Not So Sexy: Hidden Chemicals in Perfume and Cologne

Published May 12, 2010

A rose may be a rose. But that rose-like fragrance in your perfume may be something else entirely, concocted from any number of the fragrance industry’s 3,100 stock chemical ingredients, the blend of which is almost always kept hidden from the consumer.

Makers of popular perfumes, colognes and body sprays market their scents with terms like “floral,” “exotic,” or “musky,” but they don’t disclose that many scents are actually a complex cocktail of natural essences and synthetic chemicals – often petrochemicals. Laboratory tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics [1] and analyzed by Environmental Working Group revealed 38 secret chemicals in 17 name brand fragrance products, topped by American Eagle Seventy Seven with 24, Chanel Coco with 18, and Britney Spears Curious and Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio with 17.

The average fragrance product tested contained 14 secret chemicals not listed on the label. Among them are chemicals associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety in personal care products.

Also in the ranks of undisclosed ingredients are chemicals with troubling hazardous properties or with a propensity to accumulate in human tissues. These include diethyl phthalate, a chemical found in 97 percent of Americans (Silva 2004) and linked to sperm damage in human epidemiological studies (Swan 2008), and musk ketone, a synthetic fragrance ingredient that concentrates in human fat tissue and breast milk (Hutter 2009; Reiner 2007).

Popular fragrances contain 14 secret chemicals on average

This complex mix of clandestine compounds in popular colognes and perfumes makes it impossible for consumers to make informed decisions about the products they consider buying.

Most secret chemicals revealed in fragrance testing have not been  assessed for safety

The federal government is equally uninformed. A review of government records shows that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not assessed the vast majority of these secret fragrance chemicals for safety when used in spray-on personal care products such as fragrances. Nor have most been evaluated by the safety review panel of the International Fragrance Association or any other publicly accountable institution.

Fragrance secrecy is legal due to a giant loophole in the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973, which requires companies to list cosmetics ingredients on the product labels but explicitly exempts fragrance. By taking advantage of this loophole, the cosmetics industry has kept the public in the dark about the ingredients in fragrance, even those that present potential health risks or build up in people’s bodies.

Ingredients not in a product’s hidden fragrance mixture must be listed on the label. As a result, manufacturers disclose some chemical constituents on ingredient lists but lump others together in the generic category of “fragrance.” In fact, “fragrances” are typically mixtures of many different secret chemicals, like those uncovered in this study. On average, the 17 name-brand fragrances tested in this study contained nearly equal numbers of secret and labeled ingredients, with 14 chemicals kept secret but found through testing, and 15 disclosed on labels.

Widespread exposure and a long-standing culture of secrecy within the fragrance industry continue to put countless people at risk of contact sensitization to fragrances with poorly tested and intentionally unlabeled ingredients (Schnuch 2007).

According to EWG analysis, the fragrance industry has published safety assessments for only 34% of the unlabeled ingredients (for details of the analysis, see Methods section). The unassessed chemicals range from food additives whose safety in perfumes has not been assessed to chemicals with limited public safety data such as synthetic musk fragrances, which accumulate in the human body and may be linked to hormone disruption.

Some chemicals that are disclosed on the labels of the products in this report also raise safety concerns. They include sunscreen and ultraviolet-protector chemicals associated with hormone disruption (Schlumpf 2004) and 24 chemical sensitizers that can trigger allergic reactions (European Commission Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products (EC) 1999).

To make matters worse, FDA lacks the authority to require manufacturers to test cosmetics for safety, including fragranced products, before they are sold to consumers. As a result, people using perfume, cologne, body spray and other scented cosmetics like lotion and aftershave are unknowingly exposed to chemicals that may increase their risk for certain health problems.

Results at a glance for all fragrance ingredients combined (disclosed on label or revealed in product tests)
Average for all
17 fragrances
Extreme product (highest number)
Chemical ingredients
(tested + labeled)
29 40 – Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio
Secret chemicals
(found in testing, not on label)
14 24 – American Eagle Seventy Seven
Sensitizing chemicals
(can trigger allergic reactions)
10 19 – Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio
Hormone disruptors
(can disrupt natural hormones)
4 7 – Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver, Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow
Chemicals not assessed for safety
(by government or industry)
12 16 – Chanel Coco, Halle by Halle Berry, American Eagle Seventy Seven

Source: EWG analysis of 91 chemicals in 17 products ñ including 51 chemicals listed on product labels, and 38 unlabeled chemicals found in tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics ñ combined with analysis of chemical hazard and toxicity data from government and industry assessments and the published scientific literature.

Product tests initiated by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and subsequent analyses, detailed in this report, reveal that widely recognized brand-name perfumes and colognes contain secret chemicals, sensitizers, potential hormone disruptors and chemicals not assessed for safety:

Fragrance, perfume & cologne –
what’s the difference?

Perfumes, colognes and body sprays are often called “fragrances.” But under U.S. law, the term fragrance is defined as a combination of chemicals that gives each perfume or cologne its distinct scent. Fragrance ingredients may be produced by chemical synthesis or derived from petroleum or natural raw materials. Companies that manufacture perfume or cologne purchase fragrance mixtures from fragrance houses (companies that specialize in developing fragrances) to develop their own proprietary blends. In addition to “scent” chemicals that we actually smell, perfumes and colognes also contain solvents, stabilizers, UV absorbers, preservatives and dyes. These additives are frequently, but not always, listed on product labels. In contrast, the chemical components in fragrance itself are protected as trade secrets and described on the label only as “fragrance.”

  • Secret chemicals: Laboratory tests revealed 38 secret chemicals in 17 name-brand products, with an average of 14 secret chemicals per product. American Eagle Seventy Seven contained 24 secret chemicals, nearly twice the average found in other products tested.
  • Multiple sensitizers: The products tested contained an average of 10 chemicals that are known to be sensitizers and can trigger allergic reactions such as asthma, wheezing, headaches and contact dermatitis. All of these were listed on product labels. Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio contained 19 different sensitizing chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions, more than any other product tested.
  • Multiple hormone disruptors: A total of 12 different hormone-disrupting chemicals were found in the tested products, with an average of four in each product. Three products each contained seven different chemicals with the potential to disrupt the hormone system: Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver and Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow. In each product, six of these chemicals mimic the hormone estrogen, and the seventh is associated with thyroid effects. Some of these potential hormone disruptors were listed on labels; others were undisclosed and were uncovered in product testing.
  • Widespread use of chemicals that have not been assessed for safety: A review of government records shows that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not assessed the vast majority of fragrance ingredients in personal care products for safety. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an industry-funded and self policing body, has assessed only 19 of the 91 ingredients listed on labels or found in testing for the 17 products assessed in this study. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM), which develop and set voluntary standards for chemicals in the “fragrance” component of products, have assessed only 27 of the 91 ingredients listed on labels or found in testing for the 17 products assessed in this study, based on a review of assessments published in the past 25 years.

Everyone is impacted by fragrance.

The Campaign commissioned a laboratory analysis of men’s and women’s fragrances as well as scented products marketed to teens of both genders; all products tested contained a range of ingredients associated with health concerns, such as allergic sensitization, and potential effects on the endocrine system or reproductive toxicity.

Products were tested by Analytical Sciences, an independent laboratory in Petaluma, California. The lab found, in all, 40 chemicals in the tested fragrance products. Thirty-eight of these were secret, or unlabeled, for at least one of the products containing them, while the other two were listed on all relevant product labels. Ingredient labels disclosed the presence of another 51 chemical ingredients, giving a total of 91 chemical ingredients altogether in the tested products, including hidden and disclosed ingredients combined. Of the 17 products tested, 13 were purchased in the U.S. and four in Canada.

When sprayed or applied on the skin, many chemicals from perfumes, cosmetics and personal care products are inhaled. Others are absorbed through the skin. Either way, many of these chemicals can accumulate in the body. As a result, the bodies of most Americans are polluted with multiple cosmetics ingredients. This pollution begins in the womb and continues through life.

A recent EWG study found Galaxolide and Tonalide, two synthetic musks, in the cord blood of newborn babies (EWG 2009). Both musks contaminate people and the environment worldwide, have been associated with toxicity to the endocrine system (van der Burg 2008) and were identified in the majority of products tested for this study. Similarly, a pregnant woman’s use of some fragrances and other cosmetics frequently may expose her growing fetus to diethyl phthalate (DEP), a common perfume solvent linked to abnormal development of reproductive organs in baby boys and sperm damage in adult men (Washington Toxics Coalition 2009). New research also links prenatal exposure of DEP to clinically diagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder in children (Engel 2010). This analysis found DEP in 12 of 17 products tested, at levels ranging from 30 parts per million (ppm) to 32,000 ppm in Eternity for Women.

Numerous other products used daily, such as shampoos, lotions, bath products, cleaning sprays, air fresheners and laundry and dishwashing detergents, also contain strongly scented, volatile ingredients that are hidden behind the word “fragrance.” Some of these ingredients react with ozone in the indoor air, generating many potentially harmful secondary air pollutants such as formaldehyde and ultrafine particles (Nazaroff 2004).

People have the right to know which chemicals they are being exposed to. They have the right to expect the government to protect people, especially vulnerable populations, from hazardous chemicals. In addition to required safety assessments of ingredients in cosmetics, the laws must be changed to require the chemicals in fragrance to be fully disclosed and publicly accessible on ingredient labels.

As our test results show, short of sending your favorite perfume to a lab for testing, shoppers have no way of knowing exactly which of the 3,100 fragrance ingredients may be hiding in their beauty products or even in their child’s baby shampoo. This study focused on several categories of chemicals – specifically volatile compounds, semi-volatile compounds and synthetic musks. The laboratory analyses, while thorough, were not exhaustive, which means that additional chemicals of concern may also be present in the tested products.


God’s Word to His People

By Marsha Burns

1 Corinthians 13:9 “For we know in part and we prophesy in part.”

This is my part.

1. Re-dig old wells

We will continue to re-dig old wells and re-establish the ancient pathways, but what does that mean? I believe it means that our wells of anointing have been contended for and stopped up, and we have to rediscover those anointings and with persistent faith and warfare re-establish the pathway to victory over the enemy.”

Did you once hear from God? Did He speak to you in specific ways giving you guidance and direction? Did you have prophetic words, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, speak in tongues, or interpret tongues? Did you once have a flow of discerning of spirits, or have faith to pray for healings or miracles?

What about the well of worship? It isn’t going to just start flowing until you take time and put forth the effort to deliberately worship Him! The well of hearing God won’t flow until you take the time to sit in His presence and seek His face with faith to hear His voice.

It is time to re-dig the old wells, by faith, overcome hindrances, and drink from those fresh and flowing waters of the Holy Spirit again by making ourselves available to the Spirit to reach our full potential in Christ.

2. The Goshen Anointing

What God has called the “Joseph Covenant” continues. Basically, this means that His part is that He will give us the best of the land, bless and cause us to prosper in the midst of famine or recession. Our part is to be a good steward of what He has given us and what He has given us to do. And that we are people of integrity (incorruptibility and honesty).

3. We are still watchmen

We will continue to develop greater and more mature discernment to know good and evil, to discern our own human spirit, others’ human spirits, demonic spirits and attacks, angelic activity, and the presence of the Lord. We also need to discern and judge prophecy – to know whether a word is really from God or from the heart of man.

Hebrews 5:14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

There is a current demonic progression that we must set a watch for:

A lying spirit tempts with the thought that things will never get better.

A spirit of fear paralyzes.

A spirit of infirmity produces hopelessness and helplessness.

A spirit of heaviness brings discouragement, despair and perhaps even depression.

A spirit of death kills faith.

We need to fight back!

4. Foundation swept

Our spiritual foundation has been in process of being swept clean of pretence, hypocrisy and pride. The rebuilding will be a work of strength and endurance; of order and purity.

No more wood, hay and straw – that is, no more flesh. It needs to be ALL God – gold, silver, precious stones.

5. Renovation

God continues to fix things that need fixing, and even though this is always what He does, there has been a particular emphasis on this work in us in the past year. Or, at least, we have been more acutely aware of this project of renovation. Old things need to be torn down to make way for the new.

Renovation: cleaning, repairing, rebuilding – to restore to a better state.

Small Straws: Open your eyes. See and discern the times and seasons, says the Lord. You are in a time of renovation and restoration. It is a time of spiritual cleaning, repairing and rebuilding. What you see in the natural realm is a sign of what is transpiring in the spirit realm. I am renewing and restoring you to a new life and vigor. Take heart, and yield to this spiritual stimulation that will invigorate you at the deepest level of your being.

Psalms 135:6 Whatever the LORD pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places.

6. Repositioning

We have been lifted higher, even in the midst of uncertainty. It is a time of repositioning when we will be established in a higher place, the New Plateau.

Isaiah 2:2-3 “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.”

“Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.’”

God is also re-gathering those who have been scattered, a sort of homecoming for people around the world.

Small Straws: As I was in the Spirit, I heard weeping and mourning, and I could sense an atmosphere of isolation and loneliness, a true wilderness. Then, I heard the Lord calling to the four winds, to the people of His heart, to gather His beloved. And, I knew that He was doing a work of re-gathering, in a true homecoming, those who had been scattered to the four winds. He will bring a sense of unity and peace to His people.

Psalms 30:5 “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

There are yet more changes on the horizon that will be necessary to keep us on course to fulfill our destiny. We can trust God to bring us along His path of righteousness and blessing. He WILL direct our steps.

7. Prophetic Intercession

There is a sound from heaven coming to those who have ears to hear, and this heavenly sound will bring harmony and unity in perfect rhythm with the heart of God.

As His intercessors avail themselves to this sound, it will produce more powerful intercession that comes forth in humility, boldness, specificity, strong faith, sincerity, and persistence in and by the Holy Spirit.

8. Spirit of Caleb

I heard the Lord say, “The spirit of Caleb is on the ascent.” The spirit of Caleb is rising up in the people of the Lord. That means being people of godly character, courage, and fortitude. It means having a right attitude towards God and His Word. We will face and overcome adversity by standing for the truth of God’s Word, even if it means standing alone. It is obedience and perseverance.

Isaiah 1:19-20 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

9. Words of Knowledge and Words of Wisdom

Your level of obedience to My Word and your faith in My promises will be tested. Disobedience and unbelief will be revealed in the fires of testing, and you will have opportunities to make corrections as necessary. Do not be afraid, for this is part of the cleansing process that will produce the power of My presence. Without the fires of purification, you will not realize the power.

This is a time of renovation and restoration and of coming into complete order in every area of your life. Order will be the result of allowing divine wisdom to direct your steps on every level and in every situation and circumstance. Seek Me continually, and trust Me perpetually.

You have experienced an upheaval and a shaking, and your foundation has been laid bare. Now, you can begin to be established and settled on a new level of understanding and stability. Stay in the flow of My Spirit, and you will regain confidence that I am doing a good work in you and will bring it to perfection. The worst is over, but it’s not over.

The enemy has tried to isolate you and instill a sense of lonely desolation, but he is a liar. I am going to override this attack against you and give you a sense of connection. You will again know innately that you are a vital part of the whole. And, your fear of living without purpose will be a thing of the past. I am your purpose!

That feeling of being stagnant is going to be displaced as you yield to a subtle stirring in your innermost being. This stirring will make you feel unsettled and will create a desire to move, to progress, that cannot be denied. You can no longer live with feeling stifled, stale, and bored. It is My will that you break forth out of deadness; let Me lead you in newness of life and restore to you a sense of kingdom adventure.

Watch as I open doors of opportunity for you to shine in dark places. You don’t like the darkness, but it still exists and grows more and more desolate. You are My light, and this darkness will not overtake you, but will be revealed for what it is by the light that is in you. Keep the lamp of the Spirit burning brightly within, and let your light shine!

The things that you have been required to lay aside for a season will begin to re-emerge, and even though they appear to be exactly the same, you will soon realize that this emergence is actually the manifestation of new growth. What you laid down had to go through a spiritual metamorphosis, and will come forth as born from above – changed in substance and nature. This is a resurrection of sorts, a seed sown in the flesh, dead, buried, and resurrected in the power of the Spirit. Rejoice!

The days ahead are pregnant with the hope of My glory and are ready to bring forth, says the Lord.