Care products for 'sensitive skin' may contain allergenic substances

1. apr 2020

Personal care products are marketed as 'sensitive', although they contain substances that can cause allergies. And that is not misleading, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency states.

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Care products for 'sensitive skin' may contain allergenic substances
Photo: Thomas Dahl

Sensitive care products: Do they contain allergenic substances?

Packaging for personal care products can be adorned with terms such as 'sensitive', 'for sensitive skin' and 'particularly mild to the fine area of ​​the eyes'. It signals that the manufacturer believes that the product is particularly suitable if you have sensitive skin.

But are fragrance allergenes and other allergenic substances acceptable to use when these terms are used on care products? Yes, according to a new assessment from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, it is acceptable.

The assessment has been underway for several years, since the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals in 2017 reported 41 care products for misleading marketing to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency's Chemical Inspectorate.

Decision: Now it is ok to use allergenic substances in sensitive products

The decision contradicts a previous decision by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency in 2017, in which the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals reported a cream from Nivea for misleading consumers in a similar way.

The Danish Environmental Protection Agency's Chemical Inspection Service considered at that time, that this was misleading marketing. The company Beiersdorf, who are behind the Nivea brand, was then banned from using the words 'sensitive' and 'mild' on the product containing 5 allergenic fragrances.

The ban did, however, not cause Beiersdorf to withdraw the Nivea cream. Instead, the company entered into a longer dialogue with the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, who never enforced the ban. Now the board has turned on a dime and, after several years of waiting, has concluded the opposite in the case of the 41 notified products.

The Board no longer believes, they can conclude that the claim is misleading. "Sensitive" products with allergenic substances are therefore allowed to remain on the store shelves.

Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals: Sensitive decision is surprising and strange

“We do not believe that you as a consumer should come home with known allergenic substances in your purchases, if you have chosen a product that directly writes that it is for sensitive skin (…) We knew very well that there was massive pressure from some manufacturers. But it is surprising that the Environmental Protection Agency's decision is completely contrary to the one, they first came up with in the Nivea case. And it is no less strange that the Board in the latest decision also recognizes that there will be consumers, who may be misled by this claim. "

Stine Müller, project manager in the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

The Danish Environmental Protection Agency's Chemical Inspectorate: The case is not legally viable

“It has been a long and extensive process to be able to make a decision which is legally viable. After thorough examination of the cases held up against the pan-European rules on claims and the pan-European requirements for securing a free internal market, the Board cannot legally conclude that claims such as 'sensitive' or 'sensitive skin' are misleading. "

Kim Holm Boesen, acting office manager at the Danish Environmental Protection Agency's Chemical Inspectorate

3 tips: Avoid being misled by sensitive claims

• Check the product with the app ‘Kemiluppen’. The app provides answers whether there are allergenic ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products.

• Look for allergy labels. The Blue Label and Allergy Certified guarantees that you avoid a wide variety of allergenic substances.

• Look for claims like 'without perfume', 'perfume free' or 'free of perfume'. According to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, products with these claims must not contain perfume substances.

What the companies say

”We believe, that there is a need for the ‘sensitive’ claim on cosmetic products because these products are targeting a different consumer group, consumers who have sensitive skin and not the ones suffering from allergy. Allergy and sensitive skin is not the same thing. If you are sensitive, you react with redness, and start to blush when you are exposed to heat, cold, alcohol, etc. But you can tolerate perfume. There is a demand in the market from customers, who ask for these products and do not just want to choose between perfume free and nothing.”

Helle Fabiansen, CEO in the Danish Cosmetics and Hygiene Industry