Scented store environments, dangerous to the health of employees and customers

Scent marketing alarms the trade supervision and labor unions

Businesses that use fragrances in order to encourage customers to linger and buy, are becoming increasingly common. The scent marketing industry promotes the retail branch strongly. The fragrances that one finds in the shops are mixtures of different natural essential oils or chemical compositions. Neither is harmless for employees or customers. In Denmark, the trade supervision and labor unions are keeping their eye on the American fashion chain, “Abercrombie & Fitch”. The fashion chain is known for using the fragrance Citronellol, an aromatic oil that is classified as questionable because it can be harmful to one’s health and it can trigger allergies. The Danish trade supervision is currently committed to putting an end to the scenting in order to protect the employees and customers of the fashion chain.

Authorities and labor unions are going up against scented store environments

In Denmark, labor unions are paying close attention to the authorities’ course of action against the American fashion company “Abercrombie & Fitch”. In their shops, it smells strongly of perfume. The significant fragrance is supposed to bind the customer to the brand and increase sales. The newspaper “Politiken DK” reports that so-called scent marketing has extremely increased in Denmark in the past three years. Anyone who visits certain stores frequently or is employed there, can develop allergies. It is an unnecessary burden on the employees, because many of the fragrances can cause allergic reactions – the newspaper quoted the head of the trade supervision.

Contamination of indoor air with chemicals and allergenic fragrance oils

The perfumes for a scented environment are often led directly into the store through the air conditioning and ventilation system. Smaller shops set up bottles with aromatic oils, containing wooden sticks which release the fragrance into the room. Both are questionable, not only for people who already suffer from perfume allergies, but also for asthmatics and chemically sensitive people (MCS). Even healthy people may sensitize over time and develop allergies.

The trade supervision wants to protect employees and customers

We are most likely dealing with allergens, which are injected into the stores, is what the head of the trade supervision told the newspaper “Politiken DK”. That’s why the authorities tried to contact “Abercrombie & Fitch” at the end of last year. The authorities tried to make it clear to them that they wanted to protect employees against the high concentration of perfume in the shops, because it is an unnecessary burden.

Labor unions are receiving more and more complaints

Danish labor unions report that they receive more and more complaints from union members about the scenting of their workplace. Therefore, the actions of the trade supervision in the case of “Abercrombie & Fitch” are being closely observed. It is a major health problem for the employees in those stores, but also for the customers, said a union spokesperson to “Politiken DK”. The customers, unlike the employees have the choice and can simply stay away from the scented store. The employee unfortunately does not have this choice, especially in times when everyone is happy to even have a job.

It remains to be seen how the American company will behave, what measures the Danish trade supervision will take, and how much pressure the Danish labor unions will make. If the Abercrombie & Fitch” management is smart, they will stop exposing their employees and customers to substances that can cause illness. Sick employees cost a company money, and when customers realize why they don’t feel well in a shop and stay away, they too, can cost the company a lot of money.

The German Federal Environmental Agency has been warning against the use of fragrances for this purpose for years – through several press releases and it’s own published background paper which writes about this issue, „Fragrances: When something pleasant becomes a burden.” (german) An increase of scented shops has also been reported in Germany. So far, there is no authority or union which is really trying to prevent it.

Autor: Silvia K. Müller, CSN – Chemical Sensitivity Network, 17. Januar 2012


Politiken.DK, Duftende butikker er farlige for ansattes og kunders helbred, 13. Januar 2012

Related Articles:

Scented consumer products shown to emit many unlisted chemicals

University of Washington

For Immediate Release

Oct. 26, 2010

The sweet smell of fresh laundry may contain a sour note. Widely used fragranced products – including those that claim to be “green” – give off many chemicals that are not listed on the label, including some that are classified as toxic.

A study led by the University of Washington discovered that 25 commonly used scented products emit an average of 17 chemicals each. Of the 133 different chemicals detected, nearly a quarter are classified as toxic or hazardous under at least one federal law. Only one emitted compound was listed on a product label, and only two were publicly disclosed anywhere. The article is published online today in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review.

“We analyzed best-selling products, and about half of them made some claim about being green, organic, or natural,” said lead author Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs. “Surprisingly, the green products’ emissions of hazardous chemicals were not significantly different from the other products.”

More than a third of the products emitted at least one chemical classified as a probable carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and for which the EPA sets no safe exposure level.

Manufacturers are not required to disclose any ingredients in cleaning supplies, air fresheners or laundry products, all of which are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Neither these nor personal care products, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, are required to list ingredients used in fragrances, even though a single “fragrance” in a product can be a mixture of up to several hundred ingredients, Steinemann said.

So Steinemann and colleagues have used chemical sleuthing to discover what is emitted by the scented products commonly used in homes, public spaces and workplaces. The study analyzed air fresheners including sprays, solids and oils; laundry products including detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets; personal care products such as soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorant and shampoos; and cleaning products including disinfectants, all-purpose sprays and dish detergent. All were widely used brands, with more than half being the top-selling product in its category.

Researchers placed a sample of each product in a closed glass container at room temperature and then analyzed the surrounding air for volatile organic compounds, small molecules that evaporate off a product’s surface. They detected chemical concentrations ranging from 100 micrograms per cubic meter (the minimum value reported) to more than 1.6 million micrograms per cubic meter.

The most common emissions included limonene, a compound with a citrus scent; alphapinene and beta-pinene, compounds with a pine scent; ethanol; and acetone, a solvent found in nail polish remover. All products emitted at least one chemical classified as toxic or hazardous.

Eleven products emitted at least one probable carcinogen according to the EPA. These included acetaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde and methylene chloride. The only chemical listed on any product label was ethanol, and the only additional substance listed on a chemical safety report, known as a material safety data sheet, was 2-butoxyethanol.

“The products emitted more than 420 chemicals, collectively, but virtually none of them were disclosed to consumers, anywhere,” Steinemann said. Because product formulations are confidential, it was not possible to determine whether a chemical came from the product base, the fragrance added to the product, or both.

Tables included with the article list all chemicals emitted by each product and the associated concentrations, although do not disclose the products’ brand names. “We don’t want to give people the impression that if we reported on product ‘A’ and they buy product ‘B,’ that they’re safe,” Steinemann said. “We found potentially hazardous chemicals in all of the fragranced products we tested.”

The study establishes the presence of various chemicals but makes no claims about the possible health effects. Two national surveys published by Steinemann and a colleague in 2009 found that about 20 percent of the population reported adverse health effects from air fresheners, and about 10 percent complained of adverse effects from laundry products vented to the outdoors. Among asthmatics, such complaints were roughly twice as common.

The Household Product Labeling Act, currently being reviewed by the U.S. Senate, would require manufacturers to list ingredients in air fresheners, soaps, laundry supplies and other consumer products. Steinemann says she is interested in fragrance mixtures, which are included in the proposed labeling act, because of the potential for unwanted exposure, or what she calls “secondhand scents.”

As for what consumers who want to avoid such chemicals should do in the meantime, Steinemann suggests using simpler options such as cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, opening windows for ventilation, and using products without any fragrance.

“In the past two years, I’ve received more than 1,000 e-mails, messages, and telephone calls from people saying: ‘Thank you for doing this research, these products are making me sick, and now I can start to understand why,’” Steinemann said.


Steinemann is currently a visiting professor in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. Co-authors are Ian MacGregor and Sydney Gordon at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio; Lisa Gallagher, Amy Davis and Daniel Ribeiro at the UW; and Lance Wallace, retired from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The research was partially funded by Seattle Public Utilities.


