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Fragrance: Regulatory Overview


Fragrance mixtures used in cleaning products and other scented consumer products are comprised primarily of synthetic chemical ingredients. There are over 3,100 chemicals known to be used in fragrance, yet full information on the ingredients in fragrances is kept secret from consumers; in the absence of strong disclosure requirements, manufacturers often claim fragrance ingredients as a trade secret. Several common fragrance ingredients pose potential human health impacts, from eye and skin irritation and breathing problems to more serious impacts like increased risk of breast cancer and hormone disruption. Increasing the disclosure of fragrance ingredients in products can help individuals better understand and avoid unnecessary hazardous exposures.

Regulatory History of Fragrance Ingredients

Chemicals used in fragrance are virtually unregulated by governmental agencies in the United States. Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has direct authority to monitor or require safety testing for fragrances used in cleaning products or cosmetics. Instead, the International Fragrance Research Association (IFRA), an industry trade group, sets standards for fragrance manufacturers and facilitates safety reviews of fragrance ingredients. IFRA publishes a Code of Practice, which is a set of voluntary standards for manufacturers of fragrance. However, there remains an inherent conflict of interest when a trade group funded by industry holds the responsibility for regulating itself. For example, the headquarters of IFRA in Geneva, Switzerland, is located at the same address as the head office of Givaudan, a global fragrance manufacturer with the largest international market share.

IFRA also coordinates an independent expert panel of dermatologists, toxicologists and environmental scientists called REXPAN, which is responsible for conducting safety assessments of fragrance ingredients. The safety assessments conducted by REXPAN are not entirely transparent. Although the safety assessments are published in publicly available scientific journals, a large proportion of the data on which the conclusions are based is unpublished research provided by the manufacturers themselves. This unpublished data is not peer-reviewed, nor made available to public scrutiny. In addition, compliance with the IFRA standards on prohibited and restricted fragrance chemicals is voluntary for manufacturers. There is little to no enforcement of these standards internationally.

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