Restricted or Banned Cosmetic Ingredients

There are many cosmetic ingredients banned or restricted in Europe and other parts of the world. This generally means that the ingredient is harmful to the environment or humans.

The Ingredient Scanner (Free in Chrome Web Store!)  highlights restricted or banned ingredients from all over the globe.

This means that if you are buying a product from a country with looser chemical laws, the Ingredient Scanner can help you locate the chemicals that other countries found to be too harmful to use in cosmetics.

Banned cosmetic ingredients

It is a long process for countries or unions to ban ingredients. There needs to numerous studies and cross-examinations before a substance is completely banned.

Legislators must, of course, rest on research that shows that the chemical is proven to be harmful to humans or the environment.

However, even if a cosmetics ingredient is banned for use in cosmetics, it is still sometimes possible to find it in products.

Why is that?

Why did I find a banned cosmetic ingredient in a product?

One explanation is, that if you find a banned ingredient in a product, it could be because some chemicals that are prohibited in one country may still be legal in others. One chemical that is banned on the Norwegian market due to its harmful effects may still be allowed to use in products on the Swedish market.

This is especially important to pay attention to if you are buying cosmetic products online. Always scan the ingredients of a product before you buy it. An e-commerce selling products to Canada might have its stock and production on a completely different continent, where chemical regulations are completely different.

Global online shopping makes it very hard for customs and regulators to keep track of what is coming into the country. 2 products that look identical on the outside (same brand, collection, and name) could contain different formulas depending on the chemical laws of where it is intended to be sold.

A second explanation of why banned ingredients are still on the market is that products that contain them are still allowed to be sold during a phase-out time.

A freshly banned ingredient gets an end date of when it must cease to be manufactured and sold within a state or union. The companies then have a certain amount of time, a phase-out time which can range between 1 to multiple years, to remove the chemical from their products.

In other words, the companies are allowed to sell out their remaining stock containing the harmful chemical during the phase-out time.

“Even though exposure to a particular dose of a single chemical in itself does not constitute a risk of effects, there could be a risk if there is simultaneous exposure to other substances at the same time.”
– The Environmental Protection Agency Denmark

banned or restricted category

Restricted ingredients

An ingredient restricted to use in cosmetic products falls in most cases under one of the 3 following criteria.

  1. The cosmetic ingredient is allowed to be used in consumer products if it is not above a certain threshold. In this case, which is fairly common for highly allergenic chemicals, it is the amount of the chemical allowed in cosmetic products is restricted.
  2. A restriction could also be that certain chemicals can only be used by professionals, which is common with hair dying products. Hair dying and bleaching chemicals often contain strong chemicals that need to be handled by a person educated properly.
  3. Other products can be restricted in the sense that children or people under 18 years of age should not use them. This is important to follow as young children are the most sensitive to the harmful effects of chemicals.

If an ingredient is restricted in the EU but you still find it in a product, it may be completely safe to use on its own. The restriction threshold is set so that the highest amount of the chemical which is not harmful is allowed to be used.

However, what critics argue is that combined effects of chemicals, the so called cocktail-effect, that we are exposed to everyday is not considered fully.

As we are daily exposed to a wide array of chemicals, not only from cosmetics but also from food, water and through air pollution, the combined dose might exceed what is considered safe. So the critics argument is that the combined and added doses of chemicals could be harmful, even though the individual dose from a specific product is considered safe.

The EU has some of the strictest chemicals laws in the world, both in terms of cosmetics and chemicals overall. However, many organisations and individuals are still criticizing them for not being strict enough.

The main criticism is that not enough substances have been added to the lists of restricted and banned ingredients during the last 10 years. They are arguing that REACH and ECHA could be tougher and that they are ignoring safer alternatives, reports Chemical Watch.

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