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Musks in Fragrances May Weaken Immune System, Study Says

Mon Jan 10, 5:02 PM ET

FRIDAY, Jan. 10 (HealthDayNews) -- Synthetic musks that are widely used as fragrances in products such as soaps, cosmetics and detergents may reduce the body's ability to defend against toxic compounds, says a study in the January issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

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

In laboratory research using mussel gill tissue, researchers at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station found that exposure to synthetic musks inhibited the tissue's natural defenses against toxic compounds from California mussels. This effect persisted long after the end of the tissue's exposure to the synthetic musks.

The synthetic musk levels used in this study were several times higher than those found in the environment, the study authors noted. However, these musks concentrate in fats, including breast milk, and remain in human tissue long after exposure. This means that long-term exposure to these synthetic musks could result in tissue concentrations high enough to impair natural cellular defenses in humans, the authors suggested.

"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," Dr. Jim Burkhart, science editor for Environmental Health Perspectives, said in a prepared statement.

The fragrance industry, in a prepared statement, disputed the 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," Glenn Roberts, executive director of the Fragrance Materials Association, said.

"Nitromusks and polycyclic musks (PCMs) are among the most thoroughly researched and tested fragrance ingredients. Their safety for human health has been extensively tested and affirmed by numerous regulatory agencies and academic scientists around the world. The results in this paper do not impact the safe use of nitromusks or PCMs, nor alter their environmental risk assessment," Roberts added.

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlines exposure pathways of hazardous substances.

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