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Regulations

Perhaps as a hangover from the days when perfume was a mysterious and sacred luxury, makers of perfume or fragrance aren’t obliged to declare many (or in some countries any) of the ingredients.

In Australia, if fragrance is one of the ingredients in a product it must be declared on the label, but only as “fragrance” or “parfum”. Listing the ingredients of the fragrance itself is optional, and in our experience doesn’t ever happen. Usually, the single word “fragrance” is all the consumer will find.

(Source: ACCC.gov.au/content/index.phtml.)

In the US the picture is much the same. Fragrance only has to be declared on the label as “fragrance” or “perfume”. (Source: abc.net.au/health, 15.07.10)

The perfume industry in the US is not directly regulated by the FDA, instead the FDA controls the safety of perfumes through their ingredients and requires that they be tested only to the extent that they are Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS). Due to the need for protection of trade secrets, companies rarely give the full listing of ingredients regardless of their effects on health.”

(source and references: Wikipedia)

What this all means for consumers in the US and Australia is that we can have no idea what’s in the “fragrance” in the products we use, and our governments have not tested them particularly rigorously.

In Europe things are a little different: 26 fragrance ingredients have been declared common allergens, and if they’re in a product, they have to be declared on the label.

However, “ The requirement to list these materials is dependant on the intended use of the final product. The limits above which the allegens are required to be declared are 0.001% for products intended to remain on the skin, and 0.01% for those intended to be rinsed off.”

(source and reference: wikipedia)

If you choose not to rinse out your “rinse-out” conditioner, you’re getting a bigger dose than the regulators have calculated. And if you squirt yourself with perfume several times a day, not just once, you’ll be getting more of those substances. If you use more than one product, the cumulative effect could be substantial.

So in the UK and Europe, if you know you react to one of those 26 chemicals you can avoid the product. But any of the other 3,000-odd fragrance ingredients could be in there as well, and you’ll never know. Unless you've been tested, you won't know whether or not any of those 26 chemicals is the one giving you headaches or asthma.

Because synthetic fragrance is relatively cheap to make, and because perfume is still seen as a luxury and prestige item that people are prepared to pay well for, the fragrance industry is massively profitable business. That means there’s not a lot of incentive for fragrance manufacturers to regulate themselves. The government bodies that are there to protect the consumer often have only very limited funds and limited powers. They are under pressure to find a "compromise" between the health of consumers and the health of a global industry. This means that even when there are regulations, their teeth aren't especially sharp.

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