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Not So Sexy

The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance
by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
May 12th, 2010

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fragrance bottles
Ask celebs whose fragrances we tested to take a stand against toxic chemicals:
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A rose may be a rose. But that rose-like fragrance in your perfume may be something else entirely, concocted from any number of the fragrance industry’s 3,100 stock chemical ingredients, the blend of which is almost always kept hidden from the consumer.


What We Found

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics commissioned an independent lab to test 17 fragrance products. Campaign partner Environmental Working Group assessed data from the tests and the product labels. The analysis reveals that the 17 products contained, on average:

  • Fourteen secret chemicals not listed on labels due to a loophole in federal law that allows companies to claim fragrances as trade secrets.
  • Ten sensitizing chemicals associated with allergic reactions such as asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis.
  • Four hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to a range of health effects including sperm damage, thyroid disruption and cancer.

The majority of chemicals found in this report have never been assessed for safety by any publicly accountable agency, or by the cosmetics industry’s self-policing review panels.


Health Concerns

Allergies
Fragrance is now considered among the top five allergens in North America and European countries and is associated with a wide range of skin, eye and respiratory reactions. Repeated, cumulative exposure to chemical sensitizers like allergenic fragrance ingredients increases the chance that a person will develop allergic symptoms later in life. Our tests found an average of 10 chemical sensitizers in each fragrance product; see results.

Hormone disruption
Exposure to hormone disruptors has been linked to a wide range of health problems, including an increased risk of cancer, especially breast and prostate cancers; reproductive toxicity and effects on the developing fetus; and predisposition to metabolic disease such as thyroid problems or obesity. We found 12 ingredients with the potential to act as hormone disruptors in the products we tested; see results.

Chemicals in people
When sprayed or applied on the skin, many chemicals from perfumes, cosmetics and personal care products are inhaled or absorbed through the skin. A recent EWG study found synthetic musk chemicals Galaxolide and Tonalide in the umbilical cord blood of newborn infants; these chemicals were found in all but one fragrance analyzed for this study. Diethyl phthalate (DEP), which appeared in 12 of the 17 products we tested, has been found in 97 percent of Americans tested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Where They Come From

Some perfume and cologne ingredients are found on product labels, but others hide under the secretive ingredient "fragrance." Due to this trade secrets loophole, nearly half of the ingredients in the products we tested were not listed on labels.


What You Can Do

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones and future generations from unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals in personal care products.

  1. Choose products with no added fragrance: Use the Skin Deep advanced search to find products that do not include fragrance. Read ingredient labels, because even products advertised as “fragrance-free” may contain a masking fragrance.
  2. Less is better: If you are very attached to your fragrance, consider eliminating other fragranced products from your routine, and using fragrance less often.
  3. Help pass smarter, health-protective laws: Sign our petition to Congress to voice your support! Buying safer, fragrance-free products is a great start, but we can’t just shop our way out of this problem. In order for safer products to be widely available and affordable for everyone, we must pass laws that shift the entire industry to non-toxic ingredients and safer production.
  4. Sign on to our letter to the celebrities whose fragrances we tested – Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Halle Berry and Miley Cyrus – and ask them to show their true leadership by taking a stand against toxic chemicals in personal care products, beginning with their own fragrance lines. You can also contact other cosmetics companies to ask them to disclose their fragrance ingredients. We've put together talking points to get you started.
  5. Support companies that fully disclose ingredients in their products.


More Information

Download the report
List of products tested, with results
Press release: Secret chemicals revealed in celebrity perfumes, teen body sprays (May 12, 2010)
FAQs about "Not So Sexy"
Science: Synthetic musks
Science: Phthalates
What's In Your Products? Fragrance


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