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The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics this week released a report about perfumes and — yes I know this is cliché — it definitely stinks.

The organization assessed 17 different perfumes, which listed “fragrance” on their labels. On average, there were 14 different unlisted ingredients in each of the perfumes. The reason: manufacturers are not required to list the chemicals they use to make perfumes fragrant. And some of the perfumes had many more than average. For example, American Eagle Seventy Seven had 24 unnamed ingredients, Coco Mademoiselle Chanel had 18, and Britney Spears Curious and Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio both had 17 unnamed ingredients. Almost 2/3rds — 66 percent of the ingredients — have not been tested for human safety. “According to EWG analysis, the fragrance industry has published safety assessments for
only 34% of the unlabeled ingredients,” says the report.

From the report: “The fragrances tested contained, on average, 10 chemical sensitizers, which can trigger reactions such as asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis when they are breathed in absorbed into the skin.” (Check out page 9 of the report to see the full list of chemicals.)

It’s not like this all over the world, though. In fact, it seems like the folks in Europe are better protected than those in the States. In Europe, there are 26 ingredients that must go on the label if they are in perfume. According to this week’s report, those 17 perfumes tested by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics had 22 of those ingredients. And 12 of the 17 perfumes tested also contained phthalates: diethyl phthalate, known as DEP, specifically. Phthalates are hormone disruptors that mainly affect the reproductive organs and the brain. Nasty little chemicals. Not something you’d want to be rubbing on your skin or inhaling into your lungs.

An April 2010 study out of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University has linked prenatal exposure to phthalates found in personal care products and perfume to childhood ADHA. Another Mount Sinai study linked phthalates to early puberty in girls. This is a big deal, according to researchers, because it may cause a higher incidence of breast cancer later in life: “”Exposure to these chemicals is extremely common,” Dr. Mary Wolff, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Oncological Sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “As such, while the association between chemicals and pubertal development seems small, the impact on the overall population is significant.”

So what’s the take-away? We, as consumers, should be able to avoid phthalates and chemicals that have the potential to hurt us. We can’t do that unless we can see everything that goes into the products we buy. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics wants Congress to rewrite the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973, forcing the perfume manufacturers to list every chemicals that’s in a perfume or cologne. It’s tough, though, since the FDA lacks the authority to make this happen. I agree something has to change. What do you think?

Do you wear perfume every day? I don’t — only on special occasions — but this still scares me. My girls have been lying on my mom’s chest since they were born. My mother-in-law’s, too. They “smell like Grandma” when both grandmas leave.

2 Responses to “Fragrance: Smells Like Danger to Me”

  1. Amy says:

    I really wish more people would pay attention to what the ingredients on the side of their beauty products say!!! We as a society have been trained to believe that if it is on a store shelf somewhere then it is safe and that just isn’t so. We really need to take a stand and so no more. I haven’t worn perfume in years and all my beauty products are organic. And I have to tell you, I feel better for it!!! I hope the many who read this blog take to heart this report and pass it on to those they love! The world will only change if we change it! Thanks!

  2. Alexandra says:

    Thanks for reporting on this. I don’t use perfume anymore. I used to spray it in my hair, when I lived in France, because I was allergic to it on my skin. The Environmental Working Group has a great database called Skindeep where you can look up what’s in cosmetics.

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