Ever think about what’s in the fragrances we use daily, you know the ones we liberally spray, and rub onto our bodies, or those we use to scent our hair and mask the smell of sweat? Do we give a second thought to those we use to ‘clean’ our homes and ‘freshener’ our indoor air or what about the ones we are repeatedly exposed to at work?
Today a new landmark report released by the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners – Right to Know: Exposing Toxic Fragrance Chemicals in Beauty, Personal Care and Cleaning Products – reveals the shocking truth. Unlabelled harmful fragrance chemicals linked to breast and other cancers, reproductive and neurological disorders and adverse impacts on the respiratory system are hidden in the personal care and cleaning products such as shampoos and deodorants.
Connie Engel, Ph.D., BCPP Senior Manager of Science Translation revealed: “Our report found that fragrance chemicals made up three-quarters of the toxic chemicals in the beauty and personal care products we tested, and one in four of the total 338 fragrance chemicals BCPP detected in personal care products were linked to serious, chronic health effects”.
BCPP prioritised testing products marketed to children, black women and those marketed as ‘green’ (environmentally friendly), along with celebrity endorsed and ‘pink ribbon‘ products. Shockingly, one of the most hazardous products tested was a children’s shampoo and several of the products which had the most hazardous fragrance ingredients were celebrity endorsed fragrance products.
“I am both deeply disturbed and sadly not surprised that this shampoo,’ which had the highest number of hazardous chemicals of any products tested, is a product marketed to black girls,” said Nourbese Flint M.A., policy director at Black Women for Wellness. “There has been a long history of companies using toxic chemicals in products marketed to and used by Black women, which is further highlighted by this report. BCPP’s Right to Know makes the case that disclosure of secret fragrance ingredients is needed to protect our children, and other vulnerable populations, from unsafe chemical exposures. Black moms and the larger community want and need better disclosure and regulation of chemicals that are harmful to our families.”
Although brand names may differ in the UK, the chemical ingredients can be the same. European legislation means better labelling and slightly more transparency, but a myriad of ingredients can be hidden behind the simple word ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on a label. Unless organically certified, syntheticfragrance used to give the product its ‘unique’ scent or to make sure it sticks around. Consumers are unaware, we buy these products in good faith assuming if it’s on sale it’s safe to use. And the damage doesn’t stop there, once these products are released into our air or down our plug holes they can pollute our environment and adversely affect wildlife.
Even more problematic is those that work with these products, studies suggest considerably higher breast cancer risk among hairdressers and cosmetologists. Some studies suggest these occupations have a 3- to 5-times-higher risk of breast cancer.
Almost 30% of the UK population report an adverse reaction such as respiratory and neurological problems, migraines, and asthma attacks.  This is why we need full disclosure on every label as to what’s hidden behind the catch all term ‘fragrance or ‘parfum’.
Fragrance is big business, in the UK the market value of fragrances from 2009 to 2017 was £1.8 billion pounds.  Globally the market is worth nearly $70 billion in 2017, and by 2024, it is estimated to be worth about $92 billion.
The BCPP report cites the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that cleaning products contribute to concentrations of many common pollutants that are two to five times higher inside homes than outside. A 2009 U.S. study found that popular brands of air fresheners and laundry supplies all emit numerous VOCs, many of which are known to be hazardous.
Researchers in the United States examined VOC levels in roadside air in Los Angeles and found that as much came from petroleum-refined industrial and household products — including cleaning products — as from vehicle exhaust pipes. VOCs are an important contributor to air pollution, because when they react with other chemicals in the air, they can produce harmful ozone and fine particle matter (PM2.5) that reduces air quality and can lead to lung disease and other health issues.
As we approach October, in light of this research, it is even more urgen that we push the agenda from awareness to prevention. One hundred and fifty women are diagnosed, and 31 die from breast cancer each and every day in the UK. Yet each October companies align with breast cancer charities to sell products, sometimes fragranced products, to raise money for research, products which contain ingredients linked to breast cancer.
Commonly known as Pink Washing – it’s a term used term to describe those companies and corporations who, while profiting from market association with the pink ribbon and pink products and contributing a percentage of profits to breast cancer research, are also contributing to the disease itself as producers or marketers of consumer products – from cosmetics to plastics, textiles to toothpaste, cleaners to cars – which expose women to carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals and other manufactured substances with proven links to breast cancer incidence.
Now is the time to start asking questions about what is in the products we scent brand our bodies and homes with daily.
Those working with these substances or unwittingly exposed in the workplace via air ‘fresheners’ or otehr fragranced products need to work towards eliminating the exposure altogether or as a last resort ensure their employer protects them.
We need effective regulation, greater transparency and a commitment to phase out any fragrance ingredients which build up in our bodies, breast milk, or that pollute wildlife or our environment.
Major multinational companies themselves benefit from a decreased likelihood of reputational risk when unsafe chemicals and fragrance mixtures are revealed through product testing such as BCPP, or when consumers have severe allergic reactions to a hidden chemical in one of their products.
It’s time to cut our love affair with synthetic frangrance and resist the urge to brand our bodies and homes with these toxic products.