The Co-op chain of supermarkets has removed household products containing artificial musks and phthalates, which the company said can be absorbed by the human body and which have been linked to cancer, fertility problems and environmental damage.
The ban was announced along with details of an opinion poll, carried out by NOP for the supermarket chain, which found that six in 10 shoppers are ready to boycott ethically unsound goods.
"It is appropriate to take a precautionary approach to try to remove those chemicals from our range, where they exist, and to replace them with more benign alternatives," said David Croft, brand and technical manager at the Co-op.
From the consumers' perspective, labelling may not even say that a product contains perfume. Even if it does, the ingredients list is unlikely to break the perfume down into specific chemicals.
The move follows a similar campaign launched by the Co-operative Bank last year, which pledged to highlight and help ban dangerous chemicals from household goods.
Phthalates are found in many leading beauty care products, including hair spray, deodorant, nail polish and perfume. Studies have shown that phthalates can damage the liver, the kidneys, the lungs and the reproductive system, especially the developing testes.
In January 2003, the European Parliament prohibited the use of certain phthalates in cosmetics and required that the composition of cosmetic products and any undesirable effects on human health from using the product must be publicly available to consumers. There is a corporate loophole for commercial secrecy and intellectual property rights, but the case law of the European Court of Justice states that, "…protection of public health must take precedence over economic considerations…" Member States have to comply with the directive by 11 September 2004.
The US-based Phthalate Information Center, which is composed of major commercial manufacturers and users of the primary phthalate esters, aimed to counteract some of the concerns raised by earlier reports, such as Not Too Pretty by pointing out that even if a person used the equivalent of five bottles of nail polish per day, or squirted themselves with two quarts of perfume per day they would still not exceed the amount of phthalates that produced no effects in laboratory animals.