Sunday, January 28, 2007

Consumer Reports Does Fragrance

Breathing perfume makes me sick--literally, instantly, and routinely. I'm sure I could discuss the subject rationally with fragrance wearers, if they were just amenable to a simple preliminary procedure. "I'll take the mask off in a minute," I'd say. "Hold onto your chairs there, sir, madam." A quick rinse with the old fire hose and let's chat. Oh, yes, I suppose my imagined interlocutors might be more receptive to a familiar, unbiased source of information--and not complain if it was a little dry. I recently ran across just the thing.

On Friday AOL published a Consumer Reports article on the safety of cosmetics. The piece outlines the appalling lack of safety regulation in general, but focuses on a potentially dangerous class of chemicals called phthalates (THAL-ates). These compounds are contained in all manner of products, including perfume and anything with "fragrance" listed as an ingredient. Consumer Reports found phthalates in all of the eight perfumes they analyzed, although none of the labels listed them. This lack of disclosure isn't surprising, as it's not required. However, several companies were revealed to have made false claims either about whether they use phthalates at all or about which ones they use. And, you bet, the fibbers' names were named, specifically Estee Lauder, Clinique, Aveda, Liz Claiborne, and, for shame, Aubrey Organics.

Phthalates are known to cause cancer and liver injury in animals and to cause reproductive and developmental abnormalities in people. They are often used to make other fragrance chemicals linger--I swear, sometimes for years. They are banned in Europe, where regulation is more stringent. Consider that only eight cosmetic ingredients are prohibited in the U.S., while more than 1,000 are forbidden by the E.U. (Not that the Consumer Reports testing suggested that the European law was being followed.) On our side of the Atlantic, "The industry essentially regulates itself," states the article.

So what is our take-home message? Even if you don't have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, buy fragrance-free products from eco-groovy alternative companies. (Or be on guard for a bracing spritz.)

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