Yep, this one is a big deal. Unilever (makers of Dove soap, Axe body spray, Suave shampoos and more) is a major international brand, and the first major personal care products company to commit to voluntarily disclosing the chemicals that make up the fragrances in their products. It appears that this company understands that keeping ingredients secret is not the way to gain the trust of their customers. In fact, a Unilever spokesperson made it clear that “transparency is fundamental to running a sustainable business,” We couldn’t agree more.
Putting an End to the “Trade Secret” Myth
Further, this announcement makes it clear that disclosing fragrance ingredients is in fact do-able – something that many companies have long denied. Just a few short years ago, our conversations with manufacturers almost always led to the same conclusion – discussing fragrance ingredient disclosure was simply off the table – because the fragrance houses wouldn’t allow them to give up their “secrets”.
Turns out their “secrets” don’t actually involve chemical formulas anymore, thanks to advanced technology which makes reverse engineering a fragrance a relatively easy thing to do. It also turns out that “the customer is always right”, and Unilever (we imagine) is a pretty big customer for their fragrance house (or houses). They asked their fragrance houses to allow them to disclose, and permission was granted.
We believe that this step by Unilever will continue to drive all manufacturers of fragranced products towards greater disclosure. We have been seeing a steady trickle of steps toward this in the last few years — starting largely with cleaning product manufacturers. Some of the major companies, like Clorox and RB, have taken the first steps of disclosing fragrance allergens in their products. Others like P&G have disclosed fragrance palettes (list of chemicals they may use (or not use) in their fragrances. While SC Johnson was the first major company of any kind to disclose the majority of their fragrance ingredients online.
See our timeline here.
Your Voice Makes a Difference!
We are hearing that most major household product manufacturers are now at least discussing the possibility of increasing their fragrance disclosure. Their reasons are clear – companies know their customers are demanding more information about the products they use in their homes. Not providing that information just makes it seem like they are hiding something.
Thank you to all the folks out there who have and who are continuing to let companies know that they want more fragrance information. Like most voluntary commitments, there is still some missing information (see some next-steps for Unilever below). But make no mistake — your voices are clearly fueling the momentum towards success. So take today to celebrate. We look forward to celebrating more corporate announcements like this with you soon. The only question is … which company will boldly demonstrate their leadership and go next?
What More Should Unilever Do?
- Go all the way. Unilever has committed to disclosing fragrance ingredients present at a concentration of at least .01% of the products formula (100 ppm). This will leave small amounts of undisclosed and potentially hazardous ingredients that can have health impacts at extremely low doses, or persistent and bioaccumulative ingredients that should not be used at any level.
- Globalize it. Unilever’s announcement is largely U.S. specific. Make it available for all products globally.
- Accessibility for all. Unilever plans to disclose online through SmartLabel, meaning you would need a smartphone or computer to access. This a barrier to populations without online access.