What the New Procter & Gamble Fragrance Ingredient Disclosure Really Means

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Those of us in the nontoxic beauty camp rarely bother to look at mainstream beauty brands. We know what we will find, and what we won’t find, once we are in those toxic-heavy aisles. Then a brand like Procter & Gamble goes and sets a new standard on something as huge as ingredient disclosure — and now there’s new reason for a second glance.

The personal care and cleaning product giant, creators of lines like Olay and Pantene, may not be the first brand you run to when shopping for natural beauty products. That doesn’t mean they aren’t part of a larger effort to improve the shopping experience.

Procter & Gamble recently announced its move to disclose fragrance ingredients on all of its products and lines sold in the U.S. and Canada by 2019. P&G is the largest brand of its type to move to this level of detailed ingredient transparency.

Synthetic fragrances are some of the most hazardous ingredients used in beauty products, linked to allergic reaction, skin irritation, headache, hormonal disruption, and impaired fetal development. While all cosmetic products are required under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FP&L Act) to carry a full ingredient listing, fragrance ingredients are protected by a trade secret loophole.

The FP&L Act states that no trade secrets are required to be divulged, and this includes signature scent blends. Basically, a brand can use the terms “perfume” or “fragrance” on a product label to cover all of the fragrance ingredients used in order to protect its secret recipe. Understandable in a capitalist economy. Even some natural brands utilize this loophole but will usually note if those ingredients come from natural sources.

The double whammy of synthetic fragrance ingredients carrying significant health risks and the ability to hide under a trade secret clause is double troubling. This new move to transparency by P&G will prompt other brands to come clean on what they are using as fragrance ingredients and let consumers decide if they want to use the product or not.

“This is a major victory for consumers. It will inevitably push the market towards greater transparency because companies can no longer hide behind the long-used excuse that fragrance disclosure is impossible,” Nneka Leiba, Director of Healthy Living Science at Environmental Working Group (EWG) said in a statement.

And consumer demand is what pushed this move in the first place. “It is clear Procter & Gamble is listening to its customers and consumers overall, who have called for more transparency of ingredients in household products,” added Ken Cook, President of EWG.

Consumers want to know what is in the products they purchase. From the foods they eat, to the items they use to clean their homes, to the products they put on their skin and use on their children. The only true way to judge the safety of a product is by reading the ingredient listing — which makes full disclosure hugely important.

Fragrance ingredients are notoriously hard to identify but there are many ways to disguise less-than-healthy ingredients on a product label. Most ingredients go by many different names, sometimes brands will list ingredients in all caps or otherwise make them difficult to read, or make the ingredient listings themselves difficult to find. No clear and easily accessible ingredient listing is cause for concern.

Now for the big question … does the new transparency initiative mean P&G products will be nontoxic or made without synthetic fragrance? No. Not yet, anyway.

But doing away with the trade secret loophole that many brands use to protect their fragrance blends (and hide nasty ingredients) is an improvement.

If you are curious as to which ingredients make the cut, check this list of fragrance ingredients currently used by P&G, as well as the ones they do not use.

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Liz Thompson

Liz Thompson is an organic beauty expert who has been researching and writing on the subjects of natural beauty, health, and wellness for over 10 years. She specializes in sharing safe beauty products and her knowledge on healthy ingredients with her readers, and helping organic beauty brands and shop owners share their message and products with the world through her writing services.