Secret, troubling chemicals in popular fragrances
If someone were to ask you, “What’s that lovely fragrance you’re wearing?” would you say, “Oh, that’s hormone disruptors, allergens and chemicals that have never been assessed for safety. It’s my signature scent.” Of course you wouldn’t. But there is a good chance that reply would be accurate.
Not So Sexy: The health risks of secret chemicals in fragrance, a new report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Environmental Working Group, reveals that top-selling fragrances contain an average of 14 undisclosed chemicals, many of which are linked to serious health problems.
How can so many popular perfumes – including scents endorsed by celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Halle Berry and Miley Cyrus – contain toxins? Well, in the United States, companies are allowed to put nearly any chemical into cosmetics, with no required safety assessment. The law that governs this enormous industry has not been amended significantly since it was enacted 82 years ago- long before most of these chemicals even existed. Furthermore, a huge loophole in federal law exempts fragrance ingredients from being listed on labels (two industry trade associations set voluntary standards that fragrance houses can follow- or not). We are in the dark about what’s in these products, and how they are impacting our bodies.
The big finding of the Not So Sexy study is that the fragrances we tested contained a mixture of chemicals of concern – including multiple hormone disruptors, allergens and many chemicals that have not been assessed for safety. Evidence suggests that in some cases, mixtures of chemicals can be more harmful than the sum of the parts. Particularly concerning findings:
· DEP, a phthalate, has been detected in the bodies of 97% of Americans. DEP is linked to sperm damage in adult men, feminized genitals in baby boys, and behavior problems in children. So what it is doing in 12 of the 17 products we tested for this study- in fragrances intended boys and men, like Calvin Klein Eternity, Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio, and Old Spice Afterhours Body Spray? Or in fragrances used by pregnant women?
· Galaxolide and Tonalide: musk chemicals that were recently detected in the umbilical cord blood of newborn infants were found in 16 of the 17 fragrances in this study. Musk chemicals have been poorly studied, but existing evidence suggests they are potential hormone disruptors, and they are toxic to fish and aquatic life, and can accumulate in the food chain.
· Several products contain multiple chemicals that have the potential to mimic estrogen in the body. Higher exposures to estrogen throughout a woman’s life increase her risk of breast cancer. Halle by Halle Berry and Glow by JLO each contained seven different potentially hormone-disrupting ingredients, the highest numbers among tested products.
Well, these findings stink, but the good news is, we know that products can be effective and enjoyable while being safe and non-toxic. There are two ways that you can help to make this a reality: through law and through the marketplace.
1) Laws must be updated to ensure cosmetics are safe for everyone. Please sign the petition to Congress, asking for FDA to get the authority and resources it needs to make cosmetics nontoxic, and to ensure full disclosure of ingredients so consumers can make informed choices.
2) We have the right to know what’s in the products we put on our bodies, and we expect companies to make the safest products possible. 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.
Avoiding questionable fragrance ingredients in personal care products, air fresheners, candles and other items is nearly impossible under current laws. With your help, that will change. In the meantime, more than 200 companies that have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics are fully disclosing all of their ingredients on their labels. All manufacturers should do this. (See Appendix F of the report for the list of 200+ companies.)
Yours for a toxic-free (but still pleasant-smelling) future,