It's not easy. The most recent culprit was a neon blue deodorant stick smelling of "ocean surf" listing "parfum" as an ingredient.
Parfum is industry code for as many as 3,000 chemicals used to make products smell "nice". But we call it a giant loophole in Health Canada's Cosmetic Regulations that allows all those chemicals to be generically listed as "parfum" in our soaps, shampoos and deodorant. And the worst part is, many of those fragrance chemicals are associated with health and environmental hazards.
Shouldn't we have a right to know about all of the ingredients in products we put on our bodies on a daily basis?
More than 60 of you wrote to manufacturers asking what's inside "parfum". I did too, in fact I asked Proctor & Gamble, "Does ocean surf scented deodorant contain phthalates?"
P&G said "the phthalate family is similar to mushrooms; just like mushrooms, some phthalates are safe and some types are unsafe." Umm, did they say mushrooms?
P&G Beauty & Grooming revealed to me they use two members of the phthalate family:
- Diethyl phthalate (DEP)
- Dimethyl phthalate (DMP)
Both are present in their products at trace levels, usually as a component of the fragrance. Phthalates are a concern because they're a group of chemicals suspected of interfering with the way our hormones function (endocrine disruption).
But P&G was unusual in telling me about the phthalates they use. Through our survey we heard from over 40 different companies and not one revealed a complete list of ingredients.
If companies responded at all, most claimed they couldn't tell us what chemical were in their fragrance because they were "trade secrets". And two companies offered to discuss the list of ingredients, but only with the customer's family doctor!
We've summarized the responses in Failing the Sniff Test. Read quotes from manufacturers and find out how companies — from Aveda to Revlon — measure-up when it comes to disclosing the fragrance chemicals in the products you buy.
Canadian consumers shouldn't need a doctor's note to find out what fragrance chemicals are in their deodorant, especially when some are associated with serious health and environmental problems.
Here's what you can do:
- Tell companies they are accountable to you — the consumer.
- Ask Canada's Health Minister to strengthen our Cosmetic Regulations to require companies to disclose fragrance chemicals.
- Choose products without "parfum" or "fragrance". Use our Shopper's guide to avoid the Dirty Dozen or visit our new mobile site on your smartphone.
- Ask your school, workplace, place of worship, gym, local theatre, etc. to adopt fragrance-free policies a Scent-free Policy for the Workplace.
Where have you found unnecessary fragrance in your products?
Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green