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Fragrance Allergies Common Culprit in Skin Conditions

Fragrance Allergies Common Unsuspected Culprit in Skin Conditions, Report Finds

Environmental Health Group Advocates for Immediate Disclosure of Secret Fragrance Ingredients


MISSOULA, Mont. – 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 in cleaning and personal care products affects millions of Americans. According to the report Secret Scents: How Hidden Fragrance Allergens Harm Public Health, fragrance in household and personal care products is one of the most frequently identified allergens.  However, since companies are not required by the FDA or EPA to disclose fragrance ingredients, it is difficult for dermatologists to pinpoint specific fragrance allergens among the hundreds of ingredients that make up a scent.

Fragrance allergy usually manifests itself in the form of red bumps, blisters, itchiness and blotchiness of the skin.  Frequent exposure to fragrance allergens can lead to chronic dermatitis.  Fragrance can also exacerbate asthma. But because of lack of disclosure of fragrance ingredients, dermatologists face an uphill battle in identifying what is causing a patient’s reactions, making it difficult for the patient to avoid the allergen in question.

“Every day too many women suffer from reactions to the secret chemicals used in fragrances in their household products,” said Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research for Women’s Voices for the Earth. “We need to know what chemicals are used in scented products so we can make informed choices to protect our health.”

The report notes that allergic contact dermatitis, once a rare skin condition, is now quite common among children, and eczema has seen worldwide increases in the last decade. Overall, girls have higher rates of 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.  The disproportionate impact on women is likely due to women’s considerably greater exposure to fragranced products throughout their lives.

The most common cosmetic products associated with fragrance allergy are deodorants, perfumes and lotions. The most common fragrance allergens found in cosmetic products are geraniol and eugenol, which give off rose and clove-like scents. The most common fragrance allergens in cleaning products are limonene and hexyl cinnamal, which give off orange and floral scents.

“Fragrance exposures from personal care products and cleaning supplies are having a major effect on public health,” says Anne Steinemann, PhD, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Public Affairs, at the University of Washington. “Plus, the risks are widespread, because fragrance is so difficult to avoid.”

Secret Scents found that annual costs to insurance companies and Medicaid for treatment of contact dermatitis and eczema in the U.S. totaled $1-3.8 billion dollars. More than 70 percent of patients with eczema seek professional medical care for their condition, and nearly one-fifth of fragrance allergy sufferers take sick leave from their work due to their condition.

Choosing fragrance-free products is an unrealistic option 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. Although most companies including fragrances in their products do not reveal allergens in the U.S., they do disclose the presence of 26 common fragrance allergens for their products sold in the European Union.

A survey by WVE found that some companies in the U.S. do voluntarily provide this information to their customers, but few cleaning product companies do, although they purchase about half of the total fragrance ingredients sold worldwide. Seventh Generation, a leader in the “green” products category, has been disclosing all fragrance ingredients, including allergens, since 1990.

“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.”

Women’s Voices for the Earth is calling on other cleaning product companies to begin disclosing allergens immediately.  Sunshine Makers, the makers of the popular Simple Green cleaning products, announced today that it has begun disclosing allergens in its products on their web site.

Carol Chapin, Vice President of Research & Development for Sunshine Makers, Inc. says, “While we understand the desire for, even the importance of, fragrance in cleaning products for many consumers, we also understand that there is a growing population who have allergies to some fragrance components.  To address this growing concern, we have committed to list fragrance allergens within the ingredient disclosure information already found on our online consumer product Detail pages found at www.simplegreen.com.  In addition, the Simple Green product line offers some products that are allergen-free.”

“We are pleased to see companies like Sunshine Makers recognize the value of disclosing fragrance allergens found in their products to their consumers,” said Erin Switalski, Executive Director of Women’s Voices for the Earth.  “We encourage other companies to follow the example set by Sunshine Makers. Furthermore, we hope that the disclosure of fragrance allergens is a first step for complete fragrance ingredient disclosure.”

Major cleaning product companies Procter & Gamble, Clorox, and SC Johnson & Son have refused to disclose allergens in their U.S. products, even though each of these companies disclose the allergens in their products in the E.U.

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.

Additionally, the research in this report demonstrates the public health need for more information about the chemicals to which people are exposed. The Safe Chemicals Act, which was introduced in Congress last year, would require the chemical industry to disclose essential information on health and safety data on chemicals, including the chemicals that make up fragrance.

Alexandra Scranton, alexs@womensvoices.org, 406-396-1639
Sian Wu, swu@colehourcohen.com, 206-701-4734

Women’s Voices for the Earth is a national organization that works to eliminate toxic chemicals that harm women’s health by changing consumer behaviors, corporate practices and government policies. Download the report and other materials.

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4 Responses

  1. Jan Bradley

    I believe that it’s benzyl acetate, found in just about everything with fragrance, that I react to…

  2. Lynn

    What is common in all these products? Perfumes, Ax cologne, gas and oil, emissions, potpourri, airplane flu, carpet deodorizer, underarm everything

  3. Sheri

    I have a contact fragrance allergy. I have tried replacing all items that have fragrance but still have an awful, itchy rash on different areas of my skin. Help!

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