Hidden Chemicals In Popular Perfumes & Colognes

A new analysis reveals that top-selling fragrance products—from Britney Spears’ Curious and Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity to Calvin Klein Eternity and Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce —contain a dozen or more secret chemicals not listed on labels, multiple chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions or disrupt hormones, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety by the beauty industry’s self-policing review panels.

The study of hidden toxic chemicals in perfumes comes on the heels of report by the President’s Cancer Panel, which sounded the alarm over the understudied and largely unregulated toxic chemicals used by millions of Americans in their daily lives. The Cancer Panel report recommends that pregnant women and couples planning to become pregnant avoid exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals due to cancer concerns. Hormone disruptors that may play a role in cancer were found in many of the fragrances analyzed for this study.

A rose may be a rose. But that rose-like fragrance in your perfume may be something else entirely, concocted from any number of the fragrance industry’s 3,100 stock chemical ingredients, the blend of which is almost always kept hidden from the consumer. Makers of popular perfumes, colognes and body sprays market their scents with terms like “floral,” “exotic,” or “musky,” but they don’t disclose that many scents are actually a complex cocktail of natural essences and synthetic chemicals – often petrochemicals.

“This monumental study reveals the hidden hazards of fragrances,” said Anne C. Steinemann, Ph.D, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Professor of Public Affairs, University of Washington. “Secondhand scents are also a big concern. One person using a fragranced product can cause health problems for many others.”

For this study, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition of health and environmental groups, commissioned tests of 17 fragranced products at an independent laboratory. Campaign partner Environmental Working Group assessed data from the tests and the product labels.  The analysis reveals that the 17 name brand fragrance products, topped by American Eagle Seventy Seven with 24, Chanel Coco with 18, and Britney Spears Curious and Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio with 17:

Fourteen secret chemicals not listed on labels due to a loophole in federal law that allows companies to claim fragrances as trade secrets. American Eagle Seventy Seven contained 24 hidden chemicals, the highest number of any product in the study.

Ten sensitizing chemicals associated with allergic reactions such as asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis. Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio contained 19 different sensitizing chemicals, more than any other product in the study

Four hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to a range of health effects including sperm damage, thyroid disruption and cancer. Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver and Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow each contained seven different chemicals with the potential to disrupt the hormone system.

The average fragrance product tested contained 14 secret chemicals not listed on the label. Among them are chemicals associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety in personal care products.
Also in the ranks of undisclosed ingredients are chemicals with troubling hazardous properties or with a propensity to accumulate in human tissues. These include diethyl phthalate, a chemical found in 97 percent of Americans (Silva 2004) and linked to sperm damage in human epidemiological studies (Swan 2008), and musk ketone, a synthetic fragrance ingredient that concentrates in human fat tissue and breast milk (Hutter 2009; Reiner 2007).
The federal government is equally uninformed. A review of government records shows that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not assessed the vast majority of these secret fragrance chemicals for safety when used in spray-on personal care products such as fragrances. Nor have most been evaluated by the safety review panel of the International Fragrance Association or any other publicly accountable institution.

Fragrance secrecy is legal due to a giant loophole in the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973, which requires companies to list cosmetics ingredients on the product labels but explicitly exempts fragrance. By taking advantage of this loophole, the cosmetics industry has kept the public in the dark about the ingredients in fragrance, even those that present potential health risks or build up in people’s bodies.Ingredients not in a product’s hidden fragrance mixture must be listed on the label. As a result, manufacturers disclose some chemical constituents on ingredient lists but lump others together in the generic category of “fragrance.” In fact, “fragrances” are typically mixtures of many different secret chemicals, like those uncovered in this study. On average, the 17 name-brand fragrances tested in this study contained nearly equal numbers of secret and labeled ingredients, with 14 chemicals kept secret but found through testing, and 15 disclosed on labels.Some chemicals that are disclosed on the labels of the products in the report also raise safety concerns. They include sunscreen and ultraviolet-protector chemicals associated with hormone disruption (Schlumpf 2004) and 24 chemical sensitizers that can trigger allergic reactions (European Commission Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products (EC) 1999).To make matters worse, FDA lacks the authority to require manufacturers to test cosmetics for safety, including fragranced products, before they are sold to consumers. As a result, people using perfume, cologne, body spray and other scented cosmetics like lotion and aftershave are unknowingly exposed to chemicals that may increase their risk for certain health problems.Product tests initiated by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and subsequent analyses, detailed in this report, reveal that widely recognized brand-name perfumes and colognes contain secret chemicals, sensitizers, potential hormone disruptors and chemicals not assessed for safety:

Secret chemicals: Laboratory tests revealed 38 secret chemicals in 17 name-brand products, with an average of 14 secret chemicals per product. American Eagle Seventy Sevencontained 24 secret chemicals, nearly twice the average found in other products tested.

Multiple sensitizers: The products tested contained an average of 10 chemicals that are known to be sensitizers and can trigger allergic reactions such as asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis. All of these were listed on product labels. Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Giocontained 19 different sensitizing chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions, more than any other product tested.

