Thursday, November 11, 2010

Much-maligned ingredients: Fragrances (overview)

Fragrances show up a lot in various reports about ingredients we should avoid in our cosmetics, and there are a few reasons why this might be. One of the main concerns is that not all the fragrances or components of a fragrance are listed (although in the EU it appears they list all the various components). Another is what's actually hidden under the listing of "parfum" or "fragrance". 

The Suzuki Foundation report notes in their Dirty Dozen Report:
Many of unlisted fragrance ingredients are irritants and can trigger allergies, migraines and asthma symptoms. A survey of asthmatics found that perfume and/or colognes triggered attacks in nearly three out of four individuals. There is also evidence suggesting that exposure to perfume can exacerbate asthma and perhaps even contribute to its development in children. U.K. researchers have reported that “perfume” is the second most common cause of allergy in patients at dermatology clinics.

As a note, perfume is different from fragrance oils in many ways - they are sprayed and are meant to be airborne, they will be far more fragrant than the 1% we use in a lotion (for instance), and they contain many different chemicals to help retain the scent. So the Suzuki Foundation is talking about perfumes and colognes and not fragrance oils as we use them. 

In the recently published State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment, the authors note: We know from product testing that some of the chemicals in fragrance, such as synthetic musks, phthalates and ethylene oxide, are known endocrine-disrupting compounds or carcinogens. Endocrine- disrupting phthalates are readily absorbed through the skin (Janjua, 2008) and can also enter the body through ingestion and inhalation (Schettler, 2006). (page 83)

We know some companies put their preservatives in the category of "parfum" or "fragrance", which they then call "preservative free", so there's another issue. 

Okay, so we have a few issues here...
1. Fragrances can exacerbate existing health problems in some people;
2. Some fragrances contain chemicals like phthalates; 
3. Companies don't declare all their fragrance components; and
4. Companies hide other ingredients under the label of "fragrance". 

The last two issues aren't really relevant for those of us who make our own products. We control what we put into our products and we control how we label them, so the only concern would be in asking our suppliers about the fragrances they sell. Do they contain dipropylene glycol? Do they contain phthalates? Do they contain any other ingredients that our potential customers or giftees might not want this week? We ask the questions then we make our decisions on what we buy. 

As for exacerbating health problems, I think our society is responding to this issue. My workplace has a no scent policy, as do most work places I've seen, so those who respond adversely to fragrances can feel more comfortable. I don't think an ingredient belongs on a hazardous list because some people have sensitivities or allergies to it. If that were the case, my list would include ice cream and yogurt, while other readers of this blog would have to list aloe vera and some preservatives. 

So I want to concentrate on the phthalates - join me tomorrow for that topic! 


daniel said...

Thanks for this blog Swift aka Susan, or vice versa :) I can go on and on why your blog is top 10% or who I am. Suffice it is to say, you are doing a great service to the cosmetic industry, and that is according to industry insiders. Thank you.

Jane Barber said...

Thanks Susan. A really interesting post. As an ex-HR manager who lives in London, UK, I'm surprised to hear about workplaces in other countries having a "no scent" policy. I had a little giggle to myself when I read this (I was thinking perhaps things have been taken too far) but secretly I quite like it since I suffer from sinus allergies, mainly due to perfume. Most of it is my own fault though, putting a new fragrance oil in my lotion and then my sinuses suffer for days.