Overall Hazard: High
Like, seriously high. Because it’s everywhere -- in your favorite perfume (obviously), in your baby’s bubble bath, in your shampoo, your candles, your lotion… you get the picture. Fragrance (also listed on the back of your products as perfume, parfum or aroma) is such a scary category because it isn’t just one nasty chemical to be avoided. In some cases, it’s 3,000, and get this, the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973 explicitly exempts companies from having to disclose the individual ingredients that make up their “fragrance” as the recipes are protected under trade secret laws. In short, the FDA values the protection of a company's secret sauce over the protection of your health. Sit with that one for a while.
This fragrance business creates a pretty big loophole. So how does it put your health and safety at risk?
It’s simple. Anytime an ingredient is not fully disclosed…you are put at risk. A review of government records shows that neither the FDA nor any other publicly accountable agency has assessed the safety of the majority of the 3,000+ chemicals that can make up the fragrance in your products. Essentially, these fragrances are innocent until proven deadly. And even then, it’s still up to us to stand up to the fragrance industry and chemical lobbyists and say, "no sir, I will not be your guinea pig."
Another frightening truth? Most companies have no idea what’s actually in their fragrance blends because they purchase their mixtures from third-party fragrance houses. So while a company may think they are just purchasing a pretty scent, they’re most likely also buying undisclosed petroleum and coal-derived ingredients, solvents, stabilizers, UV-absorbers, preservatives, and dyes. Many of these unknown additives are, at best, allergens and skin irritants and, at worst, dangerous neurotoxins.
And then there’s this, and it’s a big “this:” One of the most common (and rarely ever disclosed) components of a fragrance cocktail are Phthalates. These guys are plasticizing agents that are added to a fragrance profile to help that scent stick to your skin for long periods of time. Phthalates are bad for just about everyone. For men, they’ve been shown to lower sperm count. For expectant mothers, they have been linked to birth defects, including (but definitely not limited to) altering in-utero testosterone levels and interfering with proper development of unborn baby boys. Yikes! They can also greatly interfere with the endocrine system and mess with fertility in women. And for everyone else? Asthma, neurodevelopmental problems, cancer, and obesity top the list of widely studied complications to Phthalate exposure. Phthalates are banned in children’s toys (i.e. Uncle Sam already acknowledges them as unsafe) but they are not banned in a myriad of personal care products specifically designed for children, babies, and everyone else.
Synthetic fragrance is a problem for everyone, and even if your medicine cabinet is the holy grail of safe skincare, you just can’t avoid the lemon-scented off-gas of your office floor cleaner or your subway car companion’s cologne of the month. It’s called “second-hand fragrance” and it’s the “second-hand smoke” of our generation. Our advice? Read your labels and run the other way any time you see the big, gaping loophole otherwise known as “fragrance”, “perfume”, “parfum” or the ever-so-creepy-sounding “aroma,” and hold your breath as much a possible in public places. Ok, we’re kidding about that last part. Another way to make a change? Help us spread the word, stand tall, be loud and demand safer regulations.
Ready to switch out your old favorite perfume? Browse our collection of safe scents.
Environmental Working Group
Campaign For Safe Cosmetics
No More Dirty Looks
Health Impact News
Breast Cancer Fund