Report Reveals Fragrance Allergies On the Rise

A new report by the women's health advocacy group Women's Voices for the Earth has found that allergic reaction and sensitivity to fragrance chemicals is more widespread than previously thought. According to the report Secret Scents: The Allergens Hiding in Your Scented Products, fragrance is one of the most frequently identified allergens, and tens of millions of people in the U.S. are sensitized to common fragrance ingredients found in household and personal care products. However, it is nearly impossible for the public to avoid specific fragrance allergens because companies are not required to disclose the tens to hundreds of ingredients that make up a scent.

The report notes that children have been experiencing increased incidents of allergic contact dermatitis, once a rare skin condition and quite common now. Eczema has also seen worldwide increases in the last decade. Overall, girls have higher rates of chemical sensitization than boys.  Women, who are more likely to use more perfumed personal care products and cosmetics, are 200-300 percent more likely to have fragrance allergies than men. They are two times more likely to report adverse symptoms from exposure to fragrance.

"Too many people, particularly women, are adversely affected every day by the chemicals kept secret in fragrance", says Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research for Women's Voices for the Earth. "Knowing what chemicals are used in scented products could reduce the burden of allergies and other health impacts for millions of people."

Choosing fragrance-free products leave few options for allergic consumers. The report found that fragrance is found in 96 percent of shampoos, 91 percent of antiperspirants and 95 percent of shaving products. Companies making fragranced products currently do not reveal allergens on product labels because disclosure is not required by U.S. law. But, the manufacturers of these same household products are required to disclose the presence of 26 common fragrance allergens for their products sold in the European Union.

Some companies in the U.S. do voluntarily provide this information to their customers.  A survey of a cosmetics database conducted by Women's Voices for the Earth found more than 200 personal care product companies are already disclosing fragrance allergens on their product labels.  Far fewer cleaning product companies, who purchase about half of the total fragrance ingredients sold worldwide, are doing this. Seventh Generation, a leader in the "green" products category, has been disclosing all fragrance ingredients, including allergens, since 1998.

"We've always believed that consumers have the right to know what's in the products they buy," said Ashley Orgain, Manager of Corporate Consciousness for Seventh Generation.  "We also take great care in the ingredient choices that we make so we are proud to list them on our labels."

Two legislative solutions were introduced in Congress that will require greater ingredient transparency in consumer products. The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act, which will be introduced this year by Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), will require that cleaning products disclose all ingredients, including fragrance ingredients and allergens on the label. The Safe Cosmetics Act would phase out chemical ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects and developmental harm and require fragrance ingredients to be disclosed. 

Are you or someone you love affected by fragrance in cosmetic or household products?