Report Reveals Secret Chemicals in Beauty, Personal Care, and Cleaning Products Linked to Harm to Human Health & the Environment

Chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects found in products on New York store shelves
Advocates call for full ingredient disclosure so people can make safer, more informed purchases

(Albany, NY - September 26, 2018)  – Clean and Healthy New York, NGOs, and safe cosmetics companies from around the country co-released a new landmark report from Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP). The report, entitled Right to Know: Exposing Toxic Fragrance Chemicals in Beauty, Personal Care and Cleaning Products, exposes the presence of harmful chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive harm, and respiratory toxicity that do not appear on the label. Clean and Healthy New York, BCPP's Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and organizations nationwide collaborated on selecting 32 beauty, personal care and cleaning products for laboratory testing. Several chemicals of concern were found in products sold in New York State.


The findings demonstrate that fragrance chemicals made up the vast majority of chemicals linked to chronic health effects in beauty and personal care products tested. The report found that:

  • A product purchased in New York contained 6 chemicals linked to chronic health effects; Burt's Bees Baby Shampoo & Wash contained six chemicals linked to chronic health effects, including five hormone disruptors and one carcinogen

  • Of the 124 chemicals detected with chronic health effects, 99 were listed on the International Fragrance Association fragrance palette, which suppliers use to formulate fragrances

  • 99 of the 338 fragrance chemicals detected in personal care products have health concerns

  • Two celebrity-endorsed perfumes with headquarters in NYC, JLo Glow and Taylor Swift Wonderstruck, were found to be among the most toxic products

  • “Just for Me” - a children’s shampoo marketed to kids of color, had the highest number of toxic chemicals out of the 32 beauty and cleaning products

  • Many chemicals linked to chronic health effects are not listed on labels


A U.S. federal labeling loophole and unregulated $70 billion global fragrance industry allows dozens - sometimes even hundreds - of chemicals to hide under the word “fragrance” on the product labels of beauty and personal care products. The same is true for cleaning products except worse, no federal law requires disclosing most ingredients in these products.

Earlier this year, New York became the first state to require cleaning product makers to disclose ingredients and hazards, including those in fragrances. Under the groundbreaking Household Cleansing Product Information Disclosure Program, starting in July 2019, companies will be required to identify ingredients or products that are listed as chemicals of concern on a series of environmental and health hazard lists, including cancer, infertility, learning and developmental harm, asthma and other respiratory problems, and skin sensitizers. BCPP’s new report justifies the need for this action, as well as for legislation to expand that full disclosure to personal care products. Governor Cuomo committed to submitting a personal care product ingredient disclosure bill in his 2018 State of the State agenda.


“The findings of this report strengthen the argument for ingredient disclosure. People simply don’t know about toxic chemicals in the products they buy if they aren’t revealed,” said Kathleen Curtis, LPN, Executive Director of Clean and Healthy New York. “Product manufacturers and retailers should turn off the tap on toxic chemicals and replace them with viable, safer alternatives. We applaud the Governor's requirement to disclose cleanser ingredients, and urge him to submit a policy to expand that important health-protective measure early in 2019 to include personal care products.”

Everyone is at risk of harmful chronic health impacts from secret toxic chemicals, particularly vulnerable populations like kids, communities of color, pregnant women and workers in the beauty and home care industries. The presence of unknown, undisclosed toxicants is cause for serious concern because scientific evidence suggests that unsafe chemical exposures in our everyday lives add up to harm to human health and the environment.


“It comes as no surprise to me that the product with the most toxic chemicals is a shampoo marketed to children of color,” said Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director and Director of Programs for WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “Communities of color often face disproportionate harm from cleaning and personal care products.”


“BCPP’s report reveals that when we use common beauty and personal care products, we are exposed to a shocking number of unlabeled, unregulated toxic fragrance chemicals without our knowledge or consent,” said Janet Nudelman, Director of Program and Policy at BCPP and Director of BCPP's Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “Our report found that fragrance chemicals made up three-quarters of the toxic chemicals in the beauty and personal care products we tested.”

“I am both deeply disturbed and sadly not surprised that ‘Just for Me Shampoo,’ which had the highest number of hazardous chemicals of any products tested, is a product marketed to black girls,” said Nourbese Flint M.A., policy director at Black Women for Wellness. “There has been a long history of companies using toxic chemicals in products marketed to and used by Black women, which is further highlighted by this report.  BCPP’s Right to Know makes the case that disclosure of secret fragrance ingredients is needed to protect our children, and other vulnerable populations, from unsafe chemical exposures.  Black moms and the larger community want and need better disclosure and regulation of chemicals that are harmful to our families.”


“The breast cancer community has always made product ingredient disclosure a top priority, and it becomes even more important with these new findings,” said Karen Joy Miller of Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition. “Having the “right to know” is crucial in one’s ability to make the best choices for their family.”

“The NYS American Academy of Pediatrics fully supports disclosure of chemicals of concern, especially in children's products. All children's products should be free from chemicals that contribute to diseases and disorders of environmental origin, including those named in this report,” said Elie Ward, Director of Policy & Advocacy, New York Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Parents have a right to know what's in the products they are buying for use on, with and for their children," she added.


“With the growing demand for non-toxic products, chemical disclosure will allow manufacturers and retailers to make better-informed decisions,” said Bob Rossi, Executive Director of New York Sustainable Business Council (NYSBC). “Smarter chemical regulations will drive green technology innovation and ultimately lead to the development of safer products.”


“BCPP’s product testing further confirms our worst fears, that the fragrance industry does not screen carefully for safety and routinely uses harmful chemicals to make fragrance. It is absolutely unacceptable that fragrance ingredients are kept hidden from the public," said Alexandra Scranton, Director of Science and Research at Women's Voices for the Earth. "Fragrance houses and manufacturers are putting public health at risk."

No U.S. state or federal law regulates the safety of fragrance chemicals or requires the disclosure of these ingredients to consumers, manufacturers or even regulatory agencies. The 80-year-old federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act grants the FDA only meager authority to check the $84 billion cosmetics industry. Cosmetic companies can use practically any raw material to formulate a cosmetic product without FDA pre-market safety testing or review.


Today, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Democrat-Illinois) introduced the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2018, the only federal cosmetic safety bill that calls for full fragrance ingredient disclosure to consumers, manufacturers and the FDA. The bill also requires supply chain transparency and industry data sharing to address the lack of safety data available for fragrance ingredients.


"Our report documents that hidden fragrance chemicals made up the vast majority of toxic chemicals detected in the beauty and personal care products we tested," said Nudelman.  "Congress can swiftly address this buyer beware situation by supporting the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Product Act of 2018 which requires the disclosure – and regulates the safety - of secret fragrance chemicals.”

Full Report:

Right to Know: Exposing Toxic Fragrance Chemicals in Beauty, Personal Care and Cleaning Products 

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