Cosmetics: This heavily debated chemical is endocrine disrupting in humans

16. sep 2020

The preservative Butylparaben is endocrine disrupting in humans according to the EU. Several cosmetic brands will now phase out their use of the chemical.

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Cosmetics: This heavily debated chemical is endocrine disrupting in humans
Photo: Getty Images

Unwanted chemical in your cosmetics has been heavily debated for decades

Have you used cosmetic products such as lotion, foundation or mascara on a regular basis over the past decades? Then there is a risk that you have come across the preservative Butylparaben.

The endocrine disturbing properties of Butylparaben has been discussed among scientist, industry and NGO's for more than 20 years.

Butylparaben is endocrine disrupting in humans

The member states of the EU have unanimously agreed that Butylparaben is endocrine disrupting in humans. The decision is based on comprehensive studies from the DTU Food and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.

Before summer Butylparaben was added to the ECHA candidate list because of the endocrine disturbing properties, which is unusual for a chemical allowed in cosmetics.

The ECHA candidate list is a list of chemicals, which the EU has deemed unwanted and wants to see phased out over time because of their negative effects on health and environment.

The chemicals is still allowed in your cosmetics

Despite being labeled as an endocrine disrupter Butylparaben is still allowed in cosmetics.

A single product will probably not pose a risk to your health, but the exposure from one product will contribute to your total exposure of endocrine disrupters and thereby contribute to the cocktail effect of unwanted substances that you are exposed to in your everyday life.

In the end, this could be problematic in relation to endocrine disruption.

The Danish Consumer Council has been working for a ban for years

The Danish Consumer Council has been working for a ban on the use of Butylparaben in consumer goods since the beginning of this century.

In many tests and through campaigns the council has tried to raise awareness among consumers and also suggested alternative products without Butylparaben.

Butylparaben is still used in cosmetic brands today despite the heated debate throughout the last couple of decades. The use has however diminished over the years.

The Danish app Kemiluppen finds more than 100 products with Butylparaben

The Danish app Kemiluppen contains data of the ingredients in almost 13,000 cosmetic products on the Danish market.

In the database of the Kemiluppen Butylparaben is found in more than 100 products.

Be aware of powder, foundation and mascara, where the substance can be used as a preservative.

See all tests from The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

Will the cosmetic industry phase out Butylparaben?

The endocrine disrupter label and the inclusion on the EU candidate list will have consequences for the future use of Butylparaben.

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has asked the companies behind the brands still using Butylparaben whether they will phase out the use of the substance.

The answers point in different directions. Several brands have already phased out Butylparaben in their newest editions of their products, or they will phase out the substance in the future.

Other brands have not answered and a few say that the use of Butylparaben is legal and safe and therefore they will continue using the substance.

Her are the answers from the companies

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has asked 17 brand owners, covering 26 brands, whether they will stop using Butylparaben:

  • Clinique - YES, the substance is not used in the newest products
  • Galderma Nordic AB - YES
  • Normal A/S / W7 / Creightons / Cuticura / Derma V10 / Elina - YES
  • LVMH / Benefit – YES, all parabens will be phased out
  • Unilever / Dove - YES, the substance is not used in the newest products
  • net-shopping.dk / Pjur - YES, will not order new products with Butylparaben
  • Evoluderm – YES, all parabens will be phased out
  • Reckitt Benckiser Group – Unsure, but is not ruled out
  • Saether / Shiseido – NO, the use of Butylparaben is still legal
  • Procter & Gamble / Aussie – NO, the use of Butylparaben is safe
  • Bondi Sands – NO, will not phase out
  • L'Oreal / Garnier /Kiehl's /Maybelline / Biotherm – refers to the statement of the Danish Association of Cosmetics and Detergents. See below.
  • Redken – No answer
  • Miaray – No answer
  • Xpel marketing / Argan – No answer
  • The Body Shop – No answer
  • Saether / Rimmel – No answer

Parabens: Debated substances used in hundreds of products

Other chemicals in the paraben family have been in the spotlight because of research showing, that they were endocrine disrupters in animal studies.

