A prominent environmental group says perfume makers stink when it comes to divulging the potentially dangerous chemicals in their products.

Environmental Defence, along with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, commissioned a study of perfumes sold in Canada. The group says the study shows that perfumes often contain a dozen of what it calls "secret chemicals" not listed on labels -- chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions or disrupt hormones.

The group tested 17 name-brand perfumes colognes and "body sprays" for men and women:

  • Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio 
  • Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow
  • Calvin Klein Eternity (for women)
  • Bath & Body Works Japanese Cherry Blossom
  • Britney Spears Curious
  • Calvin Klein Eternity (for men)
  • Quiksilver (for men)
  • Victoria's Secret Dream Angels Heavenly
  • Coco Mademoiselle Chanel
  • Clinique Happy
  • Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce
  • American Eagle Seventy Seven
  • Hannah Montana Secret Celebrity
  • Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue
  • Old Spice After Hours Body Spray
  • AXE Bodyspray For Men - Shock  
  • Halle by Halle Berry

All of them contained secret chemicals not listed on the label. On average, they contained 14 chemicals, some are which have been linked to estrogen disruption, sperm production disruption and even cancer, the group says.

According to the study, Calvin Klein Eternity perfume for women, for example, contained 14 unlisted chemicals. Giorgio Armani Aqua Di Gio for men had 17 chemicals, while American Eagle 77 spray contained 24 unlisted chemicals.

The study found the perfumes also contained an average of 10 "sensitizing" chemicals, which are chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions, such as nausea, headaches, wheezing, and vomiting.

The questionable chemicals include:

  • Octinoxate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Benzophenone
  • Diethyl phthalate (DEP)
  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
  • Galaxoide
  • Tonalide
  • Musk ketone
  • Benzyl salicylate
  • Benzyl benzoate
  • Butylphenyl methylpropional

The report says that galaxolide and tonalide -- two synthetic musks linked to toxicity to the endocrine system – were found in 16 of the 17 perfumes. A recent cord-blood study by the Environmental Working Group found those two chemicals inside the bodies of most babies tested.

Twelve of the 17 products in this study were listed as containing DEP, a chemical found in 97 per cent of Americans that is linked to abnormal development of reproductive organs in baby boys and sperm damage in adult men.

Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group, says these chemicals easily find their way into our bodies.

"Fragrance chemicals are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and many of them end up inside people's bodies, including pregnant women and newborn babies," she said.

Environmental Defence's Rick Smith says none of the chemicals are specifically labelled, because of a regulatory loophole that allows companies to use the word "fragrance" on their label to protect the fragrances as trade secrets.

"All you have to do is put the word ‘fragrance' on your ingredient list and you can shovel dozens of chemicals into that one word," he says.

"There's no way for people to know what's in their favourite fragrances without sending these products to a laboratory. As a parent, I find that unacceptable," Smith added in a news release.

The group also contends that of the 91 ingredients identified in the study (either by lab tests or product labels), only 19 had been reviewed by the industry-funded Cosmetic Ingredient Review, and only 27 have been assessed by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM), which develop voluntary standards for chemicals used in fragrance.

Darren Praznik, of the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, says the report is flawed.

"None of these ingredients are secret. They are well known," he told CTV News. "They have gone through intensive scrutiny within the industry's suppliers and regulators, like Health Canada to make sure consumers are not put at risk when they are used as intended."

Praznik says most of the products identified in the report are either on the label or are present in infinitesimally small amounts.

"Industry and regulators put a great deal of effort, in fact, in ensuring that ingredients that go into personal care products and fragrances are in fact safe when used as intended," he said.

Environmental Defence say this study kicks off its new "Just Beautiful" campaign, aimed at making cosmetics and personal care products safer and their labels more clear. It comes as the federal government reviews Canada's laws governing cosmetics.

The group also plans to investigate what chemicals might be found in makeup, perfumes, lotions, shampoos and soaps that Canadian families use every day.

The group says their mission is to see better labelling of all chemicals in perfumes, cosmetics and sunscreens -- most of which contain artificial scents -- so that consumers can better decide which to use and which to avoid.