Toxic Fragrance and Flavors: The Other Invisible Enemy
Update 9.30.20: VICTORY!!!! Gov. Newsom just signed historic SB312 into law – making California first in the world to require disclosure of secret toxic fragrance and flavor chemicals in cosmetics! Learn more.
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By Sharon Wilcox
It was so unexpected and appeared seemingly out of nowhere, coronavirus. But the truth is, experts in science and epidemiology have, for years, warned about the inevitability of a pandemic. So maybe we were told. Maybe we just weren’t listening. In any event, we are listening now and learning how to protect ourselves and the people we love from this “invisible enemy.”
But there is another invisible enemy – a serious health threat that has, for decades, been operating behind the scenes, gaining momentum. Stealthily and slowly, it is, nonetheless, doing serious harm to both young and old. And though multitudes of health researchers have long been warning us, we aren’t listening. What is this health threat? It is the ever-growing proliferation of toxic chemicals in the consumer products we unwittingly eat, breathe in, and use on our bodies every single day – chemicals that research shows can cause cancer, damage our brains and other organs, and trash our immune systems. No matter the warnings, corporations keep stocking our shelves with these products and say “trust us, our products are safe”. To make matters worse, new chemicals are introduced into the market each year. Shockingly, very few are ever tested for safety before finding their way into our bodies, including those found in the flavorings and fragrances of cosmetics and personal care products, which very often contain some seriously dangerous ingredients.
For those who are concerned about avoiding products with dangerous fragrance or flavor ingredients, it can be all but impossible to do so because, not only are companies allowed to sell products that contain toxic chemicals, in many cases they are not even required to list them on the packaging! No federal law requires the disclosure of fragrance or flavor ingredients to consumers, manufacturers or even regulatory agencies. For example, the fragrance in that pretty pink bottle of scented baby lotion may contains a scary concoction of dozens (if not hundreds) of chemicals, but the manufacturer is not legally required what ingredients are in that product give it its unique smell. They only need to list the word “fragrance,” “perfume” or “parfum” as a single ingredient, thereby hiding a multitude of chemicals. What’s even more alarming is that there is no state or federal regulatory oversight of the safety of these ingredients. As a result, 1/3 of the ingredients used to make fragrances have been flagged as toxic or potentially toxic by scientists around the world. It is unacceptable and dangerous.
California Bill SB 312 Aims to End Toxic Secrets in Fragrances & Flavors
Currently, there is a bill before the California legislature, the Cosmetic Flavor and Fragrance Ingredient Right to Know Act of 2020 (SB 312) which, if passed, will require manufacturers of products sold in California to “come clean” and stop hiding the dirty truth of what lurks in their cosmetics and personal care products. By 2022, companies making products containing chemicals known to be serious health hazards would then be required to provide a list of these toxic ingredients to the Division of Environmental and Occupational Disease Control, which would then be posted on a database. This will make it possible for people to know if there are phthalates in their shampoo, allergens in their intimate care products, or carcinogens in their lotion.
Championed by consumer health organizations such as Women’s Voices for the Earth, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners and Black Women for Wellness, SB 312 won’t conquer the toxic ingredients enemy, but it will, at least, make it less invisible. More transparency on a product-specific basis will not only give us the ability to avoid ingredients that may harm our health, it’s one of the first steps that’s needed to advocate for safer ingredients in products. I urge legislators to heed health experts and support SB 312 for the safety of all.
To learn more about SB 312, click here.