Some people are so intensely allergic to peanuts that the smell from someone else’s breath can cause a reaction–sometimes a life-threatening one.
People who suffer from this and other allergies must be constantly vigilant about every substance with which they come into contact, whether through touch, inhalation, or ingestion.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires that all packaged food sold in the U.S. must clearly note if the ingredients include any of the top eight major allergens: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soybeans, tree nuts, and wheat.
Sign up to get our free newsletter in your inbox daily.
This requirement, however, doesn’t extend to cleaning or personal care products.
Proctor and Gamble (P&G) is a megalith of personal care and cleaning products; its brands include Dawn, Febreze, Ivory, Pampers, and Tide:
“P&G has 23 brands with annual sales of $1 billion to more than $10 billion, and 14 with sales of $500 million to $1 billion — many of those with billion-dollar potential.”
(sniff, sniff) What’s that smell?
None of their products have any nut oils listed, however, most of them include a very vague “fragrance”. If you go to the corporate website’s Product Safety section, there is a listing of all the chemicals used as fragrances in P&G’s products. There are twenty pages of them.
Take a look, just for fun; you may be as amazed as we were on the number of letters in some of these chemical names–like German or Russian (what is isohexenyl cyclohexenyl carboxaldehyde?)
In among the fragrance list are actual natural substances like jasmine, lavender, lime oil, coconut oil, and peanut oil. Hey, wait a minute–coconut and peanut oil?! Yep, and a host of tree oils, too, such as oak, pine, balsam, and cedarwood.
Since these are not foodstuffs, allergens are not required to be specified on the label. (Can you imagine how big a label would have to be to list the fragrances for each item? You’d need a brochure to go with each one.)
So if someone with an allergy to peanuts, let’s say, washed the dishes with Dawn dish detergent, s/he could experience a reaction, not even knowing from whence it came.
A child with an allergy to coconut could be sleeping on sheets washed with a detergent that contains it. We know that regular exposure to an allergen causes general chronic inflammation in the body and directly invokes brain cell death. Just because it is not eaten doesn’t mean it doesn’t pose a threat.
There is controversy over whether peanut oil is safe for people with peanut allergies; some say that if it is highly refined, it’s generally safe. Two issues with this point: can you trust for any product that the oil is “highly refined”, thereby alleviating the risk of allergen exposure? Is it worth the risk?
Now the fun begins.
When asked about these sneaky fragrance compounds, P&G’s customer service reps give either evasive or contradictory answers. For example:
- When Ivory soap was contacted, the rep said that she didn’t have ingredient information. She suggested checking online. When the customer calling said the information isn’t online, the rep said she had no way to obtain it.
- A Dawn dishwashing liquid rep said that there is peanut oil in this line of products.
- A P&G rep said that peanut oil is in at least some of the Swiffer products.
- No information is available about the details for fragrance in Pampers wipes.
The blogger who asked about Dawn dishwashing liquid was told in a subsequent telephone call a week later, in no uncertain terms:
“We appreciate your contacting us with your comments about peanut oil in our Dawn products and understand your concerns. We’ve looked into your question further and have received confirmation that none of our Dawn dishwashing liquids contain peanut oil. We require that all perfumes and fragrances in our products are free of peanut oil or any of its derivatives. Also, P&G requires our labels on the packaging indicate if the product contains nut oils. We are working as quickly as possible to correct the information on our websites.”
So which is it? This was not a singular instance of one person and one product. It is an example of the experience across the P&G board.
P&G is sneaky.
It puts plastic in toothpaste and calls it a colorant. It is neither forthcoming nor transparent in its products’ ingredients. The solution is simple, really. Opt for other brands.
Even if you are not allergic to a particular substance, a great many people have a sensitivity to fragrance, probably because eighty to ninety percent of the chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic. People with asthma and allergies are especially at risk.
Check labels carefully; if something is ambiguous, we’ve found that you personally will have to investigate–you cannot leave it to the manufacturer for full disclosure.
Use unscented natural products that clearly list every ingredient on the label. An artificial fragrance doesn’t make a product work better–it’s just the smell. If something is clean, it will smell clean.
If someone in your home is allergic to coconut or peanut oil, for instance, and you unwittingly use a product containing it, are the consequences worth a particular smell?
If you like a fragrance in your laundry or dish detergent, add your own essential oil; it will smell better, you have absolute control over what is in the product, and you can more easily avoid irritants and allergens.
Breathe easy. P&G isn’t the only company that can make soap.