Foundation demands cosmetic companies reveal their secrets | Finding Solutions | 2011 | Summer | Publications | David Suzuki Foundation

By Lisa Gue and Rachelle Delaney

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This spring, the Foundation and its supporters wrote to companies that manufacture lotions, creams, and other cosmetics, asking exactly what they mean when they list "parfum" or "fragrance" as an ingredient. Thanks to a loophole in Canada's ingredient-labelling requirements, companies can label the chemicals they use to make their products smell nice with these generic terms.

But generic terms aren't good enough — we need to know exactly what's inside these ingredients. A single product can include a mixture of dozens or even hundreds of fragrance chemicals. Many of these unlisted ingredients are irritants and can trigger allergies, migraines, and asthma symptoms. Synthetic musks are of particular concern; Environment Canada has flagged some for further assessment because they may be toxic.

Of the 42 companies we contacted, not a single one would provide a complete list of their "parfum" ingredients. Some claimed not to know which chemicals they use, while others refused to tell because of "proprietary rights."

Among the most surprising responses were those from Henkel, Proctor and Gamble, and Unilever. All three companies informed us that they would only discuss specific fragrance ingredients if contacted by a customer's family doctor.

We don't know about you, but we believe you shouldn't need doctor's note to find out exactly what you're putting on your body. That's why we're asking Canadians to sign our petition, demanding that cosmetics manufacturers reveal their secret ingredients. Sign the fragrance petition.

We compiled the responses we received and made recommendations in a report called Failing the Sniff Test.

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