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Environmental connections to public health >>

Ask EWG: What is "fragrance"?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Question: Is it true that the cosmetics industry can put any chemical into a product's "fragrance" without showing it on the ingredients list? What do they put in there?

Answer: It's true. When you see "fragrance" on a personal care product's label, read it as "hidden chemicals." A major loophole in FDA's federal law lets manufacturers of products like shampoo, lotion, and body wash include nearly any ingredient in their products under the name "fragrance" without actually listing the chemical.

Companies that manufacture personal care products are required by law to list the ingredients they use, but fragrances and trade-secret formulas are exempt. An analysis of the chemical contents of products reveals that the innocuous-looking “fragrance” often contains chemicals linked to negative health effects. Phthalates, used to make fragrances last longer, are associated damage to the male reproductive system, and artificial musks accumulate in our bodies and can be found in breast milk. Some artificial musks are even linked to cancer. And if you've got asthma, watch out-- fragrance formulas are considered to be among the top 5 known allergens, and can trigger asthma attacks. The same kinds of chemicals are often used for fragrances in cleaning products, scented candles, and air fresheners.

To avoid those unpleasant side effects, choose fragrance-free products, but beware labels that say "unscented." It may only mean that the manufacturer has added yet another fragrance to mask the original odor. Check ingredient labels carefully, or search Skin Deep to find products that do not list "fragrance" as an ingredient.

The best solution is not to allow cosmetics companies to get through this loophole. They should be required to list all of their ingredients on the label where consumers can find out what they're buying. On top of that, cosmetics manufacturers regularly include ingredients with known or suspected links to cancer, reproductive toxicity and other negative health effects. The federal government must set safety standards for personal care products.

If you're concerned about the chemicals you use on your body every day, sign EWG's petition at cosmeticsdatabase.com and urge the FDA to make personal care products safe.

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