Better Labeling Needed for Fragrances

July 15th, 2007

Alternative Medicine magazine published an article about the dangers of synthetic fragrances a couple of months ago.  The industry objected to the assertion that it used unsafe ingredients in their products and complained about the sources cited by that author.  Of course, they provided no proof that their ingredients actually were safe and could not do so – they won’t risk actually publishing their ingredients list anywhere since they are allowed to hide behind a single label term on every package:  Fragrance

A shortened version of my rebuttal appears in the print version of the magazine this month as follows:

 Better Labeling Needed

Since thousands of ingredients are incorporated into fragrance formulas, blanket assertions of their safety by the industry are rather unconvincing. Today’s synthetic fragrances rarely boast the natural ingredients of earlier centuries as their sole contents. Instead we have petrochemical derivatives: aldehydes, phenols, alcohols/ethers, ketones, esters, and alkanes. The body can absorb these chemicals through contact with skin or mucous membranes or inhalation (by users and bystanders).

The FDA does not specify methods of safety testing or pre-approve ingredients. In fact, profiles of chemicals in government databases reveal a paucity of information in most areas and do not address synergistic, combinatorial effects of the chemicals. More comprehensive testing could predict effects such as respiratory irritation, allergenicity, carcinogenicity, neurological effects, reproductive and developmental toxicity, hormonal effects, and damage to organs like the liver and kidneys.

More immediately, fragrances are known to trigger asthma and migraines in millions of sufferers. They are the largest cause of contact dermatitis in allergic persons. Adverse effects range from annoying to disabling. But figuring out the “frequent offender” ingredients in scents is difficult because products only have to list the generic term of ‘fragrance’ on their labels.

Considering both known and potential hazards, only full disclosure of ingredients will allow consumers to make informed decisions about their purchases and health needs.

BARBARA RUBIN

Categories: Alternative Medicine, Letters, Published

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