Babes, stand aside. This perfume is for babies

In this morning's print edition,  I wrote about perfume for babies.

As you might imagine, there’s been quite an uproar, from people who think it’s silly, to those who fear it might be harmful.


And those who think that this is the latest, most striking evidence of a consumer culture run amok.

I mentioned a Campaign for Safe Cosmetics report about perfumes and what’s in them — “Not So Sexy.” Here’s the link.

Another advocacy group, Women’s Voices for the Earth, recently released a similar report — “Secret Scents.”

It found that some unlabelled fragrance ingredients might be unsuspected culprits in skin conditions.

Both groups are advocacy groups, so as a matter of course, read with that in mind.

Likewise the industry group, International Fragrance Association - North America, which issued a response to the report, saying cleaning product and fragrance makers “strong stand behind the safety of their products and complete reject misrepresentations made by a pressure group about fragrance ingredient safety.”

The press release noted that fragrance ingredients in the products are in compliance with many standards.

However, part of the point of the advocacy groups was that the standards aren’t good enough.

Click here to get to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration site explaining how it regulates cosmetics.

Meanwhile, here's this morning's column:

High-end Italian fashion house Dolce&Gabbana announced a new perfume recently - a scent not for babes, but for babies.

Yes, infants.

Supposedly, per I bambini will be redolent of citrus, honey, and the "innocence of childhood."

You can imagine the hilarity - and the derision - this elicited. "Silly" and "idiotic" were the least of the barbs.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a nonprofit advocacy group, declared that the very idea of baby perfume "stinks" because many fragrances contain irritants, allergens, and other substances of concern.

Don't babies already smell great? (Except for the obvious times when they don't?)

Of course, baby products have been scented for ages. If the point is to evoke warm feelings, it works!

Expose people to the traditional scent of baby powder, and whether they're 30 or 80, they get all goo-goo-eyed and nostalgic, said Pamela Dalton, a Monell Chemical Senses Center researcher in Philadelphia, who studies how scent and emotion interact.

What really irks critics is this: Scenting a product that has another, presumably higher, use isn't so bad, but an outright perfume - it's not as if the baby is getting ready for a date - is over the top.

D&G isn't the first high-end house to enter this arena. Burberry and Bvlgari were there first. But perhaps timing is everything.

Today's market trends are all about organic cotton and toys without bisphenol A, sniffed Safe Cosmetics spokeswoman Margie Kelly.

Her group doesn't know precisely what's in per I bambini, but its members are skeptical.

Two years ago, researchers from Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group, also advocates, analyzed 17 name-brand fragrances, from Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle to D&G's Light Blue. They found a total of 38 chemicals not listed on the labels. Some were associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, the groups said.

While drugs need pre-market approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, cosmetics do not, the agency states. "Cosmetics firms," it says, "are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products."

The International Fragrance Association North America maintains that fragrance-makers "strongly stand behind the safety of their products."

But Sean Palfrey, a Boston Medical Center pediatrician who has followed the issue, notes that perfumes are "effective irritants. . . . That's why they work." They can trigger attacks in asthmatics, he says.

Generally, in the absence of definitive research, he says, "I think that putting additional, foreign, unnecessary chemicals on a baby is probably unwise."

D&G says per I bambini is alcohol-free, nixing one of the potential skin irritants, Monell's Dalton noted.

The scent-related ingredients would likely be minimal anyway, she said. "You don't want your baby smelling like your grandmother when she douses herself in Shalimar."

Scents are prized in certain climates and cultures.

In Latin America and other places with warm climates, she noted, mothers often use eau de cologne on their babies because the evaporation process cools them. The lingering scent announces that the baby is well-cared-for.

Here, too, scent is "a strong piece of evidence," she said. "You get close to a baby, and you get that whiff, and you assume the baby has been diapered and powdered recently."

Dalton suspects that regularly being exposed to a particular scent might even be helpful.

Say that, while diapering the baby and rubbing in scented lotion, the mother coos or cuddles or otherwise makes it a nurturing experience.

Along comes a babysitter who uses the same product. The sensory signal relaxes the infant, telling it, "This is likely to be a positive experience," Dalton said.

D&G, meanwhile, isn't talking. A spokeswoman in New York said that, beyond a tweeted announcement by Stefano Gabbana a month ago, the head office has released no more information. So all we know is that it's coming.

And that it will reportedly cost - oh, baby! - about $45 for 1.7 ounces.

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