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Two Views of Safety

By: Steve Herman
Posted: November 5, 2010, from the November 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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RIFM has current initiatives in environmental and respiratory safety, and quantitative risk assessment (QRA) for skin sensitization. The guiding principles are laid out in key papers, and the results are published in peer review journals. Despite the RIFM’s best efforts, some critics distrust it because it is funded by industry, the science is risk-based and perfume formulas are confidential.

The DfE and EWG have tackled the fragrance safety issue from a hazard rather than risk perspective. DfE began a fragrance project as an extension of its previous work certifying surfactants and solvents for its seal. The RIFM actively participated in the process with DfE but was not consulted in the EWG project. A very scientific document emerged from DfE, and a controversial one from the EWG.

Announcements heralding the EWG report had a distinctly tabloid feel:2, 3 “Secret chemicals revealed in celebrity perfumes, teen body sprays” and “Not So Sexy—Hidden Chemicals in Perfumes and Colognes.” In the body of the complete report,4 the following is typical: “The average fragrance product tested contained 14 secret chemicals not listed on the label.” Secret chemicals!

By self-publishing and skirting the discipline a peer-reviewed scientific journal would entail, EWG was able to make what could be considered scientifically questionable claims. For example, the assertion that fragrances are endocrine disruptors is based on results from animal testing that may not carry over to humans, or from exposure levels thousands of times what a consumer would experience. The weight of evidence of the best current science does not support the EWG position.

Why are these chemicals secret? Well, the European Union for years has required labeling of 26 fragrance allergens (Figure 1). No other fragrance materials are labeled. In the U.S., no individual fragrance ingredients must be labeled, just the word “fragrance” appears on the label. So if some materials are on the label and others are not, it is because regulations are being followed—not a secret conspiracy. EWG knows this, as is quite evident in reading its report, but still describes fragrance as “a complex mix of clandestine compounds …”