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Stacy Malkan

Stacy Malkan

Posted: May 12, 2010 04:38 PM

Petroleum in Perfume

What's Your Reaction:

Something doesn't smell right, and not just in the Gulf. The horrifying destruction of life caused by the oil spill has everyone's attention; what many people don't realize is that the toxic effects of oil addiction are hitting much closer to home.

Humans have found many uses for oil, but one thing we can't do with it is process it with our bodies to use as food or nourishment. So it's not really a surprise, then, that synthetic chemicals made from oil byproducts don't mesh so well with human health.

You may notice it in the funny, unpleasant feeling you get when standing in an enclosed space with somebody who is wearing too much perfume. If so, you're not alone: adverse reactions to fragrance exposure are reported by a significant percentage of the population.

A new report out today by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics illustrates why. The analysis of 17 top-selling fragrances -- from Britney Spears Curious and Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity to Calvin Klein Eternity and Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce -- reveals the products contain many secret petrochemicals not listed on labels and multiple toxins that can disrupt hormones or trigger allergic reactions such as asthma, headaches, wheezing or skin rashes.

The majority of the chemicals in these products have not been assessed for safety by the cosmetics industry's self-policing review panels.

The study comes on the heels of last week's report by the President's Cancer Panel (see the must-read NYT piece), which sounded the alarm about the cancer risk of unregulated and unstudied chemicals used by millions of Americans in their daily lives. The panel recommended that pregnant women and couples planning to become pregnant avoid exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals due to cancer concerns.

Many of the fragrances contained these suspect ingredients: Halle by Halle Berry, Quicksilver (for men) and Glow by JLO each contained six different chemicals with the potential to act like estrogen in the body. Synthetic estrogens are a concern because of the science linking estrogen to higher risk of breast cancer.

One wonders if these celebrities even know what's in their products (click here to send these celebs a letter). Average consumers are certainly in the dark, thanks to a loophole in federal law that allows companies to keep fragrance ingredients secret. The companies will argue that they've always kept fragrances secret. But, obviously, it's a new day.

The oil spill is an ever-present reminder that it's time to start doing things differently than we've been doing them. It's time to rethink the petrochemicals we put on our bodies, too -- and to require cosmetics companies to be honest about what's in their products and to use the safest ingredients possible.

It's time to shift every industry away from the toxic, polluting practices of the past; to kick the oil habit once and for all and move the entire economy toward renewable energy, clean production and green, safe chemistry.

Stacy Malkan is co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of the award-winning book, "Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry."

 

Follow Stacy Malkan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/safecosmetics