Secret Toxic Chemicals in Top Brand-Name Cleaners
Have you seen that SC Johnson commercial that’s on 24/7? The one about how they’re a family company committed to “honesty” and “transparency,” and that’s why they disclose all ingredients right down to fragrance?
The truth is that they actually don’t actually tell you which fragrance ingredients are in products - which is scary, because we know there are some harmful chemicals in SC Johnson fragrances.
That's why Women's Voices for the Earth spoofed their commercial. And it's hilarious. We’re calling out the makers of Glade, Windex, and Pledge on misleading the public! Watch it to get the real story.
We didn’t stop with this commercial. Last week, we month , we also teamed up with our friends at SumOfUs.org to deliver almost 52,000 signatures from consumers demanding that the company disclose the ingredients that make up the fragrances in their scented products.
In a conversation with the company last week after the spoof release, SC Johnson said they had no plans for responding to those tens of thousands of consumers who contacted them with their concerns about fragrance ingredients. This is yet more hypocrisy from the company, which has said that “As a family company, listening and responding to consumers is SC Johnson’s top priority.” In fact, the company’s only response has been this: “Consumers have a choice whether or not to buy products that contain fragrance” – basically, if you don’t like it, tough. Doesn’t seem like much of a response to the valid concerns of their consumers, really.
That’s true, we do have the choice; although it can be surprisingly difficult to avoid fragrance, given that most cleaning product companies make one fragrance-free product per brand, if that, and the retail store might not even stock it. But the point is that we want to enjoy fragrance. We just want to know what’s in it, so that we have the option to make healthy choices.
The bottom line is that we have a right to know what’s in the fragrances we’re spraying in our homes, especially when it comes to chemicals linked to allergies, cancer, and reproductive harm. Studies are increasingly showing that chemicals in fragrance are harming our health, particularly the health of women and children.
If you agree that we have a right to know, please share this spoof commercial with your friends and family. Then, add your name to the petition asking SC Johnson to come clean about their fragrance ingredients.
Secret Fragrance Ingredients in SC Johnson Products
So, what exactly is SC Johnson hiding? In 2011, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) independently tested some Glade products. Test results revealed synthetic musks and allergens. Test results also revealed the presence of phthalates, which the company committed to phase out two years before – SC Johnson claimed this was a contamination issue, but we have no confirmation that this issue has been resolved. Here’s the thing: The lab was only specifically testing for those chemicals because we asked them to. Unfortunately, we don’t have the money to walk into a lab and say, “Tell us everything that’s in this fragrance.” (Sure, companies deconstruct other companies’ scents all the time, but we don’t have that kind of budget.)
A few months after those test results were published, SC Johnson released a master list of nearly 1,500 chemicals used in all of their fragranced products. Unfortunately, the master list doesn’t distinguish which chemicals are in which products. Super useful, right? Wrong.
Most people don’t have the time or inclination to wade through 1,500 chemicals, so allow us to highlight a few chemicals on that long, unwieldy list that consumers might be concerned about:
- Synthetic musks (galaxolide and tonalide): potential hormone disruptors which are persistent and bioaccumulative, and may break down the body’s defenses against other toxic exposures. These chemicals are showing up in our blood and breast milk.
- All 26 of the allergens required to be disclosed on labels in the European Union (EU).
- Several additional allergens, which have been deemed of concern by the EU Scientific Committee of Consumer Safety.
- Several chemicals of concern identified by an EU panel as having no publicly available human safety data.
- Terpenes, which can react with ground level ozone in the air to form cancer-causing formaldehyde.
- Petroleum (the same compound in gasoline).
It’s safe to say that most consumers wouldn’t consider a long list of chemicals, some of them harmful, which might or might not be in fragranced products, as fulfilling a “commitment to honesty and transparency.”
Allergen Double Standard
SC Johnson gives their EU consumers more information than they give their US consumers when it comes to some fragrance ingredients – namely, allergens. In the EU, companies are required to disclose 26 ingredients that the European Union has determined to trigger allergies. SC Johnson therefore discloses all 26 of the allergens required in the EU directly on product labels, but doesn’t disclose these allergens in the US because they’re not required to by law. It seems that a true commitment to honesty and transparency would include giving all consumers the same information – we all deserve to be able to avoid chemicals that may cause allergic reactions, no matter where we live.
(Fun fact: SC Johnson’s Pledge Dust & Allergen is labeled “Reduce allergens while dusting” and yet test results show that it actually contains the allergens limonene and DL-citronellol. Don't you think that's something people using this product would want to know?!)
Quite frankly, keeping fragrance ingredients a secret is quickly becoming an outdated tradition, as progressive companies like Seventh Generation, the Honest Company, and EcoStore have demonstrated by disclosing all fragrance ingredients to their customers. As a company that calls itself as an industry leader, it’s time for SC Johnson to step up to the plate and show what a commitment to “honesty” and “transparency” truly looks like.
Cassidy is the Director of Outreach and Engagement at Women's Voices for the Earth.
 Bitsch, N. et.al. (2002) Estrogenic activity of musk fragrances detected by the E-screen assay using human MCF-7 cells.
Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Vol. 43, pp. 257-264. 2002
 Luckenbach, T. et.al. (2005) Nitromusk and polycyclic musk compounds as long-term inhibitors of cellular xenobiotic defense systems mediated by multidrug transporters. Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol 113. Number 1. January 2005