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RIGHT TO KNOW

A Report: Exposing toxic fragrance chemicals in beauty, personal care and cleaning products

This report exposes a pervasive problem in consumer products: Companies do not put all chemical ingredients on the label. In fact, companies often do not tell consumers about fragrance chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive harm and respiratory problems.

  • <h5>Top Ten Most Hazardous Products</h5><h4>Just for Me Shampoo</h4><p>A children’s shampoo, from a hair-relaxing kit marketed to kids of color by Strength of Nature.<br />We found <span style="font-size:115%; background-color:rgba(0,0,0,0.7); font-wieght:bold;">24 chemicals</span> chemicals linked to chronic health effects with <span style="font-size:115%; background-color:rgba(0,0,0,0.7); font-wieght:bold;">70.8% hidden in "fragrance."</span></p>
  • <h5>Top Ten Most Hazardous Products</h5><h4>JLo Glow Perfume</h4><p>A fine fragrance made by Coty and endorsed by music, television and film icon Jennifer Lopez.<br />We found <span class="highlight">18 chemicals</span> chemicals linked to chronic health effects with <span class="highlight">83.3% hidden in "fragrance."</span></p>
  • <h5>Top Ten Most Hazardous Products</h5><h4>Kaboom with OxiClean Shower Tub & Tile Cleaner</h4><p>Marketed as a “great cleaner that is safe and friendly to use,” made by Church & Dwight Co.<br />We found <span class="highlight">15 chemicals</span> chemicals linked to chronic health effects with <span class="highlight">66.7% hidden in "fragrance."</span></p>
  • <h5>Top Ten Most Hazardous Products</h5><h4>Olay Luminous Tone Body Lotion</h4><p>Made by Procter & Gamble and marketed for its anti-aging qualities.<br />We found <span class="highlight">15 chemicals</span> chemicals linked to chronic health effects with <span class="highlight">93.3% hidden in "fragrance."</span></p>
  • <h5>Top Ten Most Hazardous Products</h5><h4>Axe Phoenix Body Spray</h4><p>A body spray made by Unilever and marketed to young men using an overtly sexual ad campaign.<br />We found <span class="highlight">14 chemicals</span> chemicals linked to chronic health effects with <span class="highlight">100% hidden in "fragrance."</span></p>
  • <h5>Top Ten Most Hazardous Products</h5><h4>Marc Jacobs Daisy Perfume</h4><p>Another Coty fragrance that carries the famous designer’s name and uses beatific, radiant young girls in its marketing campaigns.<br />We found <span class="highlight">14 chemicals</span> chemicals linked to chronic health effects with <span class="highlight">100% hidden in "fragrance."</span></p>
  • <h5>Top Ten Most Hazardous Products</h5><h4>Taylor Swift Wonderstruck Perfume</h4><p>A Revlon fine fragrance endorsed by the beloved pop country singer Taylor Swift.<br />We found <span class="highlight">14 chemicals</span> chemicals linked to chronic health effects with <span class="highlight">92.9% hidden in "fragrance."</span></p>
  • <h5>Top Ten Most Hazardous Products</h5><h4>Organix (OGX) Shampoo</h4><p>A Johnson & Johnson product marketed as part of a “green/sustainable” line of products to young women.<br />We found <span class="highlight">13 chemicals</span> chemicals linked to chronic health effects with <span class="highlight">84.6% hidden in "fragrance."</span></p>
  • <h5>Top Ten Most Hazardous Products</h5><h4>Formulation 64-RP</h4><p>An industrial cleaner/disinfectant used by custodians, firefighters and others.<br />We found <span class="highlight">10 chemicals</span> chemicals linked to chronic health effects with <span class="highlight">70% hidden in "fragrance."</span></p>
  • <h5>Top Ten Most Hazardous Products</h5><h4>White Linen Perfume</h4><p>Created by Estée Lauder in 1978, marketed as “a beautiful perfume” for women young and old.<br />We found <span class="highlight">10 chemicals</span> chemicals linked to chronic health effects with <span class="highlight">90% hidden in "fragrance."</span></p>
A Serious Concern

A gaping federal labeling loophole combined with a self-regulated fragrance industry allows dozens — sometimes even hundreds—of chemicals to hide under the word “fragrance” on the product labels of beauty and personal care products. The same is true for cleaning products, but with an added dilemma: No federal law requires the labeling of the vast majority of the other ingredients in these products. The presence of unknown, unlabeled toxicants is cause for serious concern for consumers and workers, because more and more scientific evidence suggests that unsafe chemical exposures in our everyday lives are adding up to harm.

Educating the public about the presence of toxic chemicals in consumer products generates demand for safer products. This, in turn, focuses the attention and resources of manufacturers to strengthen the disclosure — and eliminate the use — of toxic chemicals, and subsequently generates the momentum needed to convince elected officials to more strictly regulate these unsafe exposures.

What We Did

Partnering with Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, together we purchased 140 different beauty, personal care and cleaning products, then embarked upon a journey to better understand the presence of unsafe chemicals in two major sectors of consumer products that are used daily by hundreds of millions of people every year. 

We tested 100 personal care products and 40 cleaning products using semi- and non-targeted chemical analysis methods. These tests differ from tests of a specific chemical or related class of chemicals. Instead, semi- and non-targeted methods can evaluate the presence (and sometimes concentration of ) multiple chemicals at a time. These approaches are particularly well suited to better understanding the chemicals that might be present in a product when we have little information about the ingredients used to formulate — or provide the scent for — that product.

We were particularly interested in looking at products marketed to vulnerable populations such as children and women of color, as well as products marketed by celebrities, with pink ribbons or with claims that they are “good for the environment/green.” What we found was shocking and surprising: The most hazardous product of all was a children’s shampoo marketed to kids of color. Several of the products that had the most hazardous chemicals were fine fragrances endorsed by popular celebrities. And our most counterintuitive report finding of all: Many of the personal care products we tested contained more hazardous chemicals than the cleaning products we tested!

Our Position

Our position is that full ingredient disclosure in beauty, personal care and cleaning products benefits everyone. Here’s why:

  • Consumers empowered with this information can make safer, more informed purchases for themselves and their families.
  • Workers can take the necessary steps to protect themselves from unsafe chemical exposures in the workplace.
  • Regulators would have the information they need to effectively regulate the $84 billion domestic cosmetic industry and the $61 billion cleaning product industry.
  • Our environment benefits from reductions in toxic chemicals polluting the air and water.
  • 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 ours, or when consumers have severe allergic reactions to a hidden chemical in one of their products.
TAKE ACTION
L’Oréal: Pledge To Be Toxic-Free

We should know whether the products we use on our bodies are safe. Tell L’Oréal to be a leader and Pledge to be Toxic-Free.

Acknowledgements

This Breast Cancer Prevention Partners report was co-authored by Janet Nudelman, M.A. and Connie Engel, Ph.D. with research and writing support from Sharima Rasanayagam, Ph.D., Nancy Buermeyer, M.S. and Lisette Van Vliet, Ph.D. Project management, editing, and artistic vision was provided by Denise Halloran, Erika Wilhelm, and Emily Reuman. Tireless attention to the science and details of this report was provided by Angela Ng. Thank you to our fabulous science interns: Neeti Mehta, Shelby Thomas, Emma Hall, Christina Padilla, Meesha Heydon, Amanda Jean Faubel and Dana Moskowitz. Sara Schmidt, MPH, MSW and Maija Witte, MPH worked with partners around the country, including U.S. PIRG, to coordinate the purchasing of products reviewed in this report.