Women’s Voices for the Earth Report on “Secret Scents”

Women’s Voices for the Earth recently released a new report, called “Secret Scents“. It  highlights the need for ingredient transparency by the companies that create fragranced products, since right now we have almost no way of knowing what is causing the fragrance allergies and other serious health effects people experience when exposed to  fragrances. These adverse health effects are increasing, especially in children.

Amazingly, companies are not required by the FDA or EPA to disclose fragrance ingredients, so it is difficult for anyone to pinpoint specific fragrance allergens and sensitizers among the hundreds of ingredients that can make up a scent.

Another report  was also just released, this one on endocrine disrupting chemicals. Some fragrance ingredients, like phthalates (see below) are also endocrine disruptors, while others are known carcinogens and/or neurotoxic!

“This report focuses solely on allergy associated with fragrance.  However, allergy is neither the only nor the most severe health problem caused by fragrance.  While beyond the scope of this report, it should be noted that neurotoxic effects, respiratory effects, immune system impacts and others are all associated with fragrance and deserve greater investigation and attention than they have received.”

The report notes that “allergic contact dermatitis, once a rare skin condition, is now quite common among children, and eczema has seen worldwide increases in the last decade. Overall, girls have higher rates of sensitization than boys.  Women, who are more likely to use more perfumed personal care products and cosmetics, are 200-300 percent more likely to have fragrance allergies than men. They are two times more likely to report adverse symptoms from exposure to fragrance.  The disproportionate impact on women is likely due to women’s considerably greater exposure to fragranced products throughout their lives.”

This blog is full of info about what happens to people as a result of life-changing, long term adverse health effects from fragrance ingredients.  Another post with more personal experiences will follow this one, with examples of problems even 2nd and 3rd hand fragrance contamination are causing, with no end in sight.

“Fragrance exposures from personal care products and cleaning supplies are having a major effect on public health,” says Anne Steinemann, PhD, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Public Affairs, at the University of Washington. “Plus, the risks are widespread, because fragrance is so difficult to avoid.”

From the page on Policy Solutions: 

What are the Health Concerns Regarding Fragrance Ingredients?

Fragrance Allergens

A significant portion of the population in the US suffers from fragrance-related allergies. Almost 20% of the general population is sensitized to at least one allergen and studies find that fragrance is one of the most frequently identified substances causing allergic reactions. If sensitized to a fragrance allergen, the only way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid exposure to products containing the problem allergen. This is virtually impossible to do when fragrance allergens are not disclosed on products. In trying to treat a reaction, the only advice a dermatologist can provide is to choose “fragrance-free” products. Fragrance-free products are extremely limited and are simply not a fair choice to offer the millions of Americans who are sensitized to fragrance. For example, 96% percent of shampoos, 98% of hair conditioners and 97% of hair styling products contain fragrance. The failure of manufacturers to disclose fragrance ingredient information to their consumers, or even to health care providers, results in many people suffering from unnecessary exposures and suboptimal patient care by doctors. If fragrance ingredients were disclosed, health care providers could more specifically diagnose problem allergens for their patients, and patients would have a considerably easier time finding products they can tolerate.

Hazardous Chemicals in Fragrance

The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) publishes a list of over 3,200 chemicals used by their member companies in producing fragrance. Highlighted here are some notable hazardous chemicals included in the list.

There are two forms of phthalates, diethyl phthalate (DEP) and diisononyl phthalate (DINP). DINP is an endocrine disrupter, meaning it can interfere with the hormone system, and is linked to reproductive harm. Exposure to DEP has been associated with decreased sperm counts and decreased anogenital distance in baby boys.,

There are ten chemicals that have been listed as reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans. These chemicals include: p-dichlorobenzene, pyridine, styrene, styrene oxide, methyl eugenol, acetaldehyde, methyl isobutyl ketone, 2,4 hexadienal, titanium oxide and butylated hydroxyanisole.

Synthetic musks
Several synthetic musks are used in fragrance including galaxolide, tonalide and musk ketone. Research indicates that synthetic musks are persistent, can bioaccumulate, are potential hormone disruptors, and may break down the body’s defenses against other toxic chemical exposure.,,

Fragrance can also include harsh disinfectant chemicals like triclosan and ammonium quaternary compounds. These chemicals are linked to endocrine disruption and asthma.,

Unknown Hazards
Other chemicals on the IFRA list are of concern because they have little health and safety data associated with them. One report by the European Union Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety identified 39 fragrance ingredients used in high volumes which had no human safety data associated with them at all. Unfortunately, the fragrance industry has not publicly released information on how commonly any of these chemicals are used, how much of the chemicals they add to the products, or in which types of fragranced products they are found.

Twenty-six allergens that are components of fragrance must be listed on the labels of cosmetics and cleaning products sold in the European Union (E.U.). This is done so that people who are allergic to these substances can avoid using products which contain them. If companies are labeling allergens in the E.U., why are they still allowed to keep them a secret from consumers in the United States?

Please see the Policy Solutions page for info on IFRA (the International Fragrance Association), the lack of regulations, disclosure and other policy issues.

“The solution is simple: Fragrance ingredients, including allergens, should be disclosed to consumers to allow them to protect their health and avoid the substances they wish to avoid.”

 Personally, I would go a step further to say that toxic chemicals and highly allergenic substances should not be allowed in everyday products and materials. Not only are they a public health hazard, with potentially greater negative impacts than indoor smoking, but they also create a major barrier to accessibility for people who are disabled by the harmful substances currently allowed in fragrances by IFRA and government agencies.

Take Action:

Tell the fragrance industry to stop keeping fragrance ingredients a secret!

Secret Scents Infographic

2 responses to “Women’s Voices for the Earth Report on “Secret Scents”

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