The report calls on the federal government to require that all perfume ingredients be listed, all products be safety-tested and any harmful chemicals banned. ((Mark Lennihan/Associated Press))

Top-selling fragrances contain chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions or disrupt hormones but are not listed on labels, according to a new report calling for changes in federal regulations.

The report, released Wednesday by Environmental Defence in Canada and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in the U.S., assessed 17 fragrances bought in both countries that were tested by an independent laboratory in California. They included Britney Spears' Curious, Calvin Klein Eternity, Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce and Old Spice body spray.

The tests found a dozen or more chemicals not listed on labels, multiple chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions or disrupt hormones, and substances that have not been assessed for safety by the beauty industry's self-policing review panels, the groups said. 

"Clearly, the system is broken and is putting Canadians' health at risk," Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence, said in a release.

"Yet, the fix is simple: Canadians need to know what's in the perfume they're buying, be assured the perfumes are safety-tested, and know that the most harmful chemicals are banned. It's up to our federal government to make sure that laws concerning these products are protecting Canadians' health."

The findings in the report included:

  • An average of 10 sensitizing chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions such as headaches, wheezing, asthma, infant diarrhea and vomiting and reduced pulmonary function were found in each product.
  • An average of four hormone-disrupting chemicals were found in each product. The chemicals may mimic the hormone estrogen.

Ingredient list 'meaningless'

Of the 91 ingredients identified in the study by lab tests or product labels, 19 have been reviewed by the industry-funded Cosmetic Ingredient Review.

An industry spokesman said more detailed labelling was uncalled for. "The assertions in the report that some fragrance ingredients could be hormone disruptors are based on incomplete assessments of available scientific data about potential hormone effects and do not take into account actual exposure in cosmetic products," said Mike Patton, a spokesman for the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.

"Fragrance components are made up of many substances, and it’s simply impossible to list them all on a product label. In addition, the listing of all fragrance materials would be meaningless to all but expert chemists. The practical approach chosen by regulatory authorities has been to require specific declarations or restrictions only when there is a clearly defined need," Patton added in an email to CBC News.

Health Canada is reviewing the report. A spokesman said all cosmetics must meet the requirements of a number of regulations, including the Food and Drugs Act, which states: "No person shall sell any cosmetic that has in or on it any substance that may cause injury to the health of the user."

"Health Canada continually reviews scientific studies, monitors the marketplace for adverse reactions and takes appropriate corrective action when required to protect the health and safety of Canadians," Stephane Shank said in an email to The Canadian Press.

With files from The Canadian Press