How disclosing fragrance ingredients can pass the sniff test

The Right Chemistry

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.

Disclosure is strongly supported by doctors. In 1998, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) urged manufacturers, their trade associations and regulators to forge an agreement on fragrance ingredient disclosure. The AAD declared it "believes that consumers should be provided with all of the product information that they need to make the best choices to protect their health. The addition of fragrance to a product, whether to enhance the appeal of the product or to mask an unappealing odor, creates an avoidable risk of irritant or allergic reaction to fragrance-sensitive persons."

Providing allergen information on product labels is a good start in aiding consumers as they work with their doctors, who will finally have allergen information they have never before had. Together, they will be able to identify problem ingredients for those patients and put them on path to finding non-allergenic products.

The potential opportunities for growing market share and revenues notwithstanding, manufacturers must face the reality that required labeling is on its way. In the European Union, cosmetics and cleaning products manufacturers are already required to disclose the presence of 26 common fragrance allergens that occur above a threshold level in their products. This list may soon grow. In a 2012 scientific opinion, the EU Scientific Committee of Consumer Safety (SCCS) identified 82 substances commonly used in fragrance that are known contact allergens. In the U.S., proposed laws, including the Consumer Product Right to Know Act and the Safe Cosmetics Act, also seek to mandate fragrance ingredient disclosure.

Companies can get ahead of the curve now. In fact, some are. Seventh Generation is already listing ingredients in its cleaning products right on the label, including the fragrances, and it is identifying allergens according to the EU’s list.

Transparency is a straightforward way to gain the trust of consumers, especially those who are sensitive to certain ingredients. With more information will come more opportunity and potentially, enhanced profitability.

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