University of Washington, Hannah Hickey, Release: Scented consumer products shown to emit many unlisted chemicals,Oct. 26, 2010

Related Articles:

Reckless Self-Interest Of The Fragrance Industry

People must be protected from exposure to fragrance ingredients that may cause cancer or fetal, hormonal or reproductive toxicity, the Cancer Prevention Coalition warned today. But federal agencies are not regulating these ingredients, leaving the public at risk due to the “recklessly irresponsible” behavior of the fragrance industry, says CPC Chairman Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.

Protection of the public would be implemented by passage of Senator Frank Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, Dr. Epstein advises. This bill requires manufacturers to provide information on “chemicals of concern” in consumer products.

The bill would provide the public with information on the dangers of these products, especially, says Dr. Epstein, “as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recklessly failed to do so since passage of the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.”

Perfumes and fragrances are the single largest category of cosmetic and personal care products, especially products used on the hair, face, and eyes. These products represent nearly 50 percent of all prestige beauty dollars now spent in the United States. Fragrances are also extensively used in a wide range of everyday household cleaning products.

Exposure to toxic ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products is predominantly through the skin. In contrast, exposure to toxic ingredients in household cleaning products is predominantly through inhalation.

The FDA has direct authority under the terms of the 1938 Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act to regulate toxic ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products. However, seven decades later, it has still failed to do so. Similarly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also still failed to regulate these toxic ingredients in household cleaning products.

“In the disturbing absence of any federal regulations,” Dr. Epstein says, the policies and practices of the cosmetics and personal care products industries are determined by its International Fragrance Association (IFRA). This is an international trade organization of over 100 perfume and fragrance manufacturers, representing fifteen regions including the U.S., Europe, South America, Australia, and the Far East.”

The primary objective of IFRA is to protect the self-regulatory practices and policies of the industry by the development of a Code of Practices and safety guidelines, Dr. Epstein says. However, these include maintaining the “trade secret” status of perfume and fragrance ingredients, and pre-empting international legislative labeling and safety initiatives.

Of the more than 5,000 ingredients used in the fragrance industry, approximately 1,300 have so far been evaluated by the industry’s International Research Institute for Fragrance Materials. This institute is a “non-profit” organization, created by IFRA in 1966 to conduct research and testing of fragrance ingredients.

“However,” Dr. Epstein warns, “this testing is minimal and restricted to local effects on human skin, and short-term toxicity tests in rodents.”

Evaluation of ingredient safety is then made by a board of toxicologists, pharmacologists, and dermatologists, identified by the institute as “independent” without disclosure of their qualifications, let alone conflicts of interest.

Their findings are presented to IFRA’s Scientific Advisory Board, and then published in its trade journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology. The information reported in this journal is the basis on which IFRA formulates its own “safety guidelines.” However, Dr. Epstein points out, due to the “trade secret” status of fragrances, manufacturers are still not required by the FDA to disclose their ingredients on product labels or in any other way.

“These ingredients include a wide range of allergens. They also include synthetic musks, particularly tonalide and galaxolide, designed to mimic natural scents derived from musk deer and ox,” Dr. Epstein explains. “They are persistent and bioaccumulate in the body, have toxic hormonal effects, and have been identified in breast milk.”

In 1973, in efforts at damage control, IFRA created a Code of Practice listing prohibited ingredients, based on its own safety analyses. This listing has been periodically updated.

In May 1999, in response to repeated complaints of respiratory, neurological, and other toxic effects following the use of Calvin Klein’s Eternity perfume, the Environmental Health Network of California hired two testing laboratories to identify the ingredients in the perfume.

Analysis of these results by the Cancer Prevention Coalition, summarized in Dr. Epstein’s 2009 book Toxic Beauty, reveal the following:

  • 26 ingredients whose “Toxicological properties have not been investigated,” or “toxicology properties have not been thoroughly investigated.”
  • 25 ingredients that are “Irritants.”
  • 5 ingredients that are “Skin sensitizers,” or allergens.
  • 3 ingredients that show “Fetal, hormonal, and reproductive toxicity.”
  • 2 ingredients that “May cause cancer.”

