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Perfume and Cologne Safety

Is Your Perfume Dangerous? Depends on Who You Ask

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is raising a stink over fragrance safety. Its newest report, Not So Sexy: Hidden Chemicals in Perfume and Cologne, calls out 17 fragrances for having "secret" ingredients that aren't listed on the label. What's troubling, they argue, is that some of these chemicals (like phthalates) can act as hormone disruptors. The study calls out American Eagle Seventy Seven, Chanel Coco, Britney Spears Curious, and Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio as having the highest concentration of these ingredients.

It's nothing consumers should worry about, says John Bailey, chief scientist of the Personal Care Products Council. "There is no evidence that our products cause the effects claimed by the activists," he says. "Phthalates are a large class of substances consisting of many different chemicals. Only three are used in cosmetics and these have been extensively studied for safety by authoritative bodies worldwide. They are safe as used in cosmetics."

The EWG disagrees, while the PCPC criticizes the study itself. For lots more about this controversy, keep reading.


In a statement, Bailey says the study is "undermined by its failure to include quantitative measurements of the 'secret' ingredients it purported to find. Such measurements are a fundamental element of toxicological risk assessments. Without them, it is impossible to make valid judgments about potential risks."

Not so, says Stacy Malkin of the EWG, adding that the suspected endocrine disruptor dibutyl phthalate was found in the fragrances at an average of more than 10,000 parts per million. "Other chemicals were not quantified because of the additional expense of thousands of dollars and special equipment needed by the lab," she explains. "I think the relevant question is, why do we have a system where consumer groups need to spend many thousands of dollars to do science experiments on fragrances to find out what's in them?"

So what's next? The EWG is pushing for more regulation and transparency in the industry, while the PCPC aims to assuage consumer fears. One thing's for sure: the debate over cosmetic safety is unlikely to die down soon.

Photo by Flickr User briandeadly

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