Colognes and perfumes, as well as other fragrances in bath and beauty products, usually include a concentrate which is mixed into water. A highly water soluble product easily flows into streams and down into the ocean. Depending on which ingredients the fragrance uses, the fragrance can have a significant impact on the local fish and wildlife.
Compounds known as phthalates are present in many perfumes. According to the University of California, Irvine, phthalates serve as fixing agents in perfumes, so they ensure that the fragrance stays attached to the clothing or the skin of the person wearing it. Phthalates are also useful to plasticize materials such as polyvinyl chloride, and the famous smell of a new car is produced by phthalates on plastic parts inside the vehicle. Even small amounts of phthalates can affect reproductive organs, and tests on rats in higher doses did damage their livers and reproductive organs.
Benzyl acetate is another common perfume chemical. This fragrance is especially common when the perfume creates the smell of jasmine or ylang-ylang, according to Dickinson College. Benzyl acetate is not as water soluble as other compounds commonly found in perfume. This chemical is known to have irritant effects. It is produced naturally by jasmine and other flowers.
Laundry may contain several fragrances to reduce clothing odor. Researchers at the University of Washington studied detergents and air fresheners to determine which substances were present. Detergents and air freshener makers do not always list all of the chemicals that are present in the product. The researchers detected limonene, acetone, acetaldehyde, and chloromethane in this study, as well as other compounds that may present a risk.
Synthetic musks, which create many smells in household products, are also a problem. According to Stanford University, the musks reduce the effectiveness of the immune systems of abalone and other sea life found along the California coast. Japanese regulators banned musk xylene, one of the musks which endangered sea life. The University of California states that the musk is not considered directly toxic to the mussel, as it is the other chemicals which poison the mussel. This is concerning, since it implies that a perfume or cologne could be marketed as non toxic and still produce harmful effects on sea life.