Inventing A Bogeyman: Today Show Embraces Scare Science

When it comes to the alleged toxicity of perfumes and fragrances, there's nothing worse than non-scientists eschewing readily-available scientific research in favor of village idiocy found on the internet, publishing their "findings" in a book, and metastasizing their contaminated thinking across millions of viewers via a network morning show.

I refer to the book No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics, and Robin Sindler, a producer at NBC's Today Show. Together, they deliver an intellectual bubonic plague -- the authors acting as virus, the producer who apparently refuses to provide balance as rat flea.

The result is yet more scare science -- that blend of fantasy, confusion, cancerphobia, and intellectual laziness my high school math teacher referred to as "stupidity."

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The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) Code of Practice is a comprehensive self-regulating protocol, augmented by independent third-party compliance testing.

Before any fragrance reaches market, it is created from a selection of 3,000 ingredients -- natural and synthetic -- all published earlier this year to demonstrate the industry's transparency. The materials are reviewed by the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM). RIFM prepares a comprehensive report on the materials from existing safety data, requires missing data to be provided, and issues recommendations for the materials' safe usage. This includes analysis of the concentration and volume of each ingredient, even for those in which no data exists.

Although the RIFM is funded by the fragrance industry, the methodology it uses to determine safety is completely transparent, with four separate scientific papers detailing these processes -- none of which have ever been challenged by any credible authority. Furthermore, once RIFM publishes this data, it is then peer-reviewed by non-RIFM scientists regarding the scientific protocols used, the results, recommendations, and anything that might have been missed.

Finally, a third-party compliance administrator, Eurofins Scientific, randomly selects products each year, analyzes their composition, and determines if the formulation is in compliance with IFRA's standards.

Easily-duped readers would believe that no safety protocols exist, as the authors state:
"… No independent authority... monitors what cosmetic companies put in our products… it's done almost exclusively by the cosmetics companies themselves. It's a [woefully inadequate] system, allowing for widespread use of some pretty questionable substances."

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Given the protocols that exist, does anyone wonder if the authors really performed their journalistic due diligence? If the system is inadequate, why have 80 fragrance ingredients have been prohibited from being put into any product, and 83 restricted?

Could the authors' lack of scientific expertise be why their blog contains illogical rants lacking evidentiary support, previously-debunked blatherings about BPA, and frequent mentions of the insidious Environmental Working Group? Perhaps that's why they cheer on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, producer of clever animated videos solely designed to scare consumers out of their wits.



Authors Siobhan O'Connor and Alexandra Sprunt don't have malicious intent. They are regular folks susceptible to fears we all share about what we consume, thanks to previous health scares (most of them debunked). Yes, they're right that mankind doesn't have data on 20-30% of fragrance ingredients, but they insist on their toxicity by saying the system in place, "doesn't guarantee your safety." Of course it doesn't! No system guarantees our safety! Cars aren't safe. Neither are planes. Neither is fast food. Nor are open umbrellas waved around in lightning storms.

The authors themselves quote Dr. Joseph A. Schwarcz who, when "pressed" about the "possible consequences of long-term exposure to such a wide variety of chemicals and combinations, said:
Those are very reasonable questions to ask for which it is virtually impossible to provide answers.

Duh. Everything might possibly kill you over the long term. If I walk around in open fields with an umbrella during thunderstorms every chance I get, I'll eventually get struck by lightning. If I inject 200 gallons of formaldehyde into my body, I'm going to die. The dose makes the poison.

The problem is that the authors suggest you are taking fatal risks spritzing yourself with perfume. That's just not rational.

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Not satisfied with numerous high-profile publications gleefully swallowing their pablum, the authors will appear on NBC's Today Show in a segment to be produced by Emmy-Award winner, Robin Sindler. To her credit, Ms. Sindler sent a written inquiry to the Fragrance Materials Association of the United States, asking for rebuttals to the authors' claims. Jennifer Abril, the Association's Executive Director, provided comprehensive replies.

But suddenly, Today has gone incommunicado. Why? Do the producers realize they are dealing with a formidable opponent and want to be better prepared? Are the producers biased are seeking to shut out opposing views? I suggested the authors insist that Today provide balance. They shouldn't fear the other side, and it'll only help sales of their book. Why not fight it out? It's better television!

As of press time, the authors have not replied. Why would that be?

I would hate to think that The Today Show has made up its mind to air a misleading segment without anyone from the fragrance or personal care industry to offer that phantom of modern journalism -- the truth. Will audiences be restricted to a cacophony of poultry clucking about faux meteorological dangers from exposure to fragrances repeatedly proven safe?

I hope not. Ms. Sindler is better than that. The Today Show is a quality program that has provided excellent pro-consumer reporting in the past. This, however, would unnecessarily damage the show's reputation, as well as hers.

Otherwise, this is a disgrace. The hard-working people in the fragrance industry depend on these products to raise their families. The fragrance industry experienced sales declines as high as 7.2% last year. Scaring people out of buying products that are completely safe harms an already-struggling industry.

My advice: put the book in the recycling bin, buy some perfume, and think how bad the world would smell without fragrances.

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