unbiased government body, federal and state legislation that requires ingredient disclosure in a regulated industry, we'd rather be proactive, and err on the side of caution with our range of phthalate free fragrance oils.