Don’t be fooled by the nice smell
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Don’t be fooled by the nice smell

Every day we come in contact with synthetic fragrances, whether it is an air freshener with a scent of rose petals, a shampoo that leaves your hair smelling like passion fruit or a face wash with just a hint of eucalyptus.

But exactly what constitutes these pleasant fragrances has long been steeped in secrecy.

In the European Union, there are 26 fragrance chemicals that are well-known allergens which are required to be listed as separate ingredients. In the United States, things are different.

On the product label of a personal care product in the US you will read a whole bunch of very complicated ingredients only to find one that is simply referred to as fragrance. One little word that hides the presence of dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of chemicals.

Last week US organisation Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP) released a report that examines fragrance chemicals in beauty, personal care and cleaning products sold in the United States. BCPP tested 140 products using semi- and non-targeted chemical analysis methods, and the results were quite concerning.

“More than one in four of the total 338 fragrance chemicals were linked to serious chronic health effects”

More than one in four of the total 338 fragrance chemicals detected in the products were linked to serious chronic health effects, such as cancer, hormone disruption and reproductive harm. Fragrance chemicals also made up three-quarters of all of the toxic chemicals found during testing.

“BCPP’s report reveals that when we use common beauty and personal care products, we are exposed to a shocking number of unlabelled, unregulated toxic fragrance chemicals without our knowledge or consent”, said Janet Nudelman, Director of BCPP’s Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

“It continues to be a self-regulated industry with no guidelines regulating fragrance chemicals”

In the United States beauty and personal care products are subject to federal labelling standards. But there are, however, two important categories that are exempt from disclosure – fragrance and flavours.

Fragrance is big business in the United States. The value of the North American flavour and fragrance market amounted to approximately $6 billion US dollars in 2015, and is forecasted to reach $7.42 billion by 2020.

Despite this, it continues to be a self-regulated industry with no federal or state guidelines regulating the disclosure or the safety of fragrance chemicals.

“Even if EU regulation on cosmetics is more rigorous than in the US, there is a lack of transparency when it comes to fragrance ingredients also here in Europe. Consumers have the right to know what kinds of chemicals that the products contain”, comments Frida Hök, Senior Policy Advisor at ChemSec.