Fragrance is a Secret

Shopping cosmetics- smiling woman holding shampooWe need to know the ingredients in foods our family eats and products they use not only to make sure the ingredients are healthy, but also in case we are sensitive to one of them. If we have to call poison control because our child ate something suspicious or want to report allergic symptoms to our child’s health care practitioner, we need to know the ingredients.


One ingredient that we can’t know about, however, is fragrance. US laws allow just the word fragrance to be used on a label, even though a fragrance is comprised of from ten to hundreds of individual ingredients, over 3000 of which can be chemicals, and some of them can be toxic to humans.

Some 20% of the general population is sensitized to at least one allergen and fragrance is one of the most common irritants. Some of the chemical ingredients in fragrance are potentially dangerous and can cause eye and skin irritation, breathing problems, increased risk of breast cancer, and hormone disruption.


The absence of labeling makes it impossible for individuals to identify and avoid irritating or dangerous substances. This absence also makes it impossible to adequately evaluate the health hazards or effectively regulate potentially dangerous chemicals in cleaning products and personal care products.

According to Women’s Voices for the Earth “Chemicals used in fragrance are virtually unregulated by governmental agencies in the United States. Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has direct authority to monitor or require safety testing for fragrances used in cleaning products or cosmetics.”


By contrast, the European Union (EU) has established a list of 26 common allergens that must be listed as ingredients in cosmetics and cleaning products in Europe. US companies abide by this rule abroad, but do not afford US customers the same courtesy. Women’s Voices of the Earth ridicules these US companies in their mock of the SC Johnson Family of products.


The Breast Cancer Fund has teamed up with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Ultraviolet to put pressure on Revlon to get rid of the cancer causing ingredients in their products. “The most significant thing Revlon can do to prevent women’s cancers is to eliminate cancer-causing chemicals from its cosmetics, which are used by millions of women and girls every day,” said Janet Nudelman, director of program and policy for the Breast Cancer Fund and co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

The organizations have started a petition and letter-writing campaign and plan to follow-up with calls, advertisements, online pressure and personal visits. The groups are specifically calling on Revlon to develop a comprehensive “safe cosmetics policy” and share it publicly on the company’s website as well as to support federal cosmetics safety legislation.


Women’s Voices of the Earth want to use social, economic, and political power to change the corporate practices and government policies that allow toxic chemicals in products in the first place. The organization reviewed the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to find cosmetics companies that disclosed their fragrance allergens on their labels.

In addition, Women’s Voices of the Earth is leading the No Secrets Companies, a list of manufacturers of cleaning products that pledge to disclose all of their ingredients, including chemicals. Some of our favorites, like Seventh Generation, Planet, and EarthMamaAngelBaby are among the first companies to sign the pledge.


Support the No Secret Companies and those companies that disclose their ingredients.

If you don’t see a company you love on the No Secrets list, ask them to join up.

Buy personal care products and cleaning products that list all of their ingredients.

Avoid products that contain chemicals.

Choose fragrance-free products.


Peggy HeadshotPeggy O’Mara is the CEO of She was the editor and publisher of Mothering from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of two.

Share this post.

Peggy O'Mara

About Peggy O'Mara

Editor and Publisher of Longtime natural living advocate, award winning writer, and independent thinker.

3 thoughts on “Fragrance is a Secret

  1. Katherin Kirkpatrick

    I support your efforts to keep the public informed about the health effects of fragrances.

    One small criticism, however, regarding the use of the word “chemicals” in the sentence “A fragrance is comprised from ten to hundreds of individual ingredients, over 3000 of which can be chemicals.”

    A biochemist would counter that everything, even natural and organic ingredients, is made of chemicals; and that environmental activists who claim that only some things are “chemicals” are misinformed.

    Credibility rests on accuracy.

    It would be more accurate to specify what it is about the 3000 chemicals in question that the public should be concerned about. For example, “over 3000 of which can be toxic to humans,” or “over X of which have been shown to disrupt human metabolic pathways.” And for maximum credibility, a verifiable citation link is always nice.

    Thank you.

    • Peggy O'MaraPeggy O'Mara Post author

      Thank you, Katherin. You’re absolutely right; I did make a gross generalization regarding chemicals. I changed it per your advice to distinguish “toxic” chemicals and I linked to examples. Thanks for your constructive criticism.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *