What’s that smell?

 VPIRG and the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Vermont, alongside our legislative and national allies, are calling for greater transparency and consumer protection from harmful chemicals in our cosmetics and their fragrance components.

In January, H. 706, an act relating to the disclosure of cosmetic ingredients, was introduced in the House Committee on Human Services with the intention of doing just that.

Remarkably, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no authority to regulate cosmetics or require product safety testing, despite the fact that these products can contain harmful ingredients that studies have shown to be common pollutants in humans. Exposure to these ingredients can come through inhalation, swallowing, or simple absorption through the skin. But except for a handful of substances, cosmetics companies are allowed to use any ingredient without government review or approval.

Of particular concern is what we know as “fragrance”-   the term that encompasses the possible hundreds of chemicals in our products, including those known to be carcinogenic, neuro-toxic, or otherwise dangerous to human or environmental health. Think about how many fragranced products you come into contact with on a daily basis…they are everywhere! And yet, we don’t even know what that fragrance means, or if it’s safe for us and our families.

With mounting evidence and concern of fragrance sensitization and allergens, respiratory irritation and diseases, as well as other human and environmental toxicants, the complete lack of industry regulation and ingredient disclosure is unacceptable.

Fragrance formulas have been protected by federal law for years as trade secrets, meaning that even if you’re a chemist, you can’t simply read product labels to avoid hazardous chemicals. Without disclosure of the various ingredients contained in fragrances, consumers, researchers, and regulators are entirely left in the dark. For those who suffer with fragrance allergies or sensitivities, trying to avoid the problematic “fragrance” is particularly frustrating.

After passing the Toxic Free Families Act in 2014 (which requires disclosure of chemicals of concern in children’s products and cosmetics), we are working to build off of this success and expand our state disclosure requirements. As the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics explains,

“Full fragrance ingredient disclosure will allow consumers to make safer and more informed decisions, benefit manufacturers who want to practice a higher level of transparency and provide regulators with the information they need to more effectively regulate the safety of cosmetic products.”


If you are interested in learning more, here’s a 2010 study from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and EWG.

Scroll to Top