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Cassidy Randall's picture

*Originally posted on Women's Voices for the Earth's Voices Blog.

Did you hear? Sunshine Makers, manufacturers of the well-known Simple Green cleaners, began disclosing allergens in their products last week upon the release our report Secret Scents: How Hidden Fragrance Allergens Harm Public Health.

This is a major victory – Sunshine Makers is the first mainstream company to begin disclosing allergens in their fragranced products in the U.S. Some companies in the “green” products category, like Seventh Generation, have been disclosing allergens for several years. It’s long past time for other companies to follow suit.

As our report reveals, companies that sell products in the European Union are required to disclose the presence of 26 known allergens directly on the product label. Many of these companies sell the same products in the U.S., but don’t disclose allergens because they’re not required to.

Seriously. Same product, two different labels. Appalled at this double standard? You’re not alone.

With millions of people suffering from fragrance allergies, and particularly women, we deserve the same vital information to make safe choices. Studies show that women are 2 – 3 times more likely to suffer from fragrance allergy, likely because we’re more exposed to perfumed personal care and cleaning products, and we become sensitized much earlier than men do. Children also also increasingly impacted by fragrance allergy; allergic contact dermatitis was rare 30 years ago but is common now, and we're seeing worldwide increases in eczema cases in children. We have a right to know which chemicals are causing these health problems so that we can avoid them and protect our own health.

Instead of remedying this double standard and providing ingredient information, companies suggest using a fragrance-free brand to avoid allergens. Huh. This is surprisingly difficult, considering 98% of conditioners, 96% of shampoos, 91% of antiperspirants, and 83% of moisturizers contain fragrance. And cleaning product makers might sell one fragrance-free cleaner per brand, if that. Given how ubiquitous fragrance is, it’s almost impossible to find a fragrance-free product that works with your hair, skin, and other needs. In addition, studies have shown that even some fragrance-free brands contain fragrance allergens! Frankly, fragrance-free is a limiting, frustrating option to offer consumers.


Left: U.S. Pantene condtioner label. Right: E.U.
Pantene conditioner label with allergens listed.

You know what’s much easier than that? Companies could provide us with the same information that they provide consumers in the E.U. with so that we can avoid certain chemicals if we want to. With this simple principle in mind, WVE called on major companies SC Johnson (Windex, Glade), Procter & Gamble (Tide, Febreze, Pantene), and Clorox to follow Sunshine Makers’ example and begin disclosing allergens in their U.S. products. All three refused.

Do these companies truly believe we’ll stand by and let them exercise lower standards when it comes to our health?

Take the example of Johnson & Johnson and their iconic No More Tears baby shampoo. As part of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, we released Baby’s Tub is Still Toxic, which blew the roof off J&J’s double safety standard secret. The report revealed that while J&J’s U.S. version of No More Tears shampoo contained the formaldehyde-releasing preservative quaternium-15, linked to cancer, the company sold No More Tears in other countries without this toxic chemical.

When women discovered this shocking double standard, they were outraged, and they let J&J know it. Within weeks, the company agreed to reformulate its baby products worldwide to ensure they were free of formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.

Companies should learn from Johnson & Johnson. Given that women make more than 80% of purchasing decisions, companies owe it to us to make safe, transparent products – starting with giving us with the same ingredient information they’re already providing to consumers overseas.

Want to learn more? Check out our Secret Scents infographic, and take action to end the secrecy around fragrance ingredients.

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