Project Description:

Why fragrances are a concern
Synthetic fragrances are largely made up of man-made substances manufactured from petrochemicals. They are used as additives in thousands of products including perfumes, soaps, detergents, and cleaners. Fragrance is not a single ingredient, but rather a term used to summarize a sub-set of chemical ingredients that together create appealing aromas. What is not appealing is that many of the chemicals used to create fragrances are toxic. Manufacturers are not required to disclose which specific chemicals are used to create the fragrances in their products as this is considered proprietary information. However, chemical analysis of fragrances has revealed that some ingredients are potentially hazardous as they contain substances known from occupational and animal studies to be carcinogens, developmental toxins, or neurotoxicants at higher exposure levels. Some ingredients can act as endocrine disruptors at exceedingly low levels.

Because of the very common use of fragrances by a large percentage of the population in everyday consumer products, there is a high potential for ongoing human exposure to many fragrance ingredients in complex mixtures. Human vulnerability to adverse health impacts from hazardous chemicals varies considerably (McKeown-Eyssen et al, 2004; Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and the Environment, 2005). While there is insufficient knowledge of their long term health impacts, many fragrance ingredients are known to be skin and respiratory irritants. Some ingredients are also sensitizers that can provoke allergic responses on future encounters with even very small amounts of those substances (Toxnet, 2010).

Symptoms triggered by exposure to fragrances can include rashes, headaches, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, feeling dull, groggy, or spacey, fatigue, watery eyes, runny, stuffy nose and sinuses, wheezing and shortness of breath (Neilson, 2001; Schnuch, 2002; Elberling, 2004, 2007; Caress and Steinemann, 2005).

Need for fragrance free programs and policies in health care
It is important for health care facilities to be cognizant of these short and long term fragrance health impacts, for the sake of patients, visitors, and staff. It is important that the indoor environments of hospitals and health care facilities be as free from hazardous substances as possible. Substances within fragrances that provoke asthma or trigger asthma attacks, asthmagens, are of particular concern to hospital staff. Hospitals have the highest reported rate of occupational asthma (Pechter et al., 2005). While chemical cleaners have been identified as the main culprits for this trend, many of these contain masking scents. Hospitals and other health care facilities should make a concerted effort to reduce all sources of asthmagens, including fragrances and scents.

What’s in this kit to assist you in raising awareness and developing a policy in your facility? In response to these health concerns, many hospitals have implemented fragrance/scent-free programs and policies for patients, visitors and staff. While enforcing these policies is sometimes challenging, there are effective steps a health care facility can take that are outlined in this kit. Learning from hospitals who have implemented fragrance/scent free programs and policies will help others to do the same.

This kit will help you to develop and successfully implement a Fragrance Free program and policy at your facility. The kit includes:

  • Success stories to share how other facilities have done it
  • Steps to develop your Fragrance Free program and policy
  • Information to develop a policy, and
  • How to increase awareness of Fragrance Free initiatives at your facility.


Project Timeline:

July 2009 – August 2010


Project Funders:

Ontario Trillium Foundation
YMCA Youth EcoInternship Program


Project Partners:

Health Care:
Women’s College Hospital – Toronto, ON
– Nancy Bradshaw, Community Outreach Coordinator, Ontario Environmental Health Clinic

Environmental Health Institute
– Dr. Lynn Marshall, President and Chair of the Board of the Environmental Health Institute of Canada, Member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and a Staff Physician at the Ontario Environmental Health Clinic, Women’s College Hospital, Toronto



1. Fragrance Free Implementation Kit for Health Care Facilities.
2. Presentations for Management (ppt) and Staff Orientation (ppt).

Please note: These presentations may be used by other organizations as long as the following recognition is included: “Provided by the Environmental Health Clinic at Women’s College Hospital”.

3. Fragrance Free Poster.

Please note: An adaptation of the Fragrance-Free poster may be designed and used in your facility, however, for permission to use this fragrance free policy, please contact Strategic Communications at Women’s College Hospital: