Whether you’re buying baby wipes or makeup remover wipes, checking the ingredients list for fragrance is important. Often times the word fragrance is listed with no further explanation, even on a product that claims to be naturally derived. Despite the demand for transparency, manufacturers of these products are not legally bound to reveal exactly what is hidden behind the term fragrance.
Not So Transparent
You may be asking yourself, but how so? The Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1967. This requires companies to list cosmetic ingredients on the product label, but completely leaves out fragrance. But how do you identify what exactly fragrance is?
One word represents a mixture of hundreds of ingredients, all unclassified. These undisclosed chemicals can contain allergens, sensitizers and irritants, and even environmental toxins. The IFRA lists 3,999 materials that are reported as being used in fragrance compounds. How many of those nearly 4,000 chemicals are in your scented pads?
In a 2016 study, a random sample of US residents found that “99.1% of participants are exposed to fragranced products at least once a week from their own use, others’ use, or both. Participants also reported an extensive list of health effects ranging from migraines and asthma to gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems.” Fragrance allergies affect 2-11% of the general population. In essential oils, Cinnamaldehyde–cinnamon oil–and Citral–lemon oil–are established contact allergens in humans.
Like allergens, different fragrances can also be the cause of major irritants in the human body. Common ingredients such as benzyl benzoate, benzyl salicylate, and 2-butoxyethanol are known to be skin, nose, throat, and eye irritants. These chemicals can become sensitizers through air oxidation, photo-activation, and a skin enzyme catalyst. Low concentrations can even provoke an asthmatic episode.
Damage to our Environment
Synthetic musks get into the environment through sewers and drains, and wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to handle them. In an experiment with Till Luckenbach and David Epel written in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives, they described biological damaging occurring in California mussels after being exposed to synthetic musks. The same synthetic musks that are found in everyday detergents, shampoos, air fresheners, and deodorant.
The Pure Truth
Fragrances occur in an array of products but perhaps the ones to look out for are those that will make the closest contact with our bodies, such as wipes, feminine hygiene products, baby diapers, and incontinence products. Now imagine using a product made of polypropylene and wood pulp on top of all of the undisclosed ingredients. Fragrance-free, cotton products are the way to go. Not only will it be better for you and your family, but also for our environment. A win-win scenario!