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03-28-13 | Posted by

Are hidden fragrances in your favorite cosmetics making you itch?

They just may be, according to a new report from Women’s Voices for the Earth, a Missoula, MT-based group that is striving to eliminate chemicals that harm women’s health.

And when it comes to fragrances in cosmetics and other household products, what we don’t know may be hurting us, according to the report, Secret Scents: How Hidden Fragrance Allergens Harm Public Health.

Deodorants, perfumes, lotions, and household products may contain fragrances that are not specifically listed on their labels nor do they have to be. Fragrances can fall under the rubric of trade secrets. This means they don’t have to be listed on the label. Companies can simply use the word “fragrance” and be done with it.

But “every day too many women suffer from reactions to the secret chemicals used in fragrances in their household products,” says Alexandra Scranton, director of science and research for Women’s Voices for the Earth, in a press release. “We need to know what chemicals are used in scented products so we can make informed choices to protect our health.”

The group reports that fragrance is found in 96 percent of shampoos, 91 percent of antiperspirants and 95 percent of shaving products.

Some common “hidden” culprits in cleaning products are limonene and hexyls cinnamon, which give off orange and floral scents. In cosmetics, common allergens include geraniol and eugenol or rose and clove-like scents.

When some women are exposed to these fragrances, they may develop:

  • Red bumps
  • Blisters
  • Itchiness
  • Blotchiness

What’s more, frequent exposure to fragrance allergens can lead to chronic dermatitis. In addition, hidden fragrance can also exacerbate asthma.

Yes, fragrances—hidden or otherwise—can trigger itching and other skin irritations, says Ana M. Duarte, MD, the director of pediatric dermatology at Miami Children’s Hospital.

As of now, Seventh Generation products disclose all fragrance ingredients including allergens, and Sunshine Makers, the makers of the Simple Green cleaning products, is disclosing allergens in its products on their web site.

Women’s Voices for the Earth is calling on other cleaning product companies to do the same.

Until more companies follow suit, Duarte says to choose products that say “for sensitive skin” or “fragrance free” on their labels.

When in doubt, perform a patch test, she says. “Apply the product to your elbow crease, and cover it with a Band-aid overnight. “If there is no irritation, then you are most likely OK,” she says.


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