Will 2015 be the year of full product ingredient disclosure?

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Michelle Harvey, Jennifer McPartland and Boma Brown-West contributed to this post.

[UPDATE 10/28/14:  This post has been updated to reflect information we learned since posting it, regarding additional companies’ disclosure initiatives.]

We are nowhere near New Year’s Day, but based on recent corporate resolutions, 2015 is shaping up to be the year for ingredient transparency in products!  And that’s good news for those of us who want to know what we may be exposing ourselves and our families to when we use everyday products in our homes and on our bodies.

Unlike food and drugs, which must bear content labels, there has all too often been no way for consumers to know what’s in the products they use.  In particular, the composition of the myriad fragrances used in household cleaners, detergents and soaps, air fresheners, and other common household products have pretty much been a black box.  But change is on the way.  

We were already anticipating big changes because of new programs and policies adopted last year by Target and Walmart.  Under its Sustainable Product Standard, Target stated it would reward manufacturers of cleaning and personal care products that publicly disclose their ingredients.  Walmart went even further in its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, which requires all of its suppliers of cleaning and personal care products to disclose ingredients online by product starting in January 2015.

Notable exceptions and wiggle room are included in these policies, however, especially for fragrances.

Some “green” companies like Seventh Generation have championed product ingredient disclosure for some time.  Seventh Generation already discloses fragrance ingredients at the product level.  Up until now, however, the farthest any larger company had gone on fragrances was to disclose a “palette” of such ingredients used across all of its products, thereby avoiding disclosing fragrance ingredients used in any particular product.

Enter SC Johnson (which pioneered the company-level palette just described), Clorox and Reckitt Benckiser – companies already known to be ahead of the pack on ingredient disclosure.

Earlier this month, SC Johnson, maker of Glade and many other household brands that contain fragrances, announced that, starting in spring 2015, it will disclose fragrance ingredients on a product-specific basis.  It will start with its full line of air care products, which include sprays, candles, oils and gels.  Disclosure of fragrance ingredients for its other product categories will follow.

SC Johnson says it will disclose all fragrance ingredients present at or above 0.09% in a product formula or the top 10 fragrance ingredients in a product, whichever method discloses the largest number of fragrance ingredients for that particular product.  For air care products, SC Johnson expects to disclose between 10 and 50 fragrance ingredients; for other products, which are less fragrance-intensive, a minimum of 10 fragrance ingredients will be disclosed, even if some of them are present at levels below 0.09%.

This new development rounds out the product-specific ingredient disclosures on SCJ’s existing ingredient website, WhatsInsideSCJohnson.com, by extending them to at least a subset of fragrance ingredients.  And, SCJ will continue to report online its full fragrance ingredient palette.

SCJ’s news followed on the heels of an announcement a few weeks earlier by Clorox, which said in 2015 it will expand its ingredient disclosure program, Ingredients Inside, which covers cleaning, disinfecting and laundry products.  Consumers will now have access online to the subset of fragrance ingredients identified as recognized allergens by the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety.  Disclosure will be on a product-specific basis, where an ingredient is present in these products at a concentration of 0.01% or more.

Reckitt Benckiser made a similar announcement late last year, noting that it will begin listing fragrance allergens on its website, rbnainfo.com, “by the end of 2014;” an example of such a product listing is available here.  No details as to threshold concentrations for such disclosures appear to have been made available, however.

While disclosure of these allergens in cosmetic products is a requirement in Europe, Clorox and Reckitt-Benckiser are voluntarily expanding such disclosures to the US and Canadian markets and to additional product categories.  Like SC Johnson, Clorox already provides on its website a palette of all fragrance ingredients it uses across all of its products.

Fragrance houses have historically fiercely protected the “secret sauce” of their formulations, so these companies are to be congratulated for their progress in breaking down this wall of secrecy.  While we’d love for SC Johnson to adopt Clorox’s lower threshold for allergens, and for Clorox and Reckitt Benckiser to identify, as SC Johnson is, more than just fragrance allergens by product, the steps they’ve taken represent great progress toward providing real transparency as to what’s in the products we use every day.

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