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May 132010

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

What is that lovely fragrance you’re wearing?

Shhh, it’s a secret.

Why? Because the multi-billion dollar perfume industry won’t tell you. Thanks to lax regulatory oversight and the scent industry’s ability to keep their formulas “secret,” the ingredients lurking beneath the word “fragrance” on the label likely contain unhealthy chemicals and additives.

Secret and harmful ingredients in fragrances are not so sexy, according to a consumer study

Secret and harmful ingredients in fragrances are not so sexy, according to a consumer study

Fragrance, it seems, isn’t just a delicate floral note or a deep exotic spice.  A new report analyzing 17 popular name-brand scents says that among the hidden ingredients are synthetic chemicals that have been linked to hormone disruption (particularly reproductive hormones), sperm damage in men, thyroid effects, endocrine problems, allergic reactions of all kinds and more.

Lab tests commissioned by the study’s authors found 38 “secret” (not on the label) chemicals in 17 scents, including Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity, Britney Spears Curious, Calvin Klein Eternity for Men, Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver, AXE Body Spray For Men /Shock and Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow.

Counting both labeled and unlabeled ingredients, the study identified 91 different chemicals in the 17 products.

The organizations that authored the study, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group, said that, on average, the products had 14 hidden chemicals. If that wasn’t enough, even ingredients that are on the labels may be health threats.

The report, Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance, found the largest hidden chemical mix in American Eagle Seventy Seven, which had 24 unseen ingredients. Just behind that was Chanel Coco at 18.

The fewest secret chemicals in the mix was Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue.

The scent with the most chemicals overall was Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio with 40.

All 17 of the tested products had chemicals linked to allergies or asthma– an average of 10 chemicals per product.

Among the worrisome elements in the selected scents:

  • Two synthetic musks — Galaxolide and Tonalide – which have been linked with damage to the endocrine system, appeared in almost all 17 products.
  • Diethyl phthalate, or DEP, is a common solvent in perfume. Studies have found that DEP could lead to abnormal development of baby boys’ reproductive organs and sperm damage in men, the report said, citing a 2009 study. Now, pregnant women who are exposed to DEP have shown a potential link between the chemical and attention deficit disorder in children. (In the study, Calvin Klein Eternity for Woman had the highest level  – 32,000 parts per million — of DEP.)
  • Chemicals known to cause allergic reactions, and others considered potential allergens among the 17 products tested included limonene (also used as a solvent in cleaning products), linalol acetate, geraniol, benzyl alcohol, citronellol and lilial. Even though some of these chemicals are derived from natural sources, they are still on the list of things that can cause irritation, eczema, asthma or illness in infants.
  • Some hormone disrupters, the study said, can interfere with the endocrine system, and others may stimulate hormones such as estrogen. A higher risk for breast and prostate cancer, and even birth defects and infertility, have been cited in other studies. In the fragrance study, 12 of those ingredients were detected. Three products that each had seven of these potential hormone-disrupting ingredients: Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver and Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow. Among the chemicals: galaxolide, DEP, BHT and benzyl salicylate.
  • Sunscreen and UV-absorbing chemicals, the report said, are typically disclosed on labels, but they too have been connected in studies to disruption of the endocrine system. You may also find these ingredients – octinoxate, oxybenzone or butylated hydroxytoluene – in common sunscreen products.

Why doesn’t the Food and Drug Administration step in to scrutinize these chemical ingredients in all perfumes, as well as lotions, cosmetics, deodorants, sprays, shaving creams and many more? Because – with a few minor exceptions – scented and all other cosmetics do not require FDA approval to reach store shelves.

Amazingly, the law that started this lack of federal oversight was enacted 82 years ago, the study said, and has hardly been touched since.

The rules that govern what ingredients must appear on cosmetic and fragrance labels were issued in 1973, and they cite “trade secret ingredients” as the reason the industry can continue to hide their fragrance ingredients.

“Something doesn’t smell right—clearly the system is broken,” said Lisa Archer, national coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund, in a statement. “We urgently need updated laws that require full disclosure of cosmetic ingredients so consumers can make informed choices about what they are being exposed to.”

The perfume and cosmetic groups are quick to defend themselves. They assert that the study is not legitimate because it is self-published (as opposed to having been peer-reviewed in a substantive science journal). They point to what they consider innuendo and unsupported claims.

“There is nothing ‘secret’ about the ingredients being used in fragrances,” a statement issued Wednesday by the Fragrance Material Association of the United States said. The association directs consumers to their list of 3,163 ingredients used in fragrances. The list, however, provides the chemical names (in alphabetical order) of all substances used in fragrances. It is not broken down by product, or product category.

Two-thirds of the undisclosed ingredients in the tested fragrances have not been safety tested, nor has a significant portion of disclosed ingredients

Two-thirds of the undisclosed ingredients in the tested fragrances have not been safety tested, nor has a significant portion of disclosed ingredients

This issue doesn’t stop with fragrances and cosmetics, the study said. It factors into everything from aerosol sprays to nail polish to dishwashing liquids to scented air refreshers. Many chemicals we come into contact with daily remain unstudied.

What can you do to help? The study suggests:

  • Buy products with no added fragrance.
  • Use less of any of these products
  • Press for better laws to protect the public’s health
  • Demand that cosmetic companies disclose all of their ingredients.

Campaign For Safe Cosmetics, the group that co-authored the study, is a national coalition of nonprofit women’s, environmental, public health and other organizations. The Environmental Working Group also is a nonprofit that aims to use public information to protect health and the environment.

If you want more information about cosmetic products that do reveal all of their ingredients, go to the Environmental Working Group’s database of products.

Read the complete study (including the complete list of all fragrances tested) at Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance.

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network