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Fragrance disclosure turned on its head


Amanda Cattermole

BY: Amanda Cattermole / 23rd Mar

Many hazardous chemicals are used in fragrances without regulatory oversight!

Unilever will voluntarily disclose all chemicals in its fragrances, exceeding U.S. regulatory requirements, and will complete the task by 2018.

The International Fragrance Association states that over 3,000 chemicals are used to make fragrances, but only 200 of them are regulated. U.S. regulations do not require full disclosure, which means listing “fragrance” on the label is acceptable.

Unilever will list the chemicals in fragrances on their website. In addition, individual product information will be available on SmartLabel, a tool that gives consumers ingredient information for a range of consumer products.

Unilever will elevate itself to a leadership position by taking this pro-active stance, and the hope is that other brands will follow suit. NGO, Women’s Voices for the Earth, has worked tirelessly to increase fragrance disclosure and educate women about the dangers of hazardous chemicals to human and environmental health. They have also shown that many people, especially women, are very sensitive to fragrances, and that the number of people affected is increasing.

Let’s drill down a little bit more on fragrances to understand the concerns.

What health concerns are associated with fragrances?

Fragrances in personal care products are the second most common cause of allergic skin reactions. Acute health issues include:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis and eczema resulting in itchy, red skin and even blisters
  • Asthma, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Eye irritation
  • Longer-term health concerns may include problems associated with endocrine disruptors, as well as reproductive issues.

What hazardous chemicals are used in fragrances?

A fragrance is defined as a substance that provides a smell and fragrances can be made from synthetic or natural chemicals, such as lavender or peppermint. Some of the most hazardous known chemicals in fragrances include:

  • Synthetic musks, which are designed to mimic animal musk scents. These chemicals do not breakdown in the environment, they can be potential endocrine disruptors, and they can accumulate in our bodies.
  • Phthalates, which are synthetic chemicals act as solvents and carriers in fragrances. The EPA has identified 7 solvents on its list for further assessment. Many phthalates are reproductive toxins.

How are brands and retailers proactively managing “fragrances?”

Many brands, especially those that make personal care products, have a fragrance-free selection. Brands such as Method and Seventh Generation incorporate green chemistry principles into their R&D process.

Target has introduced a chemicals management strategy that addresses transparency as one of its key components, although they have not stated a strategy to address fragrances yet.

What should consumers do?

Consumers can reduce their exposure to fragrances by:

  • Supporting Women’s Voices for the Earth with their efforts to drive new policies requiring full disclosure of fragrances
  • Seeking out fragrance-free products
  • Not wearing perfume and other heavily scented products
  • Increasing ventilation in the built environment by opening windows or turning on a fan
  • Using baking soda to masks odors rather than using a scent or fragrance.

The ever increasing importance of transparency and disclosure is not going away, and fragrance disclosure is one excellent example of just that.

Impacts to your business? Questions to consider:

Is your company proactive by getting ahead of regulations?

Is transparency and disclosure important as part of your sustainability program?


Amanda Cattermole

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