Is National Fragrance Day Actually A Celebration Of Cancer Causing And Hormone Disrupting Chemicals?

Today is National Fragrance Day, the day to celebrate fragrances that you love. We don’t want to rain on anyone’s good-smell-parade, but we’d be a lot happier if the name was National NaturalFragrance Day. Because the ingredient fragrance, also often listed as parfum, can be found in almost any commercial makeup, perfume, soap, home cleaning product, scented candle, and countless other products most of us use every day. And that’s a problem, because fragrance, as an ingredient, is toxic. 

The Dirty Truth About Fragrance

The problem with the ingredient fragrance is that we don’t actually know what it really is. The FDA, in their questionable wisdom, has a loophole that allows the term fragrance or parfum to stand for hundreds of different ingredients. The FDA deems that fragrance is a “trade secret,” and they say that: “nothing... shall be deemed to require that any trade secret be divulged." So they allow the catchall term fragrance to stand in for the actual list of ingredients that goes under this heading. 

This ruling allows companies to put seriously harmful ingredients into their products. The nonprofit group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which includes coalition members from the Breast Cancer FundEnvironmental Working Group, and Clean Water Action, recently performed a detailed analysis on some of the top selling fragrance products on the market today. Medical and public health experts from Harvard and the University of Washington also peer reviewed the study.

Testing, Testing, Testing

Some of the brands tested in this study were: American Eagle Seventy Seven, Chanel Coco, Britney Spears Curious, Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio (for men), Old Spice After Hours Body Spray (for men), Quicksilver (for men), Calvin Klein Eternity for Men, Bath & Body Works Japanese Cherry Blossom, Calvin Klein Eternity for Women, Halle by Halle Berry, Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity, Victoria's Secret Dream Angels Wish, Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow, AXE Body Spray for Men, Clinique Happy Perfume Spray, and Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue. 

The analysis found that all of these products had multiple chemicals hidden under the fragrance moniker and many of these chemicals cause allergic reactions including wheezing, headaches, and contact dermatitis. 

Even scarier, many of these chemicals are known hormone disrupters, which can lead to diabetes, some cancers, obesity, thyroid disease, and more. And then there's quite a few chemicals whose effects are a plain old mystery, because they’ve never even been studied for human safety.

Of the perfumes tested, Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio takes the award for 19 different sensitizing chemicals. Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver, and Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow each contained seven different hormone disrupting chemicals. And American Eagle Seventy Seven gets the dubious honor of the highest number of hidden chemicals: 24 to be exact, all hidden under the label “fragrance.” 

What This Means

Unfortunately, just because your favorite products aren't on the list doesn't mean they're safe. The analysis only worked with very small sampling of products, but it's safe to say, given the mass commercial sales of most of the listed perfumes, many of the same chemicals are being used under the term fragrance or parfum in products that you use. 

It's best to switch to products that list "natural essential oils" instead of the terms fragrance. And please note that just because something is listed as "unscented" doesn't mean it's necessarily fragrance-free. Companies often use other chemicals and even fragrance to counteract another scent in their product. If you want to check the safety of a particular product you can use the EWG to check any product that you buy for overall safety. Even easier? Download their app, and simply scan barcodes while shopping to get an immediate safety rating! 

You can also sign up for updates from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. They will keep you updated on all the latest campaigns and petitions focused on this issue, as well as any new public health rulings that impact this issue.

The Bottom Line

We know it can be disheartening, and even exhausting, to learn that a product with a fragrance that you love isn't safe. But knowledge is also power, and the more knowledge we have, the more we can push companies to make safe products that also smell amazing. And that's a win-win, if you ask us.