A program of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners

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Fragrance Disclosure

Did you know there are secret, unlabeled, and often toxic fragrance and flavor chemical ingredients in many common personal care products?

What Are Secret Fragrance Chemicals?

Dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of chemicals can hide under one little word – “fragrance” – on the product labels of the beauty and personal care products you use every day. Fragrance suppliers have long enjoyed federal trade secret protections that allow them to hide the ingredients that make your beauty and personal care products smell good.

What’s the problem with secret fragrance chemicals?

As a result of trade secret protections, consumers get incomplete information regarding the fragrance and flavor ingredients in their beauty and personal care products. Meanwhile, manufacturers are unable to provide consumers with the full ingredient disclosure they are asking for, and regulators are unable to determine—and ensure—the safety of the full scope of ingredients on the market being used to formulate cosmetics. Fragrance houses and their trade associations are desperately trying to hold on to this special privilege, even as hundreds of cosmetic companies are voluntarily disclosing the fragrance ingredients in their products in response to consumer right to know demands. (See the “Trade Secrets” section below for more)

Are fragrance chemicals in personal care products toxic?

Breast Cancer Prevention Partners’ 2018 report Right to Know: Exposing Toxic Fragrance Chemicals in Beauty, Personal Care and Cleaning Products found that fragrance chemicals made up the vast majority of the chemicals linked to harmful chronic health effects in the beauty and personal care products tested. The study investigated to what extent major companies that make beauty and personal care hide unlabeled toxic chemicals in their products. BCPP took on this research project because the scientific literature and previous product testing indicated that fragranced products contained chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption and other adverse health effects.

Are products labeled “fragrance free” safer?

Unfortunately, consumers looking for fragrance free products have limited options. Even products labeled as unscented may have fragrance added to mask the smell of other ingredients.

Hair products are especially problematic: more than 95 percent of shampoos, conditioners, and styling products contain fragrance.[1] Without legally mandated fragrance ingredient disclosure, it is impossible for consumers to avoid potentially harmful ingredients or for researchers and regulators to understand the full universe of ingredients being used to formulate cosmetic products.


What can be done about toxic fragrance ingredients in cosmetics?

In 2021, U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Doris Matsui introduced the Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act, which would require companies to disclose fragrance and flavor ingredients that are harmful to human health or the environment on their product labels and websites. Fragrance ingredient disclosure will allow consumers to make safer and more informed decisions, benefit manufacturers who want to practice a higher level of transparency and provide regulators with the information they need to more effectively regulate the safety of cosmetic products. This bill is one of four bills that make up the Safer Beauty Bill Package, which aims to make personal care products safer for everyone.

California Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act of 2020 (SB 312)

In October 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the California Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act of 2020 (SB 312) into law. This first of its kind law requires companies that sell beauty or personal care products in California to report fragrance or flavor ingredients linked to harm to human health or the environment to the California Department of Public Health by January 1, 2022, which then makes that information publicly available through its Safe Cosmetics Program online databaseLearn more >

[1]  Scheman, A., Jacob, S., Katta, R., Nedorost, S., Warshaw, E., Zirwas, M. and Bhinder, M. (2011) Hair products: Trends and Alternatives: Data from the American Contact Alternatives Group. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 4(7), pp. 42- 46.

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