New Report: How Hidden Fragrance Allergens Hurt Us

(Here is a new report from our friends at Women’s Voices for the Earth. We have eczema and allergies in our home and are very concerned about this issue.)

Many people enjoy fragrances in products like shampoo, lotion, cosmetics, air fresheners, and even cleaners. But did you know that fragrances can be made up of more than 100 chemicals, all of which are kept secret by manufacturers? Some of these hidden ingredients are known to trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people. If fragrance ingredients were simply listed on the product label, a consumer could avoid many of these adverse reactions.

Allergies Affect a Lot of Us

● ~20% of the general population is sensitized to at least one kind of allergen (eg fragrance, food, pollen, and/or other sources)

● Fragrance is one of most frequently identified allergens

○ 2%-11% of people are sensitized to fragrance

○ Tens of millions of people in the US are sensitized to common fragrance ingredients

Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction to Fragrance

● Red bumps, itchiness, redness and/or blisters on skin

○ Commonly manifests on hands, face, lower legs and feet

● Can cause some breathing problems: coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath

● Can exacerbate asthma

Women and Fragrance Allergies

● More likely to use personal care products, perfumes, and scented cleaning products

● 2-3x more likely to have fragrance allergies than men

● 2x more likely to report adverse symptoms from exposure to fragrance

● Become sensitized to fragrance earlier than men, at age 20-29

○ Men become sensitized at age 50-59

● Female-dominated occupations are significantly more likely to be associated with fragrance allergy, such as

○ Massage therapists, cosmetologists, household workers, and stylists

Children: More Sensitive to Fragrance

● Children are increasingly impacted by fragrance allergy

○ Increasing diagnoses of:

■ Allergic contact dermatitis

● Rare 30 years ago, but common now

■ Eczema

● Worldwide increases in the last decade

○ Girls have higher rates of sensitization than boys

○ 5.1% of children who are dermatology patients are sensitized to fragrance

○ 18% of children diagnosed with eczema in one study are sensitized to fragrance

Skin Sensitization & Challenges of Treatment

● Sensitization to a fragrance allergen is irreversible

● If you are sensitized, the best strategy is to avoid the allergen altogether, but this is hard to do.

● Moisturizing lotion is commonly recommended to help prevent flare-ups

○ But 67% of over-the-counter moisturizer lotions contain fragrance

○ Independent testing shows that even some “fragrance-free” brands contain fragrance allergens

● Fragrance Allergies take a toll

○ >70% of patients with hand eczema seek professional medical care for their condition

○ Nearly 1/5th of fragrance allergy patients take sick leave from their work due to their condition

○ $1-$3.8 billion: Annual costs to insurance companies and Medicaid for treatment of contact dermatitis and eczema in the U.S.

What’s in Your Cabinet?

● Most common cosmetic products causing fragrance allergy:

○ Deodorants

○ Colognes/Fine Perfumes

○ Lotions

● Most common fragrance allergens in cosmetic products:

○ Geraniol: rose scent

○ Eugenol: spicy, clove-like aroma

○ Hydrocitronellol: floral aroma, suggestive of Lily of the Valley

○ A-amylcinnamal: jasmine-like scent

● Most common fragrance allergens in cleaning products:

○ Limonene: orange scent

○ Hexyl cinnamal: chamomile, floral scent

○ Citronellol: rose scents

○ Butylphenyl methylpropional: Lily of the Valley scent

● Fragrance is found in:

○ 96% of shampoos

○ 98% of conditioners

○ 97% of hair styling products

○ 91% of antiperspirants

○ 95% of shaving products

○ 83% of moisturizers

○ 63% of sunblocks

○ 91% of lip moisturizers

○ 71% of lipsticks

○ 50% of foundations

○ 33% of blushes and eyeliners

Protecting Our Health: A Policy of Transparency

Right now, consumers have no way of avoiding allergens or other chemicals in fragranced products because most companies keep fragrance ingredients a secret — labels will simply say “fragrance” instead of listing out the ingredients.

● Companies’ double standards with our health

○ In the E.U. manufacturers of household products are required to disclose the presence of 26 common fragrance allergens

○ Many of these companies make the same products in the U.S., but don’t disclose allergens because it’s not required by U.S. law.

● 3 policy solutions introduced in Congress that will require greater ingredient transparency:

○ Cleaning Product Right to Know Act

○ Safe Cosmetics Act

○ Safe Chemicals Act

3 things you can do right now

● Buy from companies that disclose all ingredients

● Ask companies that don’t disclose their ingredients to change their policy

● Learn more about policies that promote right-to-know and how you can support them at Women’s Voices for the Earth.

Read the full report Secret Scents: How Hidden Fragrance Allergens Harm Public Health.

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