Multiple hormone disruptors: A total of 12 different hormone-disrupting chemicals were found in the tested products, with an average of four in each product. Three products each contained seven different chemicals with the potential to disrupt the hormone system: Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver and Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow. In each product, six of these chemicals mimic the hormone estrogen, and the seventh is associated with thyroid effects. Some of these potential hormone disruptors were listed on labels; others were undisclosed and were uncovered in product testing.

Widespread use of chemicals that have not been assessed for safety: A review of government records shows that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not assessed the vast majority of fragrance ingredients in personal care products for safety. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an industry-funded and self policing body, has assessed only 19 of the 91 ingredients listed on labels or found in testing for the 17 products assessed in this study. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM), which develop and set voluntary standards for chemicals in the “fragrance” component of products, have assessed only 27 of the 91 ingredientslisted on labels or found in testing for the 17 products assessed in this study, based on a review of assessments published in the past 25 years.  

Here are some of the most common ingredients:

Amylcinnamaldehyde- Irritating to eyes, respiratory system, and skin

Pinene- Sensitizer, inhalation exposure to high concentrations associated with irritation of the respiratory airways.

Terpineol- May cause ataxia, headaches, depressed central nervous system

Benzaldehyde- Harmful if swallowed, exposure causes sore throat, rash, and eye pain

Benzophenone- Disruptive to hormones and thyroid

Benzyl Acetate- Carcinogen, possibly a cause of pancreatic cancer

Benzyl Alcohol- Causes headache, nausea, and dizziness

Benzyl benzoate- Disruptive to hormones

Benzyl cinnamate- Irritant, dangerous for the environment

Benzyl salicylate- Disruptive to hormones

Beta ionone- Possible carcinogen

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)- Disruptive to hormones and thyroid, possible carcinogen

Cinnamyl alcohol- Irritating to skin and eyes,

Coumarin- Carcinogen, toxic to liver and kidneys, used to kill rodents, common ingredient in cigarette tobacco products

Diethyl phthalate (DEP)- causes abnormal development of reproductive organs in male babies and sperm damage in adult men

Ethanol- EPA hazardous waste list, causes central nervous system disorder

Ethyl Acetate- Narcotic, on EPA hazardous waste list

Eugenol- Sensitizer, allergen

Farnesol- Skin irritant, allergen

Formaldehyde- Air pollutant, carcinogen, exposure causes wheezing, allergic reactions, skin rash

Galaxoide- toxic to the endocrine system

Terpinene- Causes central nervous system disorder

Lilial (Butylphenyl methylpropional)- Disruptive to hormones, allergen

Limonene- Carcinogen, causes central nervous system disorder

Linalool- Narcotic, causes central nervous system disorder

Lyral- Allergen, causes eczema

Methylene chloride- Banned by the FDA, carcinogen, EPA hazardous waste list, causes central nervous system disorder

Musk ketone- Disruptive to hormones

Myrcene- possible carcinogen

Octinoxate (Octyl methoxycinnamate) – Disruptive to hormones and thyroid

Oxybenzone- Disruptive to hormones

Toluene- Carcinogen

Tonalide- toxic to the endocrine system

Products were tested by Analytical Sciences, an independent laboratory in Petaluma, California. The lab found, in all, 40 chemicals in the tested fragrance products. Thirty-eight of these were secret, or unlabeled, for at least one of the products containing them, while the other two were listed on all relevant product labels. Ingredient labels disclosed the presence of another 51 chemical ingredients, giving a total of 91 chemical ingredients altogether in the tested products, including hidden and disclosed ingredients combined. Of the 17 products tested, 13 were purchased in the U.S. and four in Canada.

When sprayed or applied on the skin, many chemicals from perfumes, cosmetics and personal care products are inhaled. Others are absorbed through the skin. Either way, many of these chemicals can accumulate in the body. As a result, the bodies of most Americans are polluted with multiple cosmetics ingredients. This pollution begins in the womb and continues through life.

Numerous other products used daily, such as shampoos, lotions, bath products, cleaning sprays, air fresheners and laundry and dishwashing detergents, also contain strongly scented, volatile ingredients that are hidden behind the word “fragrance.” Some of these ingredients react with ozone in the indoor air, generating many potentially harmful secondary air pollutants such as formaldehyde and ultrafine particles (Nazaroff 2004).

People have the right to know which chemicals they are being exposed to. They have the right to expect the government to protect people, especially vulnerable populations, from hazardous chemicals. In addition to required safety assessments of ingredients in cosmetics, the laws must be changed to require the chemicals in fragrance to be fully disclosed and publicly accessible on ingredient labels.

Here is a list of perfumes that contain dangerously high levels of toxins that may cause cancer, migraine headaches, dermatitis, respiratory illness, hormonal disorders, and organ failure:

Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce

American Eagle Seventy Seven

AXE Bodyspray For Men – Shock

Bath & Body Works Japanese Cherry Blossom

Britney Spears Curious

Calvin Klein Eternity (for men)

Calvin Klein Eternity (for women)

Clinique Happy

Coco Mademoiselle Chanel

Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue

Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio

Halle by Halle Berry

Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity

Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow

Old Spice After Hours Body Spray

Quiksilver (for men)

Victoria’s Secret Dream Angels Heavenly