Potentially cancer-causing substance still found in personal care products

6. jan 2016

The potentially cancer-causing substance polyaminopropyl biguanide (PHMB) is banned in personal care products. But the substance is still found in creams, makeup removers and cleansing tissues. The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has notified authorities about 36 products.


Polyaminopropyl biguanide in personal care products
Photo: Anne Beck Christensen


Updated: PHMB has subsequently been allowed in lower concentrations. Products with the substance will still receive a low assessment in tests from The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals since it is suspected of causing cancer.


Banned substance still found in personal care products

The substance polyaminopropyl biguanide (PHMB) has been banned in personal care products since January 2015. PHMB is a preservative that is used in for example makeup removers, body lotions and creams. The substance is suspected to be cancer-causing, it is detrimental to the environment and it is allergenic.

But in spite of the ban The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has since August 2015 checked the ingredient lists of cosmetics and found 36 products, which contain the illegal substance. These have been reported to the authorities. The products were found on the shelves in Danish shops, supermarkets and pharmacies.

“When we still encounter this substance in so many products a year after the ban was implemented, we question whether it is taken seriously by the manufacturers and retailers. In regard to the manufacturers we find it unacceptable that major companies such as L’Oréal still does not abide by law. It is not acceptable to subject the consumers to health risks in this way,” says Claus Jørgensen, Senior Project Manager at The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals.

The EU classified PHMB as a so-called CMR-substance with effect from 1st of January 2015. CMR-substances can be cancer-causing or harm hereditary genes, fetuses or the human fertility.

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14 L’Oréal products still contain PHMB

Among the 36 reported products several are withdrawn from the market by the companies behind. But far from all companies have followed this example.

L’Oréal is behind 14 products which are reported to the authorities. Consumers can still encounter products such as makeup removers from the brands Garnier, Vichy and La Roche-Posay when shopping - all owned by L'Oréal.

Head of consumer affairs in L’Oréal Nordic, Sonja Christensen, does not want to comment on the content of the problematic substance in the company’s products. She says that it is an issue for the entire industry. However, she stresses that the company does not consider products with PHMB to constitute a health risk.

L’Oréal does not express any intention of removing the products from the market.

Trade organization: PHMB is not illegal

In the Danish trade organization SPT, which among others represent the manufacturers of personal care products, CEO Hanna Løyche does not find the suspected cancer-causing PHMB to be illegal.

“We do not share the interpretation that PHMB has been illegal in cosmetic products since January 2015, where the classification of PHMB as a CMR-substance was applied. CMR-substances may be used in cosmetic products if a risk assessment shows that the use of the substance is safe,” Hanna Løyche states.

Hanna Løyche refers to the latest assessment of PHMB from the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, which concludes that a safe level of PHMB under 0.3 percent is a possibility.

SPT’s assessment that PHMB is legal stands in contrast to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) view. On the EPA’s website is stated: “The substance’s classification as cancer-causing in category 2 was applied 1st of January 2015. The substance has been illegal to use in cosmetic products since that date”. The accuracy of this text has been confirmed by the authorities to The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals.

Authorities surprised by trade organization and manufacturers

At the EPA functional manager in the Chemical Inspection Service, Dorte Balle Hermansen, writes that the authorities are surprised by how the cosmetics trade organization, SPT, and manufacturers approach this issue.

She explains that the authorities had expected that the products with PHMB would be withdrawn from the market after the EU classified the substance as a CMR-substance. This has been custom since 2010.

However, after EPA has received several reports about products with PHMB that are still on the market, they have discussed the case with SPT and ‘a large manufacturer’. They have informed the EPA that they do not recognize the ban against PHMB.

“The EPA can ascertain that there still are a number of products with PHMB on the Danish market and that these products will not be removed voluntarily. Consequently, The Danish Environmental Protection Agency will decide on these products very early in the new year,” writes Dorte Balle Hermansen.

‘Recall the products from the market’

Senior Project Manager, Claus Jørgensen, from The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals does not understand why major companies like L’Oréal have not already removed the banned substance and the products which contain it from the market.

“It is unacceptable that the manufacturers still use PHMB in spite of a clear ban and we look forward to the intervention of the EPA. The manufacturers ought to recall the products from the market,” says Claus Jørgensen.

About us: Who is The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals?

The 36 products found on the shelves are listed below:

  • Sephora Express Cleansing wipes face, eyes, lips pro-vitamin B5
  • Vichy Pureté Thermale soothing eye make-up remover
  • Vichy Pureté Thermale 3 in 1 one step cleansing micellar solution
  • La Roche-Posay Micellar Water sensitive skin
  • La Roche-Posay Physiological micellar solution sensitive eyes
  • La Roche-Posay Respectissime Waterproof eye makeup remover sensitive eyes
  • La Roche-Posay Physiological eye-make up remover sensitive eyes
  • La Roche-Posay Solution Micellaire Physiologique sensitive skin
  • Garnier skin naturals Micellar Cleansing Water normal & sensitive skin
  • Garnier skin naturals New pure active micellar cleansing water
  • Garnier skin naturals Micellar cleansing wipes
  • L´Occitane en Provence Milk veil
  • L´Occitane en Provence  Gentle toner enriched with shea
  • L´Occitane en Provence Ultra rich shower cream
  • L´Occitane en Provence Amande milk concentrate
  • L´Occitane en Provence Delicious hands with almond milk
  • L´Occitane en Provence Dry skin foot cream 15% shea butter
  • L´Occitane en Provence L´Occtitan after-shave balm for men
  • L´Occitane en Provence Cade after-shave balm for men
  • L´Occitane en Provence Bavx after-shave balm for men
  • L´Oreal Paris Eye & lip extress make-up remover
  • L´Oreal Paris Micellar cleansing water
  • Garnier skin naturals Micellar Cleansing Water
  • Garnier skin naturals Eye make-up remover 2in1
  • Embryolisse Lotion Micellaire*
  • Panduro Hobby Junior Face paint crayons*
  • HH Simonsen  Gray / Mud*
  • Plaisir Cleansing facial wipes - all skin types*
  • Dennis Knudsen Skin complex facial cleansing wipes - all skin types*
  • Satessa Fugtige plejeservietter aloe vera*
  • Satessa Fugtige plejeservietter sensitiv*
  • Biocura Fugtgivende renseservietter - til ansigt og øjne - med aloe vera ekstrakt*
  • Biocura Fugtgivende renseservietter - til ansigt og øjne - med provitamin B5*
  • Tromborg Anti cellulite serum*
  • Helosan Original*
  • Helosan Fodsalve*

*The manufacturers of these products have informed The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals that either they no longer using PHMB, or that there is a mistake on the label, or that they have withdrawn the product from the stores.

For further questions contact Head of Project, Claus Jørgensen, on (+45) 22 22 74 55 or cj@fbr.dk.