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That sexy scent in your shampoo or lipstick may have less-than-sexy side effects (think blisters, eczema, or problems breathing.) But that’s not the worst of it. Certain fragrance ingredients might even have links to cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive abnormalities, according to a new study from Women’s Voices for the Earth, a Montana-based nonprofit that works to eliminate toxins that threaten women’s health. Secret Scents: How Hidden Fragrance Ingredients Harm Public Health reports that tens of millions of people across the globe suffer from fragrance-related allergies. Among the common triggers? Household and personal-care products.
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WAFT OF DANGER
But affected populations will be hard-pressed to side-step specific fragrance allergens, the group says. Although the U.S. National Academy of Sciences listed fragrance ingredients more than 20 years ago as one of six categories of neurotoxins that should be investigated for their impact on human health, neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nor the U.S. Food and Drug Administration require companies to disclose the chemical makeup of fragranced products.
The lack of information regarding fragrance ingredients, Women’s Voices adds, is a major public health problem.
“This policy of secrecy has a two-fold effect on public health: it makes fragrance allergy both harder to diagnose and harder to treat,” reads the report. “Allergy patients are left with the unfortunate and extraordinarily limiting option of attempting to avoid all fragranced products.”
The lack of information regarding fragrance ingredients, Women’s Voices adds, is a major public health problem. Allergy sufferers routinely endure unnecessary pain while incurring significant health costs related to those allergies, it says. Despite the fact that the disclosure of fragrance ingredients, including those that have been identified by scientific bodies as allergens, could provide a “significant global health benefit,” however, the fragrance industry maintains that the secrecy surrounding their ingredients is vital to their business model.
In the U.S., the costs to insurance companies and Medicaid for the treatment of contact dermatitis and eczema ranges between $1 billion and $3.8 billion per year.
The fragrance industry’s self-regulation, the group says, has not served the public well. Children are easily exposed to fragrance allergens not only in scented personal-care product but also in toys, whether through skin contact, oral ingestion, or inhalation. (The European Union banned 55 “highly allergenic” fragrance ingredients from use in toys, and requires labeling for an additional 11 fragrance allergens, for this reason alone.)
In the United States, the costs to insurance companies and Medicaid for the treatment of contact dermatitis and eczema ranges between $1 billion and $3.8 billion per year, similar to the costs of other diseases such as emphysema and epilepsy.
“The argument for withholding this ingredient information as vital trade secrets simply wears thin given today’s reverse-engineering technology,” the report concludes. “A simple list of fragrance ingredients (without percentages or other key formulation details) poses almost no additional risk to the intellectual property of these companies. Yet the benefits of ingredient disclosure to allergy patients, health care professionals, researchers and everyday consumers could be dramatic. It is well overdue for the fragrance industry to shine some needed light on fragrance ingredients for the health of their customers.”