Synthetic musks, widely used as fragrances in soaps, cosmetics and detergents, may reduce the body's ability to defend itself against toxic compounds, according to a study.

In laboratory research, scientists at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station found that when mussels were exposed to synthetic musk, the gill tissue's natural defenses against toxic compounds were inhibited-and this effect continued long after the exposure.

Cause For Concern?

Although the synthetic musk levels used in this study were several times higher than those found in fragrances, researchers are concerned that long-term exposure to perfumes containing musk could impair natural cellular defenses in people. Scientists believe that musks concentrate in fats, including breast milk, and remain in human tissue long after exposure.

"While other studies have shown that humans are constantly exposed to musk compounds, routine toxicology screens have always shown these compounds to be nontoxic. This study's suggestion that they could harm the body's ability to fight other toxicants certainly merits further examination," says Dr. Jim Burkhart, science editor for Environmental Health Perspectives.

The fragrance industry disputes these findings. "Fragrances and fragrance ingredients are safe. The ingredients used to make fragrances have been extensively researched, and fragrances have a long history of safe use dating back hundreds of years," says Glenn Roberts, executive director of the Fragrance Materials Association.

"Nitromusks and polycyclic musks (PCM) are among the most thoroughly researched and tested fragrance ingredients," he adds. "Their safety for human health has been extensively tested and affirmed by numerous regulatory agencies and academic scientists around the world."’

Approximately 8,000 metric tons of synthetic musks are produced worldwide each year.

Road Rage Aromatherapy

Feeling tense at the wheel? Finding yourself frequently on the verge of road rage? Try smelling some peppermint or cinnamon.

New research from West Virginia's Wheeling Jesuit University suggests that these scents may curb driver fatigue, increase alertness and ease frustration behind the wheel.

According to the Wheeling Jesuit study, the scent of peppermint eases anxiety and fatigue while driving, while peppermint and cinnamon both decrease driving frustration and increase alertness.

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