The analysis shows that the 17 products tested contained, on average, 14 chemicals not listed on labels due to a loophole in federal law that allows companies to claim fragrances as trade secrets.
Tests commissioned for the report, "Not So Sexy - The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance," found chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions or disrupt hormones. Hormone-disrupting chemicals are linked to a range of health effects including sperm damage, thyroid disruption and cancer.
For this study, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics commissioned tests of 17 fragranced products at an independent laboratory in Petaluma, California. Campaign partner Environmental Working Group assessed data from the tests and the product labels.
Fragrances tested include Britney Spears' Curious and Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity, Calvin Klein Eternity and Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce.
The women's perfume American Eagle Seventy Seven contained 24 "hidden" chemicals, the highest number of any product in the study, the report states.
"The majority of chemicals found in this report have never been assessed for safety by any publically accountable agency, or by the cosmetics industry's self-policing review panels," the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Environmental Working Group said today in a statement.
Perfumes on display (Photo by Alastair Dunning)
"Fragrance chemicals are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and many of them end up inside people's bodies, including pregnant women and newborn babies," said Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research at Environmental Working Group and a co-author of the report.
The study of chemicals in perfumes comes after last week's report by the President's Cancer Panel, which rang alarm bells over understudied and largely unregulated toxics used by millions of Americans every day.
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.
"This monumental study reveals the hidden hazards of fragrances," said Anne Steinemann, Ph.D, professor of civil and environmental engineering and professor of public affairs at the University of Washington. "Secondhand scents are also a big concern. One person using a fragranced product can cause health problems for many others."
Analysts found 10 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.
Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver and Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow each contained seven chemicals with the potential to disrupt the hormone system.
Fragrance sprays contain chemicals not listed on product labels. (Photo by Tina Schofield)
"Something doesn't smell right - clearly the system is broken," said Lisa Archer, national coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund. "We urgently need updated laws that require full disclosure of cosmetic ingredients so consumers can make informed choices about what they are being exposed to."
But the Fragrance Materials Association of the United States, an industry group of companies that invent and manufacture mixtures of fragrance ingredients for use in perfumes, colognes and body sprays, soaps, shampoos and detergents, faults the "Not So Sexy" report, saying there is nothing "secret" about the ingredients used in its members products.
The association points to a listing of more than 3,000 fragrance ingredients that are currently being used in all forms of consumer products published by the industry.
"The fragrance industry has repeatedly offered to engage interest groups in a dialogue about the industry's safety program," the association said in a statement today. "In fact, it has even sat cordially across the table with several of the groups which contributed to this report. We are, therefore, shocked to see the continuation of inaccuracies perpetuated in this document concerning our safety program and its effectiveness."
The industry association calls the report "scare mongering" and unscientific, saying that it just suggests potential associations between fragrance materials and various toxicities.
"Facts are not 'secret,' and good science is very objective; an objective review of the facts confirms that an industry safety program that has been in place for more than four decades provides assurance of safe use of the fragrances contained in consumer products," the association says.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Environmental Working Group reply that of the 91 ingredients identified in their study, only 19 have been reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, and just 27 have been assessed by International Fragrance Association and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials, which develop voluntary standards for chemicals used in fragrance.
The Environmental Working Group cites one of its own recent studies that found synthetic musk chemicals galaxolide and tonalide in the umbilical cord blood of newborn infants. "The musk chemicals were found in nearly every fragrance analyzed for this study," the group says.
Twelve of the 17 products also contained diethyl phthalate, a chemical linked to sperm damage and behavioral problems that has been found in the bodies of nearly all Americans tested, said the EWG.
For this study, 13 scent products were purchased in the United States: 10 through Amazon.com, two at Long's Drugs/CVS in Berkeley, California and one through Abercrombie & Fitch's website. Four products were purchased in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: one at American Eagle Outfitters, two at Sephora and one at Sears.
Unopened products were sent to Analytical Sciences, an independent laboratory in Petaluma, California, for analysis.
Based on the results of the study, the two groups are demanding that ingredients linked to cancer and birth defects be phased out of cosmetics.
The groups want all ingredients in cosmetics to meet a health-based safety standard that includes protections for children and other vulnerable populations.
And they are asking the government to require the listing on product labels of all chemical constituent ingredients in personal care products, including fragrances and contaminants.
The President's Cancer Panel recommended an overhaul in government regulation of chemicals, loosening the restrictions on the government's ability to declare a chemical unsafe. Of the 80,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States, only about 200 have been tested for safety by the federal government.
Click here to read the report, "Not So Sexy - The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance."
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