Glade is listing the specific fragrance ingredients in each of its products for the first time. (Photo: Glade)
The growing trend of revealing ingredients in food products seems to be having an impact on the fragrance industry: The makers of Glade air fresheners have announced that they are now disclosing more information about the chemicals in their products.
SC Johnson said in a press release issued Monday that customers can for the first time view the top fragrance ingredients for Glade’s air fresheners, candles, and scented oils on its website, WhatsInsideScJohnson.com. The fragrance information can be accessed by clicking the word “fragrance” on the list of product ingredients.
The company will share the highest ingredient concentrations, down to 0.09 percent of the fragrance formula — which, “in many cases, will result in the 30- to 50-ingredient range,” Jam Stewart, SCJ spokesperson, told Yahoo Health. SCJ is beginning its ingredient disclosure with the Glade line before rolling out the program to other brands in its portfolio, which includes Windex, Raid, Off!, and Shout.
“We take great care in making ingredient choices to offer products that are both safe and effective,” said Fisk Johnson, chairman and CEO of SC Johnson, in the release. “Earning consumer trust can only happen when companies are willing to lay it all out there.”
While dyes, waxes, and fragrances have already been listed on the company’s online ingredient lists, the chemical makeup of the specific fragrances in each product have not — so it’s a big deal that the company has begun to disclose this information. Fragrance information is notoriously difficult to unearth. Most ingredients are required to be listed on ingredient labels under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, but the FDA does not require companies to disclose their fragrance formulas because the exact makeup of a fragrance can be labeled a trade secret. Complicating the matter is the fact that many companies, including Glade, purchase their fragrances from outside fragrance houses, which closely guard their formulas.
We now know that Glade’s Hawaiian Breeze Room Spray, for example, includes fragrance ingredients such as allyl 3-cyclohexylpropionate, allyl caproate, benzyl alcohol, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), coumarin, dipropylene glycol, ethyl hydroxypyrone, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, gamma-nonalactone, and methyldihydrojasmonate.
But Anne Steinemann, a professor at the University of Melbourne, Victoria, who has extensively studied major air freshener brands and products, as well as their associated health effects, tells Yahoo Health that the word “fragrance” can mean several hundred different chemicals, some of which are hazardous air pollutants — including known carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and neurotoxins. By not revealing the full fragrance ingredient list, she says, Glade may be potentially leaving out important information.
She notes that lower concentrations of some chemicals can be of greater concern than higher levels of others and, at a lower concentration, these ingredients may not make Glade’s 0.09 percent concentration cut-off.
The chemicals Glade is disclosing are believed to be safe for humans at the concentrations they’re using, says Jack Jacoub, an oncologist and director of thoracic oncology at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif, although he stresses that we don’t know exactly what those concentrations are.
SC Johnson states that all fragrance ingredients — even those that are not listed — are safe. “While they aren’t disclosed, the remaining ingredients also must meet our strict standards and be approved as part of our fragrance palette in order to be used,” Stewart told Yahoo Health.
“While many companies develop their fragrances from a list of approximately 3,500 fragrance materials based on guidance from the International Fragrance Association (IRFA), SC Johnson takes its review a step further. We start with the IRFA list but also consider other factors such as consumer confidence and other scientific viewpoints. The end result is our SC Johnson Fragrance Palette, which is smaller and more exclusive than the IFRA list, excluding approximately 2,000 potential ingredients from our fragrance ingredients palette,” SC Johnson told Yahoo Health in a statement.
Steinemann says all air fresheners that she’s tested — including those made by Glade — contain terpenes, which are chemicals that react with the ozone in air to generate a range of secondary hazardous pollutants such as formaldehyde.
Some air fresheners also emit acetaldehyde, she says, a hazardous air pollutant that is classified as a “probable human carcinogen,” according to the EPA, as well as ultrafine particles, which are linked with heart and lung disease.
SC Johnson said in a statement to Yahoo Health that their products are not formulated with known carcinogens. “Our products are not formulated with fragrance ingredients, or other ingredients, that are known carcinogens, mutagens, or at levels viewed as reproductive toxins, by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, the European Union’s REACH and Substances of Very High Concern programs, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Carcinogens or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Our fragrance suppliers are directed that no fragrance ingredients can be used in a way that would lead to a final product being a carcinogen.”
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports that 20 percent of the U.S. population and 34 percent of asthmatics have difficulty breathing and get headaches when exposed to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in air fresheners — along with many other synthetic (think: aerosol hair spray) and naturally occurring substances (the scent of oranges is also produced by VOCs). Higher concentrations of VOCs can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, dizziness, and memory impairment.
“It’s true some people are negatively affected by some ingredients, but that’s exactly why SC Johnson has chosen to take its disclosure beyond the norm — so that people can make the right choices for their families,” SC Johnson told Yahoo Health in a statement.
So, should you toss your air fresheners? “There isn’t enough data to guide one in either direction, but I would be careful of regular frequent use of things like this,” says Jacoub. He notes that some factors, like genetics, are out of a person’s control in terms of a risk of developing cancer, but you can control some potentially harmful environmental factors, such as what you inhale and what touches your skin.
While Steinemann and Jacoub say SC Johnson’s move is a good one, they stress that it’s not as good as if the company were to disclose the entire list of fragrance ingredients on their packaging.
“That information may be forthcoming, but for now it’s definitely a start,” says Jacoub.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated that SC Johnson listed the top 10 ingredients found in every product’s fragrance. That was incorrect. The company will share the highest concentrations down to 0.09 percent of the formula.
The article also said that this is the first time SC Johnson is revealing its fragrance ingredients. It is the first time that SC Johnson is revealing its product-specific fragrance ingredients. The company has listed its fragrance palate since 2012.
This article was also updated to include statements from SC Johnson.