EWG News and Analysis
The latest from EWG’s staff of experts >>
Something stinks: Secrecy and health hazards courtesy of the fragrance industry
Millions of American consumers participate every day as unwitting human lab rats in one of the biggest experiments ever conducted (or, more appropriately, perpetrated) on the human race. For many, their entrance into the "lab" starts in their 'tweens and continues through high school and on into adulthood. Of course, I'm talking about those who wear perfumes, cologne or the ever-popular "body sprays." A word about fragrance labels In 1973 Congress passed the federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, and attached it to the workload of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The law, which required companies to list cosmetics ingredients on the product labels, conveniently left off fragrance. Since then, the vague word "fragrance" is all you'll find on the label, leaving it to you to guess what toxic brew they mean. If there's anything to be grateful for in this, it's that it's a recognizable word that, which vague, is easily avoided by label readers (which we should all be). A whole lot of secret, untested chemicals in the fragrance aisle A new study from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Environmental Working Group revealed 38 secret chemicals in 17 name brand fragrance products, topped by American Eagle Seventy Seven with 24, Chanel Coco with 18, and Britney Spears Curious and Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio with 17.
The average fragrance product tested contained 14 secret chemicals not listed on the label. Among them are chemicals associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety in personal care products. This complex mix of clandestine compounds in popular colognes and perfumes makes it impossible for consumers to make informed decisions about the products they consider buying.
Who knows what about fragrance anyway? The short answer is: No-one really knows much, because most secret chemicals revealed in fragrance testing have not been assessed for safety. The federal government, which is in charge of cosmetics safety, is equally uninformed.
The longer answer is: A review of government records shows that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not assessed the vast majority of these secret fragrance chemicals for safety when used in spray-on personal care products such as fragrances. Nor have most been evaluated by the safety review panel of the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) or any other publicly accountable institution.
Fragrance secrecy is legal due to a giant loophole in the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973, which requires companies to list cosmetics ingredients on the product labels but explicitly exempts fragrance. By taking advantage of this loophole, the cosmetics industry has kept the public in the dark about the 3,100 ingredients in fragrance, even those that present potential health risks or build up in people's bodies.
Get the full story in the new report Download it or read it online. Here's what you'll read about inside:
- Allergic sensitivity to fragrances: A growing health concern
- Hormone-disrupting chemicals in fragrance
- Secret chemicals, hidden health risks
- The self-policing fragrance industry
- The need for full disclosure and stronger regulations
- The health risks of secret chemicals in fragrance
Then speak up for safer fragrances! People have a right to know which chemicals they are being exposed to. They have a right to expect government to protect people, especially vulnerable populations, from hazardous chemicals. Agreed?
So we're asking Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Halle Berry and Miley Cyrus - whose fragrance products we tested - to stand up for our health and urge their fragrance manufacturers to remove chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive harm and allergies from their fragrances. Please read and sign on to this letter, then spread the word!
You deserve it. We all do, right?