OOS 40-1 - Fragrance chemicals in personal care products: What's the stink?

Thursday, August 9, 2012: 8:00 AM
B113, Oregon Convention Center
Jennifer A. Balachowski1, Meredith T. Niles2, Jessica M. Abbott3, Carmen J. Cortez1 and Susan Chen4, (1)Graduate Group in Ecology, Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, (2)Graduate Group in Ecology, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, (3)Department of Evolution and Ecology, University California, Davis, Davis, CA, (4)University of California, Davis

The use of fragrance chemicals in consumer goods is on the rise, and they are found in many of the personal care products we use everyday—even those that claim to be unscented.  As a result, small doses of fragrance chemicals enter the environment regularly, and their characteristic compounds are now ubiquitous in our aquatic systems.  While the human health impacts of many common fragrance chemicals are well documented, and there is growing recognition that these chemicals may impose complex, disruptive effects on aquatic systems, we know little about how individual consumers perceive fragrance chemicals in the context of environmental change.  Since the direct source of entry for fragrance chemicals into aquatic systems is the individual consumer, effective handling of this emerging environmental issue will require careful consideration of individual behaviors.

We conducted a nation-wide survey to answer three questions concerning the use and perception of fragranced personal care products: 1) What factors best predict consumer behaviors?, 2) How do members of the general public obtain and perceive information about fragranced chemicals in personal care products?, and 3) What factors predict support for various types of policy instruments and regulations?  Factor analysis was used to group questions for analysis; l inear regression and structural equation modeling (SEM) were used to assess our data.


From initial analyses of our survey data, we found that: 1) the decision to use (or not to use) fragranced products is consciously made, and often motivated by human health or environmental concerns, 2) consumers actively seek information about the ingredients in their personal care products, but most are uncertain of how ingredient labels are currently regulated, and 3) consumers who believe fragrance chemicals are more threatening are more likely to purchase alternative environmental products.  To further explore the connections between risk perceptions, information, and environmental values, we created a model (SEM) for predicting consumer behavior measuring two dependent variables: support for policy mechanisms to regulate fragrance chemicals and individual purchasing behaviors broken out by product choice for scented, unscented, and organic/natural products.  Results suggest that environmental values contribute to concern for environmental issues, which influences information seeking and risk perceptions of fragrance chemicals and ultimately support for policy mechanisms and purchasing of products perceived to offer environmental or health benefits.  We recommend that future research efforts be directed toward identifying policy alternatives to facilitate more informed consumer decision-making, as well as economic incentives to encourage transparency in ingredient disclosure.