Is Something Sinister Lurking in Your Signature Scent?

Hygiene and cosmetic products

Could your perfume — or the perfume of the person next to you — be cause for concern? The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics conducted a study on 17 brands of perfumes, specifically celebrity and teen fragrances, and found a dozen or more known allergens and hormone disruptors, none of which were anywhere to be found on the product labels.

“The only way to find out what’s in these products is to send them to a lab,” said Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of “Not Just A Pretty Face.” Because manufacturers are not required to disclose what is in that mysterious ingredient known as “fragrance,” many perfume wearers have no idea they are exposing themselves to toxic chemicals on a daily basis.

But even if you are careful enough to avoid wearing perfume, toxic exposure can occur just by being around others who are wearing fragrance. We all know that a nearby co-worker wearing liberal amounts of perfume can set off a sneeze attack, so it’s no surprise these toxins have substantial travel power.

abercrombie and fitch fierce
The ingredients in this fragrance aren’t fierce.

Perhaps the most alarming element of this study is that these chemicals exist in products marketed to teens and young children, such as Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity and Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce. Because teens’ bodies are still developing, they are more vulnerable to any toxin to which they are exposed, and the longer a person is exposed to these types of harmful chemicals, the more they are at risk for health issues later in life. Finally, although teens are the most vulnerable age group, beauty advertisers still aggressively target them.

Malkan hopes this study will raise awareness about the hazards of exposure to synthetic fragrances and that it will influence manufacturers to phase out the use of these chemicals in their products. Finally, she wishes to urge Congress to take action and regulate the beauty industry.

So what can we wear? That’s a difficult determination since many products contain synthetic fillers. Many manufacturers have agreed to disclose all their ingredients, which is a positive step, but Malkan still recommends that for those who are particularly sensitive — pregnant women and young children, for example — it is best to just avoid fragrance altogether.