News Room

Statement By John Bailey, Chief Scientist, The Personal Care Products Council on Campaign for Safe Cosmetics report, “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance”

May 12, 2010

Contact:  Shannon Rhoderick, (202) 454-0316 (office) or (202) 258-5285 (cell)

“A new report alleging that a number of popular, brand-name perfumes contain “secret” ingredients that could cause harm to consumers grossly misrepresents the science on fragrance ingredients and presents a distorted picture of how they are regulated and labeled. The report titled, “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance,” and released by the U.S.-based Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group, and the Canadian-based Environmental Defence, does a disservice to consumers looking for full and accurate information and trustworthy advice about the products they purchase.

“The validity of the report is seriously undermined by its failure to include quantitative measurements of the “secret” ingredients it purported to find. Such measurements are a fundamental element of toxicological risk assessments. Without them, it is impossible to make valid judgments about potential risks.
“The report also erroneously alleges that many of the materials ‘revealed’ in their testing have not been assessed for safety. In fact, most of the ingredients have been the subject of a safety assessment by one or more authoritative bodies.

“Usage standards for fragrance are set based on the recommendations of a scientific panel of toxicologists, dermatologists, pathologists and environmental scientists that is overseen by the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM), an independent research center. The RIFM database contains a significant volume of information on fragrance materials.  

“With respect to allegations in the report of sensitization from fragrance ingredients, it has long been known that a certain percentage of individuals in the population are sensitive to some natural or manmade materials in the environment. In fact, some of the strongest sensitizers are derived from natural sources such as peanuts. 

“Fragrance materials and other cosmetic ingredients are tested for their potential to cause sensitization and allergic reactions. When these tests identify substances that may be sensitizing agents, manufacturers take the appropriate steps to formulate in a manner that minimizes the chances of sensitization and allergic reaction. Many of these substances have been used for decades, and much is known about them. The actual occurrence of sensitization in the marketplace is quite low.

“For individuals who are extremely sensitive, products are labeled either with the individual ingredients in them or under the general heading of “fragrance.”  This information helps consumers to select products that are safe and appropriate for them to use. Individuals who experience allergic reactions should consult their physician.

“The assertions in the report that some fragrance ingredients could be hormone disruptors are based on incomplete assessments of available scientific data about potential hormone affects and do not take into account actual exposure in cosmetic products. The studies relied upon in the allegations are not directly relevant to human exposure, and many of the laboratory tests that have been done were completed under conditions that are not directly applicable to the use of these ingredients in cosmetic products. In some substances the hormone effects measured are tens of thousands of times less than what would be expected to cause effects in humans.  The weight of evidence in hormone disruption science today does not support the conclusions presented in this report.

“Although the report alleges deficiencies in U.S. labeling laws for fragrances, virtually all countries, including the European Union, allow fragrance ingredients to be declared on product labels under the general term of “fragrance.”  This is because fragrance components are made up of many substances, and it’s simply impossible to list them all on a product label. In addition, the listing of all fragrance materials would be meaningless to all but expert chemists. The practical approach chosen by regulatory authorities has been to require specific declarations or restrictions only when there is a clearly defined need. 

“This action was taken by Europe for a small number of materials that are known sensitizers. In fact, these restrictions had already been identified by industry-sponsored safety review programs and are an integral part of Code of Conduct developed by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).

“Cosmetic and personal care product manufacturers take their safety responsibilities very seriously. Cosmetic ingredients are carefully selected for safety and suitability for their specific applications, and consumers can be confident in the safety of their products.”
For more information on cosmetics and personal care products and their ingredients, visit Based in Washington, D.C., the Personal Care Products Council is the leading national trade association representing the global cosmetic and personal care products industry. Founded in 1894, the Council's more than 600 member companies manufacture, distribute, and supply the vast majority of finished personal care products marketed in the U.S. As the makers of a diverse range of products millions of consumers rely on everyday, from sunscreens, toothpaste and shampoo to moisturizer, lipstick and fragrance, personal care products companies are global leaders committed to product safety, quality and innovation.