If you look at the labels of personal care products like shampoo, deodorant, or soap, you’ll see a list of ingredients that is very specific. All the items in the product are disclosed…except one.
For decades, federal regulations have let companies hide nasty chemicals by using the catch-all term “fragrance.”
The Food and Drug Administration exempts manufacturers from having to be more specific, even though the “fragrance” in a product might contain synthetic, toxic, or allergy-provoking substances you should know about.1
Why does the FDA give fragrance this loophole?
Big cosmetic companies lobbied to include it in the “Fair Packaging and Labeling Act” of 1966. They argued that they needed to keep the ingredients in their fragrances secret to stop copycat products. In other words, it protected the market share of Chanel No. 5 and Old Spice.2
But the regulation that conceals ingredients from corporate competitors also hides them from consumers. This allows product makers to use some awful chemicals without anybody knowing about it.
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Hidden Toxins in Your Soap
The consumer watchdog Environmental Working Group (EWG) found toxic fragrance chemicals in just a small selection of the brands it tested. These substances included:
- Endocrine disruptors and phthalates. A study linked these chemicals to a more than six point drop in IQ for children whose mothers were exposed to phthalates during their pregnancy.3
- Diethyl phthalate. This chemical has been linked to sperm damage in studies.4
- Musk ketone. It is a skin irritant. Studies have shown this chemical accumulates in human fat tissue and breast milk. It is also suspected to be a hormone disruptor.5
- “Obesogens.” These are substances that can cause you to gain weight.6
Other analyses have found a chemical called styrene in fragrances. Styrene was determined to be a human carcinogen in 2011 by the National Academy of Sciences. 7
How can you protect yourself and your family?
One large personal care product company recently announced that it will no longer hide behind the term “fragrance” on its labels. The company is Unilever. It makes Dove soap, Axe deodorant, Noxema skin cream, and many others. Its labels will now list all ingredients.8
But, so far, other major companies have refused to join Unilever.
In the meantime, don’t buy any products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient. Companies that use natural substances to provide scent to their products usually don’t use this term.
Instead, you’ll see fragrances listed as “essential oils.” They are a safer, healthier choice.