In efforts at damage control, IFRA agreed that information on allergenic ingredients in perfumes like Eternity should be made available, but only on request from dermatologists, for diagnostic purposes. “This “Fragrance On-Call List” action denies the public its right to know,” Dr. Epstein warns.

More disturbingly, Dr. Matthias Vey, president of IFRA, failed to respond to repeated warnings from August to October 2003 from the Cancer Prevention Coalition. These urged “all fragrance products be labeled to the effect that, apart from the absence of known skin and respiratory allergens, they contain no known carcinogens, gene damaging, hormonal, or otherwise toxic ingredients.”

As reported in “What’s That Smell,” a June 2010 report by Women’s Voices of the Earth, faced with continuing criticism of unresponsiveness, IFRA initiated a “compliance program” in 2007. “However,” Dr. Epstein warns, “this is based on testing of a mere 50 fragranced products from the global market place to detect prohibited ingredients.”

A fragrance may be restricted by IFRA on a variety of grounds. These include: use in products at higher-than-recommended concentrations, sensitization, photosensitization, phototoxicity, allergenicity, neurotoxicity, carcinogenicity, undefined biological effects, and inadequate data.

“This restriction, though, works better in theory than in practice,” Dr. Epstein emphasizes. “There is no pre-approval process for ingredient safety other than that claimed by the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials.”

Literature: Cancer Prevention Coalition, Reckless Self-Interest Of The Fragrance Industry, CHICAGO, IL, June 28, 2010

Related Articles:

Baby bathwater contains fragrance allergens and chemicals

Baby bathing - Watch out for Chemicals in Babybath

A group of chemists from the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) has developed a method to quantify the fragrance allergens found in baby bathwater. The researchers have analysed real samples and detected up to 15 allergen compounds in cosmetics and personal hygiene products. 

A team of scientists from the Department of Analytical Chemistry, Nutrition and Bromatology at the USC has developed a method to detect and quantify the 15 most common fragrance allergens included in soap, gel, cologne and other personal hygiene products.   

“Applying the method to eight real samples obtained from the daily baths of a series of babies aged between six months and two years old, we discovered the presence of all the compounds under study in at least one of the samples,” co-author of the study published this month in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, María Llompart, explained to SINC. 

The scientists found at least six of the 15 compounds in all the samples. In some cases, concentrations were “extremely high”, exceeding 100ppm (parts per million = nanograms/millilitre). Some of the substances that appeared were benzyl salicylate, linalol, coumarin and hydroxycitronellal. 

“The presence and levels of these chemical agents in bathwater should be cause for concern,” Llompart said, “bearing in mind that babies spend up to 15 minutes or more a day playing in the bath and that they can absorb these and other chemicals not only through their skin, but also by inhalation and often ingestion, intentional or not.”

New Method to Detect Fragrances

Allergens were able to be detected due to the high level of sensitivity of the method, which for the first time applies the Solid-Phase Micro Extraction (SPME) technique to determining the ingredients of cosmetics and child hygiene products. This technique makes it possible to concentrate and isolate chemical components from a sample by absorbing them into fibres with a certain coating. 

The researchers have also employed gas chromatography to separate compounds and mass spectrometry to identify and measure the abundance of each of the fragrances. 

European regulations stipulate that the presence of such substances should be indicated on the label of the product when levels exceed a certain limit (0.1 or 0.01%, depending on the type of compound), but some associations believe these limits are excessively tolerant, particularly where child hygiene and baby and child care products are concerned. 

References: J. Pablo Lamas, Lucia Sánchez-Prado, Carmen Garcia-Jares y María Llompart. “Solid-phase microextraction gas chromatography-mass spectrometry determination of fragrance allergens in baby bathwater”. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 394 (5): 1399-1411, julio de 2009.