How often do you smell something that makes you cringe?
Maybe it’s an overly fragrant air freshener, the cleaning aisle at the store, or the overwhelming aroma of fresh paint. Whatever the source, you aren’t crazy for thinking these scents could be affecting you physically. And you are not imagining it.
Volatile organic compounds (or VOCs for short) are airborne chemicals found in widely-used household cleaning products, paint, pesticides, gasoline, and more (most likely, anything that has a strong chemical scent).
And they, certainly, could be impacting your health.
Extreme exposure to VOCs has been known to impact major organs, like the liver and kidneys, as well as the nervous system. Low-level exposure may cause temporary symptoms, including headache, allergic reaction, and nausea.
So how do you know if volatile organic compounds are affecting you?
What Are Volatile Organic Compounds?
Volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) are gases released into our breathing air. They are most known for their presence in factories and treatment plants—and may contribute to poor outdoor air quality in industrial areas.
But VOCs are not exclusively present outside and in chemical-ridden factories. There are probably a number of them in your home right now. Volatile organic compounds can be found in household cleaning products, home-building materials, and even your everyday makeup and skincare essentials.
While they may not visibly pollute our indoor air, there’s evidence to show they’re entering our lungs and bloodstreams—just from everyday exposure.
A Beginner’s List of Volatile Organic Compounds in Beauty Products
So what exactly is a VOC? These examples of volatile organic compounds will help you recognize them in your household products:
You Might Find It In:
Dry shampoo, sunscreen, spray deodorant, hand sanitizer.
Cosmetics, shampoo, conditioner, paint, fabric softener, building materials, lotion, nail polish, baby wash.
Lightening cream, hair spray, cosmetics, spray deodorant.
Moisturizer, lotion, body cream, cosmetics, aftershave.
Nail polish, eyelash glue, hair dye.
Nail polish remover, hair dye, nail polish, skincare products, cosmetics.
Symptoms of Volatile Organic Compound Exposure
Volatile organic compounds are used as preservatives and fillers in cosmetic and beauty products. We know that in heavy doses, many studies (including, but not limited to 1, 2, 3, 4) show that various VOCs can cause damage to major organs. But in small doses? There just isn’t enough research.
Cosmetic companies claim that VOCs are safe to use. But with an onslaught of autoimmune diseases and recent studies showing heavy absorption of skincare ingredients, we’re skeptical.
These symptoms may be associated with exposure to household VOCs:
- Shortness of breath
- Allergic reactions
- Hormone imbalance
- Itchy throat
- Brain fog
Volatile Organic Compounds and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) occurs when physical symptoms of illness are triggered by the use of household chemicals. MCS may be brought on by a traumatic event (like a chemical spill), or it may result from an overloaded immune system. Either way, one thing is true: the VOCs found in makeup, lotion, moisturizer, dry shampoo, and nail polish are all triggers for MCS.
Symptoms of MCS include:
- Burning or stinging in the nasal passageways
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Joint pain
- Brain fog
- Trouble breathing
While you work on root cause treatments for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (such as brain retraining, lymphatic drainage, and dietary changes), you can also gradually replace your chemical-laden products with organic ones made from clean ingredients.
These can not only help relieve symptoms of MCS but may also be able to support your body’s recovery by balancing your hormones, too.
How to Protect Yourself from Volatile Organic Compounds in Daily Life : A Check List
Replace your windex with microfiber towels.
Fill your once toxic makeup bag to the brim with clean products.
Toss your aerosol cans (a huge offender for VOCs) in favor of stick deodorants, bottled dry shampoo, and healthy sunscreen.
But VOCs are everywhere—and you can only limit so much exposure in the home.
We recommend using a high-quality HEPA filter to clean indoor air. Make sure you regularly check for gas and propane leaks (these are considered VOCs and can pollute your indoor air).
Open your windows whenever possible, eat high-quality foods, and limit stress. All of these lifestyle changes will help you create a healthy environment—so that when VOC exposure occurs, your health stays intact.
Replacing Fillers and Preservatives with Wholesome Ingredients
When we started our organic makeup company, one of our biggest efforts was learning how to make clean beauty products without fillers and additives.
Commonly used fillers in cosmetic products contain various VOCs, which are convenient for the creation of the product itself. As the name suggests, “fillers” fill up space, so active ingredients can be evenly dispersed.
When we started making our own organic makeup products, we were surprised by how easy it was to create high-quality products without fillers.
Instead of watering our products down with VOCs, we fill our bottles to the brim with active ingredients. This improves the overall customer experience and the effectiveness of the product—and it protects our customers from toxic VOCs and other harmful chemicals.
Care About Your Air Quality Without Giving Up Your Life
While we’re certainly not fans of spraying volatile organic compounds into our environment, we also recognize how difficult it is to switch to a toxin-free lifestyle. Retail store shelves are packed full of products containing VOCs and toxic chemicals—and obtaining clean products without getting greenwashed can feel impossible.
Here’s our philosophy: take your time.
Research which chemicals and products matter to you.
Understand your own health concerns and find products that prioritize those.
And above all, don’t stress. Its affects are harmful on your health, too.
You can give up VOCs without giving up your lifestyle.