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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
HIGH TIME TO LABEL FRAGRANCE ALLERGENS
CHICAGO, IL, August 9, 2004 --/WORLD-WIRE/-- On July 20, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the "Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2003," requiring explicit labeling of eight major allergens in food products. This will make life much safer for about 11 million Americans with food allergies. But why has no such action yet been taken to protect more than twice the number of Americans who develop allergies from unlabeled allergens in fragranced products?
Exposure to these allergens can result in "allergic contact dermatitis" (ACD). This can range from mere itching and transient redness of the skin, to swelling, blistering, and ulceration. ACD is usually localized to the immediate area of the allergen-exposed skin. However, it may spread extensively, and require treatment with antihistamines and cortisone, and even hospitalization; fatal anaphylactic shock has been reported as a rare complication. Inhalation exposure to highly volatile fragrance allergens is also recognized as a cause of asthma in children and adults, particularly those with sensitive airways.
Over 5,000 fragrance ingredients, predominantly synthetic, are commonly used in a wide range of products. These include: household products, such as soaps, cleansers, toilet blocks, sanitary wipes and pads, air fresheners, and even pesticides; common toiletries, such as shampoos, aftershave, and cologne, particularly for men, and sunscreens, eye, nail products, hair dyes, and perfumes, particularly for women; and formaldehyde or other preservatives in virtually all fragrances and cosmetics.
Some cosmetics, and other fragranced products, are misleadingly labeled "fragrance-free" if they contain fragrance ingredients, but not the whole fragrance itself. Also, some companies misleadingly label their cosmetics as "hypoallergenic" if they do not contain any of the more common allergens.
However, while the "hypoallergenic" label, and other labels such as "allergy tested" and "safe for sensitive skin," have considerable promotional value, they can mean just whatever any particular company wants them to mean. Manufacturers of these products are not required to do any skin testing to validate such claims, nor to substantiate them to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It should, however, be recognized that the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act authorizes the FDA to declare any product "misbranded" if there is evidence that it contains harmful ingredients.
According to recent U.S. and Danish surveys, the incidence of ACD has increased by about 10 percent over the last decade. This reflects the burgeoning number of cosmetic and fragranced products being marketed, and their increasing use on infants and children, and by men.
Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) has reintroduced legislation, "The Safe Notification and Information for Fragrances (SNIFF) Act," to amend the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. This requires that allergens in fragranced products be labeled accordingly. More explicitly, the European Parliament has recently proposed that all products containing 26 well-known allergens should be labeled.
In a damage control response to these legislative initiatives, the industry's International Fragrance Association has agreed that information on allergenic ingredients should be made available, but only on request, to dermatologists for diagnostic purposes. However, this "Fragrance On Call List" action continues to deny the public its undeniable right-to-know of major avoidable causes of ACD. Furthermore, the Association has failed to respond to repeated requests for labeling of fragranced products, stating that they contain no known allergens.
Finally, it should be emphasized that allergens represent the tip of the iceberg of a wide range of other unlabeled toxic ingredients in cosmetics and toiletries. While the effects of allergens are almost immediate and obvious, those of carcinogens, gene-damaging, and hormonal ingredients can be delayed for decades. As such, they are poorly, if at all, recognizable. Clearly, corrective legislation is well overdue for other toxic ingredients, besides allergens.
CONTACT: Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., professor emeritus Environmental & Occupational Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health; Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition; Co-author of The Safe Shopper's Bible. 2121 West Taylor Street, MC 922, Chicago, IL 60612. 312-996-2297; www.preventcancer.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.