What’s Behind the Word ‘Fragrance’?

You don’t have to look very hard to come across the word “fragrance” on labels for cleaning or personal care products.  Federal regulations allow companies to list “fragrance” on everything from laundry detergent and surface cleaners to shampoo and deodorant. But what can be difficult to locate on product labels are the ingredients found in fragrance blends. The label “Fragrance” alone can often be a catch-all for multiple chemicals, some of which may be linked to allergies or other potential health effects.  

In fact, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group says that approximately 3,000 chemicals can be used to make a fragrance, some of which have been linked to cancer, reproductive and respiratory problems, and allergies.

Why Fragrance Information is Hard to Find

Fragrance blends found in everyday products can do everything from adding pleasant smells to your personal care or cleaning routine or masking less desirable smells.

So, when you look for what fragrance ingredients are being used in a product—whether you want to avoid them or learn more—you probably won't find them. Fragrance formulas are often protected as trade secrets, and their ingredients tend not to be listed on product labels. Furthermore, federal law does not require companies to disclose ingredients on cleaning product labels, including details about fragrance.

Fortunately, progress is being made to give consumers the right to know.

Here’s what’s been happening in Congress and at individual companies across the US:

  • In May, Representative Raul Ruiz introduced The Federal Cleaning Products Right to Know Act (H.R.2728), bringing the fight for industry-wide ingredient disclosure in cleaning products back to the federal level. The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act requires manufacturers of both consumer household and industrial cleaning products to disclose all intentionally-added ingredients, including fragrances, on their product labels and websites.
  • Senator Ricardo Lara (D-CA) introduced in February the California Cleaning Product Right to Know Act (SB 258), which calls for manufacturers to disclose a product’s ingredients and contaminants of concern in order of concentration—including the chemicals used in fragrance mixtures—on both on the product label and online.
  • In January, Target Corp. unveiled a new chemical policy to eliminate and disclose certain harmful chemicals from their products. Target’s new policy will phase out a wide range of chemicals of concern, including phthalates, certain parabens, and formaldehyde-donors, and also sets a goal to disclose all fragrance ingredients in personal care products by 2020.
  • Our parent company, Unilever, announced in February a new initiative to provide detailed information on fragrance ingredients for all products in its portfolio of personal care brands by 2018.

The Right to Know

It’s important to remember that listing fragrances on product labels won’t enhance a product’s safety. But what ingredient disclosure will do is give consumers the right to choose what they use in their homes and around their families. When it comes to fragrances, disclosure allows consumers to avoid ingredients they are not comfortable using. Consumers have the right to know which what exactly they are being exposed to, and how to stay away from ingredients that may cause allergic reactions or other health effects.

We all have a right to know what’s in the products we use around our homes, families, pets and ourselves. Learn more about our fight for the industry to #ComeClean about the ingredients they use.