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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

May 142009

Green Right Now Reports:

In a study released Tuesday by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers report that they have found a continuing “possible link” between formaldehyde exposure and death from cancers of the blood and lymphatic system among workers exposed to the chemical.

The report is part of an ongoing study of industrial workers in plants making formaldehyde products.

“Since the 1980s, NCI has studied cancer deaths among a group of 25,619 workers, predominately white males, who were employed before 1966 in 10 industrial plants that produced formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin and that used the chemical to produce molded-plastic products, decorative laminates, photographic film, or plywood,” according to the NCI release.

These workers show a higher susceptibility to certain cancers, especially among workers with high exposure to the chemical, researchers say.

“Workers with the highest peak exposures had a 37 percent increased risk of death compared to those with the lowest level of peak exposures. This represents an excess risk of death from several specific cancers, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and myeloid leukemia – the type most often associated with chemical exposure,” the NCI release noted.

Researchers called the findings “not definitive” but “consistent” with previous work showing a relationship between formaldehyde and cancers of the blood and lymphatic system.

Analysis of the same group of workers has shown that the risk of death from myeloid leukemia, for instance, was 78 percent higher among industrial workers with the highest peak exposures compared to those with the lowest peak exposures (though the risk has been declining over time, possibly due to “chance” or due to the risk of developing the cancer peaking relatively soon after exposure).

The Formaldehyde Council disputed the study, noting that the researchers’ concession that the cancer link was not “definitive.” The industry group asserted that  “the rate of leukemia in the study group is no different than that in the U.S. population” and called for more research into the health effects of formaldehyde by the National Academy of Sciences.

Formaldehyde is found in pressed wood products used in construction, cabinetry, insulation, disinfectants and in some beauty products, where it turns up as a preservative.

It remains unclear whether routine household exposure to the chemical would raise anyone’s risk of contracting cancer. But advocacy groups concerned about the build-up of many chemicals in the body advise consumers to be aware of formaldehyde in products and to wear gloves when using disinfectants or cleaners containing the product.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics recently found a small amount of formaldehyde in baby products, which has triggered a bill in Congress called the Safe Baby Products Act that would ban the chemical in such consumer items.

Mar 202009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

A report on American baby products showing that several contain trace amounts of chemicals listed as “probable carcinogens” by the EPA has triggered alarm bells in the U.S. and overseas.

Some 20,000 people reportedly responded to the study by contacting their representatives to ask for stronger regulation, and turns out China is quite concerned about these toxic additives coming their way from the U.S.

It’s not just about turn-about being fair play, MedIndia reports that Chinese parents are on “high alert” after the melamine-tainted milk scare that resulted in several infant deaths.

China and Vietnam are now conducting their own safety tests on some of the baby products that were identified as being contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde in an analysis by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. The CSC targeted mainstream products marketed as “safe” and “gentle” and found that even the iconic Johnson’s Baby Shampoo tested positive for trace amounts of these toxins.

Some major Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese retailers have pulled affected products from their shelves, including a supermarket chain in Ho Chi Minh City (see this report ) that was clearing out the Johnson & Johnson shampoo and bubble bath flagged by the CSC.

Manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson, say the chemicals are safe in trace amounts, and end up in the lotion or shampoo either as a preservative or as part of the process used to make the products gentler. But advocates say they pose an unnecessary danger because many comparable beauty products do without them, in Europe in particular, where 1,4 dioxane is banned in personal care products.

Of 28 products tested for both formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, 17 contained trace amounts of both.

For more see the No More Toxic Tub report, and our story.

Mar 172009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Quick get me to a de-tox chamber!

I hate to pile on, but underneath all the bad news about our sickly economy and fragile atmosphere is an oil slick of foreboding tidings about our ailing everyday environment.

Take last week’s study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that people living in the smoggiest cities are more likely to die from respiratory diseases. The study of nearly half a million adults found that ground-level ozone has a longer-term impact than previously recognized, resulting in “a significant increase in the risk of death from respiratory causes”. That makes so much sense. We’re warned to stay in on “alert” days when ozone levels are high; especially the young, the old and people with asthma. It stands to reason that ozone could be cumulatively damaging.

Or consider this week’s release of a European study linking youngsters using cell phones to a five-fold elevated risk of malignant brain tumors. 

Or the new Kaiser Permanente/Silent Spring analysis showing an elevated breast cancer risk associated with certain pharmaceuticals, including an anti-fungal, a diuretic and an antibiotic?

You could quickly drown in this kind of news. But we can also be encouraged that many non-profits, government organizations and researchers are finally focusing on the connections between environmental pollution and disease, and corralling the information so we can begin to extricate ourselves.

The Silent Spring Institute and Susan G. Komen For the Cure recently surveyed the research and distilled 216 chemicals that were found to cause breast tumors in animal studies. The free database they created with this information shows that 73 of the chemicals are present in consumer products or contaminants in food and 35 are air pollutants. That’s a lot of chemicals, and it’s unclear which are the worst and there are still genetic proclivities and other factors involved in this devastatingly common disease, but these are at least visible targets.

Last week the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of groups, shone a light on harmful chemicals in baby products, for which they blame weak U.S. labeling requirements.

They found 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde in a variety of kiddie bath products such as Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and Sesame Street Bubble Bath.

Both chemicals are listed as probable carcinogens by the EPA; 1,4 dioxane is banned from personal care products at any level, even trace amounts, in Europe. Formaldehyde is banned from them in Sweden and Japan. (See more on the full report on the Environmental Working Group website.)

Some other findings from the study:

  • American Girl shower products were found to contain the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane found in the tests.
  • Two samples of Baby Magic Baby Lotion contained levels of formaldehyde that would trigger warning label requirements in Europe.

The report noted that the 1,4 dioxane turns up, ironically, as a byproduct of processes to make products more gentle, and its use is waning.

Beauty product manufacturers were not happy to even see the issue in the news again, saying that these trace amounts of chemicals are not cause for concern, and that their products meet current guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.

Naterra International Inc., which owns Baby Magic products, called the report “patently false and a shameful and cynical attempt by an activist group to incite and prey upon parental worries and concerns in order to push a political, legislative and legal agenda.”

Naterra also noted that: “When present, these chemicals would likely be found at very low levels precisely because companies have gone to great lengths in the formulation and manufacturing processes to ensure that the products are safe and gentle
for children and also protected from harmful bacterial growth.”

Of course, we don’t know the precise effect of these chemical exposures, and clearly humans can withstand an onslaught, given the glues, VOCs and flame retardants wafting around our own homes, not to mention the pesticides on our lawns and the air pollution in our cities.

That’s been part of the problem, actually. There are so many chemical agents acting in our lives that researchers often can’t nail down the links or the danger thresholds, let alone the precise causality between a problem and its trigger. Which can cause us to worry about what we should be worried about. A vexing position, at best.

The EWG, a co-founder of the Campaign for Safer Cosmetics, suggests we weigh this issues by looking at our “body burden” of chemicals, or our total load; so we can reduce our exposure, as best as we can. One person who’s trying to break through with that message is Ken Cook, co-founder of EWG. He’s on a mission to educate us about the everyday poisons that should be on our watch list. The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran an excellent article on Cook’s road show, noting that some are likening him to Al Gore, for sounding the alarm in this field.

We hope to bring you more on that soon, too.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media