How disclosing fragrance ingredients can pass the sniff test

The prevalence of allergic diseases has continued to rise in the industrialized world in the last 50 years. Allergic reactions can vary in severity from being a simple nuisance, to having a significant impact on one’s quality of life and ability to work. Fragrance allergens are one source of these reactions.

Fortunately, there is a solution — one that will yield positive health outcomes for the general population and could mean competitive advantage for more transparent companies.

First, let’s take a look at the problem. One type of allergy, allergic contact dermatitis, is a skin condition that often produces rashes on the hands or face. It affects approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population and disproportionately affects women and children. Research shows that women are two to three times as likely as men to be allergic to fragrance and they tend to become sensitized to fragrance allergens much earlier in life than men do, often as much as 30 years earlier. It’s worth mentioning that once a person is sensitized, there’s no way back – that person will experience allergic symptoms forever.

One recent study in the UK found that 18 percent of children diagnosed with eczema were sensitized to fragrance. Estimates of fragrance sensitization in the general population range from 2 percent to 11 percent.

The solution to this problem starts with transparency.

Due to the lack of fragrance ingredient disclosure in the United States, consumers who suspect they are allergic to a particular fragrance chemical in a product they use are unable to determine whether or not it’s in their product. Their only choice is to seek fragrance-free products, which are very limited. For instance, a recent survey of a major drugstore chain’s inventory found that 96 percent of shampoo brands for sale contained fragrance. In another study, 83 percent of moisturizers contained fragrance allergens. But what if instead consumers who knew they were allergic to cinnamal, for example, could see that on the product label and opt for the product that used hydrocitronellol instead? Both products have a lovely floral scent and one may be tolerable while the other isn’t.

Herein lies the opportunity. Instead of vigorously working to protect fragrance formulas, companies can embrace transparency and market their products to the millions of people who still want fragranced products but simply can’t take the risk.

In the June 2012 issue of Perfumer & Flavorist magazine, Ernie Rosenberg, president of the American Cleaning Institute, the industry that represents cleaning product manufacturers, states “In the defense of CBI [confidential business information] for fragrance ingredients, the cleaning products industry is working to be the fragrance suppliers’ strongest ally.” Instead, the ACI can work to be consumers’ strongest ally by helping them find products that work for them.

Next page: Required labeling is on its way