Samuel Epstein, a professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the Chicago School of Public Health, University of Illinois, and chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, has asked why no action has been taken to protect Americans against unlabelled allergens in fragranced products. According to Epstein, twice the number of Americans develop allergies from allergens in fragranced products than in foods.
He noted that exposure to these allergens can result in "allergic contact dermatitis" (ACD), which can range from itching and redness of the skin, to swelling, blistering, and ulceration, and claimed that inhalation exposure to highly volatile fragrance allergens is recognized as a cause of asthma in children and adults, particularly those with sensitive airways.
"Some cosmetics, and other fragranced products, are misleadingly labeled "fragrance-free" if they contain fragrance ingredients, but not the whole fragrance itself," said Epstein. "Some companies also misleadingly label their cosmetics as "hypoallergenic" if they do not contain any of the more common allergens."
Epstein belives that labels asserting that products are safe for users with hypoallergenic skin are more a marketing ploy than a genuine indication of usability.
"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," he said.
However, the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act authorizes the Food and Drug Administration 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.
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.
The Cancer Prevention Coalition is a network of experts in cancer prevention and public health, together with citizen activists and representatives from labor, public interest, environmental, and women's health groups, whose goal is to reduce cancer rates through a strategy of prevention rather than cure.