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Popular Fragrances Laced With Toxic Chemicals

Tween girls are wearing makeup more than ever these days.  A consumer market research group recently ran the numbers and revealed that from 2007 to 2009, the percentage of girls ages 8 to 12 who regularly wore mascara and eyeliner nearly doubled.  The number of pre-teens who wore lipstick also increased.  While the researchers didn’t delve into the perfume-wearing habits of these girls, it would stand to reason that if they are trying to look more grown up, they are probably trying to smell older, too.

Perfume makers have been targeting young girls for some time.  Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus both have signature fragrances that appeal to girls who are still in elementary school. And popular mall destinations like Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle also hawk their own line of fragrances.  But while many parents may be aware of the potential dangers associated with cosmetics (allergic reactions and exposure to endocrine disruptors among them), most assume fragrances to be safe.

Not so, says a recent joint report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group.  In analyzing 17 popular fragranced products, including those listed above, researchers found that they contain, on average, 14 different ingredients that are not listed on the packaging labels.  And among those ingredients were discovered hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to health problems including sperm damage, thyroid disruption and cancer.

And these chemicals don’t just post a health hazard to the boys and girls who wear the fragrances.  According to Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research at Environmental Working Group, they are potentially dangerous to those who are in smelling distance of them.

“Fragrance chemicals are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and many of them end up inside people’s bodies, including pregnant women and newborn babies. “

Needless to say, the fragrance industry is not pleased with this report.  Referring to the findings as “scare mongering,” the Fragrance Materials Association of the United States insists that the testing was unscientific and merely suggestive of an association between chemical ingredients and health problems. What’s more, they point out that the so-called secret ingredients are in fact being used in all kinds of consumer products that nobody is complaining about.

That may be true, but the “Everybody else is poisoning you so why can’t we?” defense isn’t good enough.  Not only should our children not be exposed to these chemicals, adults shouldn’t either.  In fact, the recent President’s Cancer Panel Report specifically recommends that pregnant women and those who want to become pregnant avoid exposure to the very same hormone-disrupting chemicals found in many of these products.

But how are we to know if a fragrance is safe?  Rather than require us all to become chemical experts ourselves, experts are advocating for stricter regulations that would require all ingredients in cosmetic products to meet a health-based safety standard that includes protections for children and other vulnerable groups.  And they want everything in the bottle listed on the label.  Because what you don’t know, might just harm you.

Read the entire report here and see what’s in your favorite perfume.

Image: briandeadly/Flickr

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