What exactly is that "fragrance" in my product? You'll soon find out.

Michelle Harvey

A longer version of this post was published on EDF’s Health blog.

We’re nowhere near New Year’s Day, but based on recent corporate resolutions, 2015 may be the year when companies come clean on ingredients used in product fragrances – including scents known to cause allergies.

Unlike with food and drugs, which come with labels that detail contents, consumers rarely know what’s in the products they use. That’s especially true for the myriad fragrances that enhance household cleaners, detergents, soaps, air fresheners and other common household products.

So we’re happy to report: Change is on the way.

Companies becoming more transparent

We were already anticipating big changes because of new programs and policies adopted last year by Target and Walmart – companies Environmental Defense Fund worked with to drive improvements in product chemistry. While a significant step forward, these policies came with notable exceptions and wiggle room, however – especially for fragrances.

Some “green” companies such as Seventh Generation have championed product ingredient disclosure, including for fragrances, for some time. Until this year, however, the farthest a larger manufacturer had gone on fragrances was to disclose a “palette” of such ingredients used across all of its products, thereby avoiding disclosing what’s used on a product-by-product basis.

Enter SC Johnson, Clorox and Reckitt Benckiser - companies already known to be ahead of the pack on these matters.

Websites will hold clue to fragrances

SC Johnson, the maker of Glade and many other household brands, recently announced it will disclose fragrance ingredients on a product basis, starting in spring of 2015. It will begin with its full line of air care products, which includes sprays, candles, oils and gels. Disclosure for other product categories will follow.

The fragrance ingredients in these products will be added to the other ingredients already disclosed on the company’s website What’s Inside SC Johnson.

Meanwhile, Clorox recently announced it will expand its ingredient disclosure program, Ingredients Inside, which covers cleaning, disinfecting and laundry products.

Also in 2015, Clorox customers in the United States and Canada will have access to a portion of fragrance ingredients identified as recognized allergens by the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety. Such disclosures are required for cosmetics in Europe, but not yet in the U.S.

Reckitt Benckiser made a similar announcement in 2013, promising to list fragrance allergens on its website by the end of 2014.

Transparency is good for business

Fragrance houses have historically been fiercely protective of the “secret sauce” their formulations contain. So these companies are to be congratulated for the steps they’re taking to break down this wall of secrecy.

But let’s not forget that while disclosure is good for consumers, it also benefits these companies.

Going beyond compliance gives businesses first-mover advantage in a market where consumers are becoming more discerning and shareholders are taking notice. Requirements to disclose product ingredients keep cropping up at the state level as well. By staying a step ahead, these companies are giving themselves a more certain landscape in which to operate.

Put plainly, it’s smart business to be transparent. So to continue their strong leadership, we’d love for these companies to now take the next step: We hope SC Johnson will adopt Clorox’s lower threshold for allergens – and for Clorox and Reckitt Benckiser to identify, as SC Johnson has, more than just fragrance allergens by product.

Who knows what other exciting news 2015 may bring?

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