Several perfumes sold across Canada contain undeclared chemicals that have not been thoroughly tested for safety and may have serious health implications, a report by two environmental advocacy group says.
The report, released Tuesday, says that despite a growing desire by Canadian consumers to avoid harmful substances, the ability to know what is in personal-care products is limited by a product-labelling exemption.
The two groups commissioned independent laboratory testing that identified several potentially harmful chemicals in perfume products including Acqua Di Gio by Giorgio Armani, and American Eagle's Seventy Seven.
According to the report, both contain lilial, an allergen that may prompt estrogen-like effects in the body, and benzyl salicylate, an allergen, as well as many other chemicals.
"Anything in your house that smells like a rain forest or a strawberry patch or a pine tree will have these chemicals in them," added Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, which released the report along with California-based Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
The report should be a wake-up call to Canadians about the vast number of potentially harmful chemicals used to make fragrances, as well as other personal care and household products, Dr. Smith said.
It should also highlight major drawbacks of Canadian laws that are designed to protect consumers from toxic substances, he added.
Under federal regulations, companies have to list ingredients on cosmetic labels, but they are not required to list the ingredients used to make fragrances.
Environmental Defence says this is because fragrances are considered trade secrets, but the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association said it's because listing all the ingredients, especially those used at extremely low concentrations, would take too much space.
Health Canada doesn't test all chemicals used in fragrances and other personal care products, and doesn't require manufacturers to do comprehensive safety testing on all of the ingredients they use.
Health Canada does maintain a "hotlist" of cosmetic ingredients that are restricted and prohibited. If companies use these ingredients, Health Canada may ask them to take action, such as removing the ingredient or reducing its concentration to acceptable levels.
The government's approach has been criticized by Environmental Defence and other organizations, such as the David Suzuki Foundation, as too lenient on the cosmetics industry and not doing enough to protect consumers.
The Canadian Cancer Society has been advocating for better product labelling to help people understand the ingredients used and whether they contain carcinogens.
But the CCTFA said the vast majority of ingredients used in personal care products go through a risk assessment and are subject to scrutiny from independent labs.
"The reality is that ingredients that go into fragrances are checked to ensure they are safe and that manufacturers are not including secret ingredients, or any other kind that will put people at risk," said Darren Praznik, president and CEO of the association.
In order to determine what chemicals are in many common fragrance products, Environmental Defence and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics commissioned independent laboratory testing of 17 fragrances sold in Canada and the United States.
The testing showed that each fragrance contains, on average, 14 chemicals that are not listed on the product label. In total, nearly 40 undisclosed chemicals were found in the 17 products tested. The products contained a total of 91 chemicals, some identified on labels and some not. Of those, only 19 have ever been reviewed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, a review body of the cosmetics industry. .
"You can be the most savvy consumer in the world on the lookout for these hazardous chemicals on ingredient lists and you're never going to find them," said Dr. Smith, a zoologist by training.
Many of the chemicals identified in the report can trigger allergic reactions or act as hormone disruptors.
For instance, Quicksilver fragrance for men and Seventy Seven contain diethyl phthalate, which is suspected of disrupting endocrine function and potentially leading to reproductive or developmental problems.
Dolce & Gabbana's Light Blue fragrance contains several chemicals including butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), a preservative and stabilizer that has been linked to adverse effects on the thyroid and is a possible carcinogen.
Mr. Praznik said the report is alarmist and fails to take into account that most of the supposedly toxic ingredients are only found in trace amounts in products.
"There's a very extensive structure and system in place to ensure the safety of those products," he said. "This report … really adds nothing new that I think should give anyone cause for alarm."
But Dr. Smith said he wants Canadian law changed so that dangerous substances are banned and companies are required to disclose all ingredients in their products. In the meantime, he said, consumers can help minimize their exposure to these chemicals by cutting back on the products they use that contain fragrances.