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Does Perfume Have Hidden Health Risks?

'Secret Chemicals' May Be Harmful, Group Says; Industry Official Says Products Are Safe

Inside the Fragrance Report continued...

The tests revealed that 38 ''secret'' chemicals were in the 17 name-brand products, with an average of 14 chemicals per product. American Eagle Seventy Seven had the most unlisted ingredients, with 24; Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue had the least, with seven.

When they looked closer, Houlihan and colleagues found an average of 10 chemicals linked with allergic reactions such as headaches, wheezing, or asthma. The researchers found 12 different chemicals they describe as potentially hormone-disrupting, such as benzyl benzoate, diethyl phthalate, and tonalide.

Of the 91 ingredients found, the researchers report, only 19 have been reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, which is industry-funded, and only 27 have been assessed by the International Fragrance Association and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials, which have developed voluntary standards for chemicals used in fragrance products.

According to the report, the fragrance industry has 3,100 stock chemical ingredients to choose from.

The FDA and Fragrances

Fragrances in products are covered under the federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973.

The act does require companies to list the ingredients of cosmetics, but allows them to simply lump fragrance chemicals as "fragrances."

Fragrance Labels: What Should Be Done?

''The chemicals that are in fragrances should be listed," Houlihan says.

"People should be able to know what they are being exposed to,'' she says. "Having a simple ingredient list on the label would help people avoid what they are allergic to.''

Fragrances and 'Hidden' Chemicals: Industry Response

The researchers are ''cherry picking their science," Bailey says. For instance, he tells WebMD, ''diethyl phthalate [which the researchers found in 12 of the 17 products and consider a hormone disrupter] has been extensively studied by a number of authoritative bodies and found not to be a problem."

Bailey contends that the industry does a good job of policing itself when it comes to fragrance. For instance, he says, the International Fragrance Association has set recommendations regarding the use of some chemicals in fragrances.

Allergic reactions are bound to happen with some of the products for some people, he says. If a product is found to cause widespread allergic problems, Bailey says, the FDA can step in and notify the manufacturer.

As for the suggestion to list all chemicals used for fragrance on the label, Bailey says "It's virtually impossible" because of the complexity and the number of chemicals involved.

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