The Growing Problem With Fragrance

Author: Action Against Allergy

Date: Oct 2013

A 2012 report recommended that the number of fragrance allergens subject to compulsory individual labelling when they are present in cosmetic products should be increased from the current 26 to around 130 – and that three should be banned altogether.

Alex Gazzola reveals the 300-page report’s key findings, looks at how those sensitive to fragrances (5% of the population) can protect themselves against ‘parfums’, and examines the likelihood of the recommendations becoming law.

In 1999, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) (at the time known as the Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products) identified 26 fragrance allergens used in cosmetics which it felt ought to be made known to consumers when present above certain concentrations – rather than remain unnamed under the guise of the catch-all terms ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’.

The SCCS is an independent body set up by the European Commission to advise it on the impact on human health of personal / consumer products. It took some years for the SCCS’s recommendations to be acted on, but in 2005, through an amendment to the EU Cosmetics Directive, it became law that the 26 fragrances identified must be individually named on all cosmetics when present in concentrations of at least 10 parts per million (leave-on products) or 100 parts per million (wash-off products).

Some fragrance chemicals are added as ingredients in their own right, and some occur naturally in essential oils used in skincare products. The Directive called for the 26 to be named in either case, with the source essential oil also included as an ingredient in the latter (over half of the 26 are found naturally in essential oils).

Now, in a new report published in August 2012, following a review of clinical and research studies from the last decade which the SCCS was asked to undertake, an additional 30 chemicals and 26 natural extracts have been identified as contact allergens in humans – while the original 26 have all been confirmed as allergens that should remain on the ‘warning list’.

New problem fragrances

This would bring the total confirmed human fragrance allergens to 82 – 54 of which are fragrance chemicals and 28 natural extracts or essential oils.

Of the 54 fragrance chemicals, the Committee found 12 to be especially problematic, some of which are both naturally occurring and can be manufactured synthetically too. For most of these, between 100 and 1,000 documented cases of allergy were found in the literature and trials reviewed by the Committee. The twelve, with examples of the botanicals in which they are found, are:

  • Cinnamal(occurring in cinnamon)
  • Cinnamylalcohol(in cinnamon, balsam of Peru)
  • Citral(in lemongrass, citrus, cardamom, petitgrain, ginger)
  • Coumarin(in tonka, sweet clover, stone fruit, strawberries)
  • Eugenol(in clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, rose, basil and bay)
  • Farnesol(in neroli, rose, palmarosa and ylang ylang)
  • Geraniol(in rose, citronella, palmarosa, and geranium)
  • Hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde / HICC(synthetic)
  • Hydroxycitronellal(in citrus fruits, petitgrain, ylang ylang and sandalwood)
  • Isoeugenol(in clove, nutmeg, ylang ylang)
  • Limonene(oxidised) (in citrus)
  • Linalool(oxidised) (in citrus, rose, neroli, coriander, spearmint, cypress, chamomile, ylang ylang

To read the rest of this article please visit Action Against Allergy


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