The EPA’s Safer Choices program has developed a certification label for products that are fragrance-free – which states that no ingredients that are used in fragrance are allowed to be used in the product.  Now, the fragrance industry’s leading trade association, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), opposes the creation of the fragrance-free label claiming that the Safer Choice fragrance-free label would be misleading.

The reason the EPA created the fragrance-free label is that there are many consumers who want a fragrance-free product because they have found that they experience adverse health effects from products that contain “fragrance” in the list of ingredients.  The well-documented health effects from fragrance exposure include rashes and skin conditions, headaches, eye irritation, exacerbation of asthma and other breathing problems.

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Certain individuals with extreme chemical sensitivities can also experience much more serious adverse effects to fragrance exposure. IFRA is opposing Safer Choice’s definition of “fragrance-free” because it differs from the industry standard definition, stating:

         “… in general the industry defines fragrance-free products as those that do not contain fragrance compounds to impart or change the scent of the final product and its ingredients. Some materials used in perfumery might still be present in a “fragrance free” product because these are present for purposes other than scenting or malodor coverage. These are called dual use materials. In contrast, EPA would not permit the use of dual use materials in a “fragrance-free” product, even if they are present as a solvent or surfactant."

IFRA makes the argument that these “dual-use” materials should be allowed in “fragrance-free” products because they aren’t actually imparting a scent to the product.  But that argument makes the assumption that we know that it is only the ingredients in fragrance that impart a scent that lead to the adverse health effects experienced by some people. 

Unfortunately, due to the long held tradition of trade secrets for fragrance ingredients, we have no such knowledge.  All that consumers, scientists and health professionals have access to currently is that fragranced products contain a mystery compound called “fragrance”, and that these products are causing problems for certain individuals.  Without ingredient disclosure, it is impossible to distinguish if the problems are associated solely with the scent-imparting fragrance ingredients or also with the surfactants or solvents that are included in fragrance with them.  In the name of “trade secrets” the fragrance industry has intentionally created and maintained this state of ignorance on the behalf of consumers.  

The only logical option Safer Choice has to provide meaningful information to consumers who do not want to be affected by “fragrance” is to certify that a product does not contain ANY of the ingredients used in fragrances.    

Switalski is executive director and Scranton is director of Science and Research of Women's Voices for the Earth.