By  on May 17, 2010

WASHINGTON — A report released last week titled “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance” called for tougher regulation of top-selling fragrances.

The study was commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of health and environmental organizations, and conducted by the Environmental Working Group. The report alleged that top brand-name perfumes contain “secret” chemicals that aren’t listed on labels, many chemicals that can disrupt hormones or cause allergic reactions and a number of ingredients that have not been adequately evaluated for safety.

“We urgently need updated laws that require full disclosure of cosmetics ingredients so consumers can make informed choices about what they are being exposed to,” said Lisa Archer, national coordinator for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund, a member of the coalition focused on preventing breast cancer by focusing on environmental links.

John Bailey, chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council, which represents cosmetics and personal care companies, responded to the report with scathing criticism of its research methodology, asserting that the report “presents a distorted picture of how [brand-name perfumes] are regulated and labeled.”

Furthermore, Bailey asserted that the report “does a disservice to consumers looking for full and accurate information and trustworthy advice about the products they purchase.”

According to the coalition’s critical study, on average, 17 fragrances that were tested contained 14 chemicals that weren’t listed on labels. The perfumes that were tested also contained on average 10 sensitizing chemicals that can cause allergic reactions and four chemicals that can disrupt hormones and cause thyroid disruption, sperm damage and cancer, according to the study’s authors. The majority of chemicals found had not been assessed for safety by any publicly accountable agency or by industry review panels, the report alleged.

“Fragrance chemicals are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and many of them end up inside people’s bodies,” said Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research for the Environmental Working Group.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics called for legislation to overhaul the current laws governing cosmetics and fragrances and for increased outside regulation of the industry. Currently, the organization said, too much regulation in the industry is self-policed and voluntary.

However, Bailey questioned the assertions of the report that the industry is not sufficiently regulated. The usage standards for fragrances are based on the recommendations of a panel overseen by the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials, he said. The panel includes toxicologists, dermatologists, environmental scientists and pathologists.

“Cosmetic and personal care 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,” Bailey said.

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