Skip to content

Reducing the harm of volatile substance misuse

As a manufacturer of aerosols, which contain volatile substances, we have an important role to play in ensuring the safe use of our products. While the majority of people use our deodorants for their intended purpose, we are also aware that a small number of people intentionally misuse them by deliberately inhaling the gas. This is called volatile substance misuse, or VSM – also known as inhalant misuse, chroming or huffing[a].

Risks of VSM[b]

  • Misuse of volatile substances is as risky as drug use – VSM involves the deliberate inhalation of household products such as gases, aerosols, nitrous oxide (nangs), petrol, glue, solvents and other volatile substances. Because these products are commonly used in day-to-day lives, it can be easy to think of them as less dangerous when misused. In fact, they can be just as harmful as other drugs.
  • Misusing volatile substances just one time can result in death or serious brain injury – anyone experimenting with volatile substances - no matter whether they are a regular user or it is their first time - is at risk of suffering a significant brain injury, or a heart condition called ‘cardiac arrhythmia’ – also known as ‘Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome’ (SSDS). Inhaling the volatile substances causes the heart to beat irregularly, and can potentially lead to the heart stopping altogether, with death resulting in minutes.
  • Many volatile substances are highly flammable - burns, accidents and injuries are a very real risk. There is the possibility of the fumes and gases given off by these products catching alight.

Actions we have taken

Unilever is committed to raising awareness about the risks of VSM and reducing the impact of this issue on individuals and their families. This work includes:

  • Ongoing engagement with government, industry, and drug and alcohol experts, including as part of a QLD Government-led Inhalants Roundtable in 2019, to address inhalant misuse in Queensland.
  • Working with drug and alcohol experts across ANZ to support education campaigns.
  • Exploration of different propellants: Our R&D team has been exploring different combinations of propellants and spray mechanisms that might reduce exposure to volatile solvents. Reformulation is a complex process that takes time to get right and may never fully remove the risk of misuse occurring. To date, no alternative has proven successful for anti-perspirant deodorants.
  • Improvements to our packaging spray/valve design so that the full product is released when sprayed upside down, and it is not possible to spray pure gas/propellant.
  • Enhanced warnings and labelling on our packaging. The warnings on our products are among the strongest in the market. This includes stronger wording (referring to inhalant misuse rather than solvent abuse), increased font size by 50%, and a font colour change from black, to red compared to previous warning labels.
  • Engagement with retailers on anti-theft shelving solutions

Help and support

If you are involved in an emergency with someone who has been misusing inhalants, call 000 (AU)/111 (NZ) immediately to seek medical assistance. Remember, the key priority for medical practitioners is the safety of those they are helping (not getting people in trouble). Do not hesitate to seek help.

If you misuse solvents, or if someone you know misuses them, then the following websites and resources may be helpful:


New Zealand:


A note on terminology: We use the terms VSM, inhalant misuse, “chroming” and “huffing” on our website because these are the terms typically used by experts and those dealing with issues involving solvents and gases.


DARTA, 2023

Back to top