What's In Your Perfume?

A new study commissioned by an advocacy group has found that of 17 popular perfumes tested at random, all contained ingredients that weren't listed on the label, including substances the group says may cause allergic reactions in some people and other substances the group says pose potential health risks.

"You really don't know what you're getting," said Jane Houlihan, chief author of the study, which was commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a consortium of environmental and women's health groups.

The products tested included scents from Chanel and Calvin Klein, promoted by celebrities like Christy Turlington, Keira Knightly and Britney Spears, and the average number of unlisted ingredients contained by the fragrances was 14. The CSC says the study's results show the weakness of federal regulations, which do not currently require perfume-makers to list all ingredients on perfume labels.

"Almost any chemical can be put in any fragrance," said Houlihan, who is vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group, one of the primary partners in the CSC. "It is a self-regulated industry."

Representatives of the perfume makers note that they are in full compliance with the law, since the Food and Drug Administration does not require companies to disclose all ingredients in perfume on labels. Dr. John Bailey, chief scientist at the Personal Care Products Council, a Washington-based trade association for perfume manufacturers, criticized the scientific merits of the study.

"There is every reason to have confidence in the safety of the product that consumers have used for dozens of years," said Dr. Bailey. "From a scientific perspective, the information that is presented simply does not support the assertions they are making.

The CSC's analysis of the results of the perfume tests, which were conducted by an independent California lab, show that all 17 perfumes contained sensitizing chemicals that the CSC said may lead to allergic reactions like wheezing and headaches in some people. The study also found that all of the perfumes contained at least one of several chemicals that some studies have suggested may be linked to hormone disruption, including, in some cases, diethyl phthalate (DEP), a common perfume solvent.

The analysis found DEP in 12 of 17 products tested, including Halle, J. Lo Glow, Britney Spears Curious, and Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity. The levels ranged from 30 parts per million to 32,000 ppm in Calvin Klein's Eternity for Women.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester recently reported that heightened levels of phthalate in the blood may be associated with abnormal development of reproductive organs in baby boys. Phthalates are a group of chemicals that have been linked by researchers to endocrine disruption in animals.

Jane Houlihan of the CSC argues that phthalates like DEP in perfume add to the overall levels in the body, and any reduction of exposure is a good thing, given the Harvard and Rochester studies.

Houlihan acknowledges that there is no research that has determined what levels in a perfume might translate to measurable heath risks. According to the CSC study, "Scientists are still trying to understand the human health implication of lifelong cumulative exposure to mixtures of hormonally active chemicals."

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PHOTO: Jodie Foster and Alexandra Hedison attend the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Inaugural Gala presented by Salvatore Ferragamo at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Oct. 17, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Stefanie Keenan/Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts/Getty Images for Wallis Annenber