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The Fragrance-Free Initiative

What your nose doesn't know can harm you

Think about the personal products you use every morning: your soap, shaving cream, shampoo, moisturizer, makeup, deodorant, gels, mousse, hairspray, cologne or body spray. All of them have a secret ingredient that might be affecting your health—and you haven't even left the house!

The secret ingredient is known as "fragrance" or "parfum," and it's added to practically every product we use on a daily basis. A single product may have hundreds of chemicals in its fragrance—there are more than 3,000 different chemicals used in common fragrances—and the majority of them have not been tested for safety.

Yet manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals that make up fragrance because fragrance is protected by federal regulations as a trade secret.

Because of the proliferation of synthetic fragrance in the products we use, many people have become sensitive to fragrance.

The Fragrance-Free Initiative is an effort to improve the indoor air quality in all the places people live, work, play and learn. By creating awareness of fragrances and educating people on the health effects and risks that may be associated with fragrances, we hope to create consumers who are better able to make decision about the products they use in order to limit their exposure to chemcails, whether they are sensitive to fragrance or not.

Special thanks to our Fragrance-Free Initiative sponsor!

Fragrance-Free at School


More than 53 million children and 6 million adults in the United States spend significant amounts of time in more than 120,000 school buildings across the country. School buildings can contain harmful contaminants and chemicals that impeded learning and overall health. Indoor air quality problems can exacerbate existing respiratory issues in children and adults.

Studies have shown that certain cleaning products used in the school setting, such as industrial-strength cleaning products and room deodorizers, contain chemicals identified as potential asthmagens (triggers of asthma symptoms), allergens, carinogens and air contaminants. In fact, approximately 25 percent of chemicals in school cleaning products are considered toxic and contribute to poor indoor air quality.

Schools are becoming increasingly aware that healthy and environmentally-friendly facilities foster academic achievement and staff well-being. As states have begun to enact air-quality policies, many more eco-friendly products have become available for school use. To date, twelve states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to advance green cleaning in schools and more eco-friendly products have become available for school use.

Contact WHE staff at 412.420.2290 to schedule a presentation for faculty, parents and/or students.


Tips for Creating Fragrance-Free Schools

Purchase third-party certified janitorial supplies with green cleaning in mind. Many manufacturers and retailers use terms such as "environmentally safe," "green" and "non-toxic" to boost sales. Some of these claimes are valid; many are not. Choose products that are rated "green" by independent third-party organizations.

Green cleaning products reduce indoor air pollution by using less-toxic cleaning chemicals and equipment that is more effective at capturing particulate matter, can be as effective as traditional cleaning products, and can be competitively priced to be essentially cost-neutral when compared to their traditional counterparts.

Special thanks to our Fragrance-Free Schools sponsor!

Fragrance-Free At Work

Lunch and Learn's in thousands of products but what does it really mean?  Contact Women for a Healthy Environment (WHE) at 412-404-2872 or to schedule a "Lunch and Learn" session on Fragrance-Free Workplace Policies!

This "Lunch and Learn" is geared toward office managers and administrators, human resource professionals, sustainability coordinators, green team members, corporate wellness committee members and any employee that wished to learn more about this topic!  This session will cover potential health effects from fragrance, legal issues and employer accommodations for employees impacted by fragrance, sample fragrance-free workplace policies and  implementation, and lessons learned along the way.

Special thanks to our sponsors!


Fragrance-Free At Home

In conjunction with Asthma and Allergy Awareness month, each year Women for a Healthy Environment hosts its annual Fragrance-Free event in downtown Pittsburgh to raise awareness about “Fragrance.” This mystery ingredient is found in hundreds, if not thousands, of consumer products ranging from personal care items such as baby products, soaps, lotions and shampoos; to room deodorizers and carpet cleaners; to laundry detergents and fabric softeners. Due to loopholes in Federal regulations, companies are not required to identify the chemicals that make up this ingredient based on provisions for trade secrets. Synthetic fragrance can include a selection of over 3,000 different chemicals, the majority of which have not been tested for safety.

And we know exposure to fragranced products can pose significant health risks as demonstrated by compromised respiratory conditions (breathing difficulties), neurologic responses (such as dizziness and headaches), skin irritations (hives and itching), and allergic reactions (runny nose and watery eyes), as well as hormone disruption. We know through laboratory testing that some fragrances come from chemicals that can interfere with various hormones in our body. These could be linked to reproductive or developmental problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 18.7 million people are affected with asthma in the United States and it is estimated that one in five has tested positive to one or more allergens. Many of the consumer and personal care products we use contain sensitizing agents that trigger these serious health impacts.  Last fall WHE launched a campaign requesting Procter & Gamble to fully disclose of fragrance ingredients in its Febreze line of products. Over 7,000 people took action and signed our petition. We know this is an issue that affects many of us each and every day.

What’s not healthy for us is also not good for our environment.

Over the past 50 years, the United States Food and Drug Administration indicates that 80-90% of fragrances have been synthesized from petroleum, and some of the commonly found harmful chemicals in fragranced products include acetone, phenol, toluene, benzyl acetate, and limonene. Fragranced products such as air fresheners contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), chemicals that keep the fragrance molecules airborne so the fragrances linger longer and reduce our indoor air quality.

And for ideas to reduce fragrance around the home:

Click here for a copy of WHE's Fragrance-Free educational brochure.

The law that guides our personal care products was passed over 75 years ago and gives FDA little regulatory authority. However, you can make a difference to better protect our health, our community, and our planet! In March the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act was introduced in Congress. This Act would require companies to fully disclose of ingredients, including Fragrance, on product labels and prohibit ingredients known to be carcinogens or pose a toxic threat to reproductive development. Let your Congressman know this Act is important to better protect families and the environment!

Special thanks to our Fragrance-Free sponsor!