VOCs. This should be a commonly known name. You can find them in every room of your home. They are in office buildings, supermarkets, playgrounds, and schools.
Do you know what I’m talking about?
What are VOCs?
VOC stands for volatile organic compounds. The EPA classifies them as: “emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids.”
Sometimes they smell. Sometimes they don’t.
They are in paints, household cleaners, air fresheners, candles, dry cleaning, degreasers, gasoline, some fragrance, shampoos, soaps, and even cosmetics.
If you ever wondered how products can hold on to scents for 8-10 hours, or emit continuous scents (like air fresheners), the answer is VOCs. Each time you catch a whiff of that scent, you are likely smelling a VOC.
Even “green” or “natural” products can contain harmful levels of VOCs. These products often have extra ingredients (normally in their fragrances) that contain VOCs. (Read more: INDOOR AIR QUALITY: Scented Products Emit a Bouquet of VOCs)
The scary part: we don’t know the long term effects of VOCs. Even more scary: “level of VOCs indoors is generally two to five times higher than the level of VOC’s outdoors” (Minnesota DOH).
So why are these levels so high? Why the increase of indoor VOC levels?
It’s from the products we use.
The bad news: there is no safe level of VOC exposure.
While we know some of the risks associated with VOCs, the long term effects have yet to be studied.
Currently, the U.S. does not regulate the ingredients in fragrance. The ingredients in individual fragrances are considered “trade secrets” and are therefore not public knowledge.
However, there is a danger here. When you do not know what the ingredients are, you do not know what substances you are putting on your body. You could be lathering up with ANYTHING!
In a University of Washington study, 25 popular air fresheners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, disinfectants, dish detergents, all-purpose cleaners, soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorants, and shampoos were studied. Of those 25 products, there was found 133 VOCs. Of those 133 VOCS, only: “ethanol was listed on any label (for 2 products), and only ethanol and 2-butoxyethanol were listed on any Material Safety Data Sheet” (Read more: INDOOR AIR QUALITY: Scented Products Emit a Bouquet of VOCs).
So that’s 131 VOCs that went unlisted!!!
Before I start sounding crazy, I want to tell you about something I recently experienced.
For months, I had been having profound shortness of breath and dizziness. It happened unexpectedly, at random times, and lasted 10-15 minutes. I checked everything from my blood sugar to my thyroid. I even changed some of the foods I was eating.
Then I realized that I had changed my shampoo around the same time these symptoms were occuring. I looked on the bottle and saw several VOCs including Methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone and fragrance. After switching shampoos, my symptoms gradually decreased and stopped altogether.
Coincidence? I think not.
Some symptoms of VOC exposure include: “eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system.” (EPA) That damage also includes elevated risk for some cancers.
Additional symptoms include: “conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.” (EPA)
The best way to avoid VOCs is to avoid products with them.
- Avoid air fresheners
- Avoid products containing “fragrance”
- Look for the EPA’s Design for Environment logo
- Avoid clothes that require dry cleaning
- Avoid using commercial cleaners and pesticides
- Buy products from people who know and care about what they are creating
As always, read the labels. I can’t stress how important it is to know the ingredients in EVERYTHING you use.
Some common VOCs include: Ethanol, Formaldehyde, Decane, Butoxyethanol, Isopentane, Limonene, Styrene, Xylenes, Perchloroethylene, Methylene, Chloride, Toluene, Vinyl chloride, Acetone, Benzene, Ethylene glycol, 1,3-butadiene and 1,4 dioxane, 2-butoxyethanol.
As always, avoidance starts with awareness.
Are Essential Oils VOCs?
Yes. essential oils are absolutely VOCs. Anyone who tells you otherwise is misinformed.
Are essential oils as dangerous as synthetic VOCs? No.
The “volatile” part of VOC simply means that the substance has the ability to evaporate, not that the substance is harmful.
The differences between synthetic VOCs and natural VOCs are staggering.
- Cause toxic buildup
- Create inflammation and disease (source)
- Accumulate in the body (difficult to get rid of)
- Remove toxic buildup
- Ease inflammation and disease (source)
- Easily exit the body (they don’t accumulate)
As with anything, essential oils CAN be harmful if a person has prolonged exposure (other than recommended by a trained aromatherapist). That’s why it is extremely important to use pure, therapeutic grade essential oils.
Again, if you are buying products made with essential oils, ask questions. Hold people accountable. Know what you are putting on your body!
In all WWS products, we use pure therapeutic grade essential oils. Nothing synthetic. We’ve done the research to bring you a quality, safe, and therapeutic product.