Could Your Perfume Be Giving You Diabetes?

Researchers find a type of chemical used in perfumes, candles and other personal care products is linked to type 2 diabetes in adults.

April 15, 2012

New research suggests air freshener and scented candle chemicals increase adults' diabetes risk.

America's steady diet of processed foods full of excess calories and sugar is undoubtedly fueling the diabetes epidemic that costs the country millions every year. But researchers are starting to uncover this truth: It's not all about calories when it comes to the causes of diabetes.


In a new study, published online in the journal Diabetes Care, researchers show a link between diabetes in adults and a common chemical used in synthetic fragrances, candles, and even the plastic containers in which your food is stored. The chemical class in questions—phthalates—is already linked to a slew of other health problems, including autism, weight gain, infertility, and even some cancers.

In the latest research, scientists looked at about 1,000 adults and tested their blood for the presence of four types of phthalates. People with the highest blood levels of phthalates also had the highest blood sugar levels after fasting. Diabetes is a hormonal disease, and the hormone-disrupting phthalates appeared to disrupt hormone production in the participants.

Read More: What is a "Hormone Disruptor" Anyway?

Detox Your Personal Care Routine
Although phthalates are industrial chemicals, manufacturers are now putting them in everything from perfumes, soaps, and shampoos to makeup, deodorants, and hairspray. You likely won't find the term on the labels of these personal care products because the plasticizing chemicals are allowed to fall under the catchall terms "parfum" or "fragrance," terms that can indicate up to 7,000 chemicals. To find safer personal care products, avoid products listing "fragrance" or "parfum" on the ingredients list. Search Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to rate the safety of your current products and to find safer alternatives. Look for products in the low-risk range ranked 0 to 2.

Clear the air
Scented household products, including scented candles, air fresheners, and scented cleaners and laundry products, are also usually loaded with phthalates. To keep the plasticizing chemicals from contaminating your indoor air, choose beeswax candles for ambiance instead of scented paraffin ones—when burned, beeswax produces negative ions that actually clean the air. Also, select unscented household products whenever you can. Better yet, make your own homemade cleaning products.

Veto Vinyl
Vinyl plastic products also contain phthalates, so avoid vinyl shower curtains and instead use those made of natural materials like cotton or naturally antimicrobial hemp. If you're remodeling, choose more natural flooring in lieu of vinyl plastic flooring.

Read More: 12 Household Toxins You Should Banish from Your Home

Eat Organic
Previous research has detected phthalates in produce, possibly from phthalates commonly used in pesticide formulas. Since phthalates are in so many personal care products that we wash down the drain, including shampoo and soap, some experts believe the phthalates in produce are taken up from human sewage sludge, which can be used as a fertilizer on nonorganic crops.

Tags: diabetes