Cancer Prevention Coalition Cancer Prevention Coalition  

Avoidable Exposures: Consumers

Fighting for a safer environment at home, in the community, and at work

Fragrances and Perfumes Can Be Toxic

Beware of Calvin Klein’s “Eternity eau de parfume”

jump to links

As emphasized in the Safe Shopper’s Bible, fragrances and perfumes in cosmetics, personal and household products are leading causes of allergy, sensitization, and irritation. Animal toxicity studies have found many to be hazardous. Fragrances are called “indoor air-pollutants” by chemically sensitive individuals.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has reported that the fragrance industry uses up to 3000 ingredients, predominantly synthetic, some 900 of which were identified as toxic. However, the industry is not required to disclose ingredients of fragrances and perfumes on their labels due to trade secrecy considerations. The FDA supports this non-disclosure on the grounds that "consumers are not adversely affected -- and should not be deprived of the enjoyment" of these products.

An analysis of six different mainstream perfumes by Scientific Instrument Services, released in November 1998, identified over 800 ingredients with distinctive patterns for each perfume. These ingredients include a wide range of volatile and semi-volatile organic chemicals which are thus a significant contributors to indoor air pollution.

On May 11, 1999, the California Environmental Health Network filed a Citizen Petition with the FDA requiring warning labels on all fragrances which are marketed without prior adequate safety testing. Additionally, the petition requested the FDA to take administrative action and declare Calvin Klein’ Cosmetic Company "Eternity eau de parfume" as "misbranded." This petition has been supported and endorsed by the CPC. While Eternity perfume has been known since 1995 as toxic to the respiratory tract and nervous system, the petition was based on recent analysis of the perfume by two independent laboratories, Scientific Instruments Services and the cosmetic industry’s Research Institute of Fragrance Materials Laboratory. Of all 41 ingredients identified, no toxicity data are available on some, data on most are inadequate, and others are known to be toxic to the skin, mucous membranes, respiratory tract, and reproductive and nervous systems by routes including skin absorption and inhalation. Additionally, two ingredients (phenylmethyl acetic acid ester and 2,6-bis (1,1-dimethylethyl) -4-methyl-phenol) were identified as carcinogens. The FDA has 180 days to respond to this petition. However, any positive response is most unlikely.

Neways International, a leading alternative safe consumer products company, has taken a precedential initiative in the area of fragrance safety. The few fragrances used in Neways personal care products contain less than 10 ingredients, most of which are natural. As importantly, none of the few synthetics used are known to be toxic or carcinogenic. In the near future, these products will be labeled accordingly.

Press Release on Calvin Klein Perfume Toxicity


Losing the Cancer War
Avoidable Exposures
Work & Environment
Avoidable Cancers
Publications and Resources
Press Room
Take Action






    Copyright 2003 Cancer Prevention Coalition