Already some parabens have been banned in cosmetics. Isopropylparaben and Isobutylparaben is no longer allowed in your lotion or creme.

However, other parabens such as Propylparaben, Ethylparaben, Methylparaben and of course Butylparaben are still allowed.

 In the database of the app Kemiluppen it is evident that:

  • Methylparaben is used in more than 750 products
  • Propylparaben is used in more than 400 products
  • Ethylparaben is used in more than products 200 products
  • And again Butylparaben is used in more than 100 products

Studies: Parabens can mimic the female sex hormone

Studies of parabens in both cell and animal studies have shown that they can mimic the female sex hormone (estrogen effect).

For some parabens studies also show that they can inhibit the male sex hormone (antiandrogen effect).

4 tips if you want to reduce your exposure to parabens:

  • Get the app Kemiluppen (available in Denmark only). With the app you can check the ingredients in your personal care products and see if they contain substances that are, or are suspected of being, endocrine disrupters. This includes the parabens.
     
  • Look for cosmetic products with the Nordic ecolabel, the Swan. Parabens and other suspected endocrines disrupters are banned in Swan label product.
     
  • Keep an eye on the ingredient list and see if some of the substance end in -paraben. The most important parabens to avoid is Butylparaben and Propylparaben.
     
  • Beaware of food containing E214, E215, E218 og E219. They can also belabelled as ethyl-p-hydroxybenzoat or methyl-p-hydroxybenzoat. According to the Danish food authorities parabens are only allowed incandy and snacks such as chipsandnuts and in some meat products.
What the companies say

Reckitt Benckiser Group

Butylparaben is still allowed in cosmetics and we keep a stern eye on the substance. RB has cosmetic products in many European countries and we are therefore performing an internal audit of their European portfolio to see if a reformulation could be possible.

It is expected that the SCCS will publish an opinion in October 2020 and we will act as required after the publication. However it cannot be ruled out that we will take action on the audit of our products before the SCCS.

Clinique

Clinique products are no longer formulated with Butylparaben.

Galderma Nordic AB               

We will remove Butylparaben from the product.

The concentration of Butylparaben in the current product is 0.025 percent, which is below the limit value of 0.1 percent.

Normal A/S / W7 / Creightons / Cuticura / Derma V10 /Elina                       

We will sell out the existing products, when our suppliers have confirmed that the content is below 0.1 percent. In addition, we will ask them to phase out Butylparaben. New products will from now on be without Butylparaben.

Procter & Gamble / Aussie  

Procter & Gamble answers that they are aware that Butylparaben has been added to the candidate list. They also answer that the use of Butylparaben is safe in allowed limits.

Being added to the candidate list has no effect on the safety evaluation described in the cosmetics regulation.

LVMH / Benefit                         

LVMH answers that the safe use of their products is their primary concern. They follow the rules laid out in the cosmetics regulation and they keep up with the work being done in the scientific committee (SCCS).

They are aware that Butylparaben has been added to the candidate list, but underline that their products are safe.

LVMH has decided to phase out parabens and therefore there will not be any parabens in the new formulations going forward.

Unilever / Dove                        

The product that you have in the app Kemiluppen is outdated. The product has changed name and content several times and no longer preserved with Butylparaben.  Right now, the product is not even available on the Danish market. In Europe, we do not use Butylparaben.

Saether / Shiseido                   

We continuously abide by the legislation in place and so does our brand owner. Now we have no information that Shiseido will change the formula and we will continue selling our hand lotion.

Net-shopping.dk / Pjur           

We are a web shop, which sells PJUR's products. We will not likely order new products for our web shop.

Evoluderm      

The newest products will not contain Butylparaben and we are working on phasing out all parabens.

Bondi Sands           

The company will not phase out Butylparaben

L'Oreal / Garnier /Kiehl's /Maybelline /Biotherm               

Refers to the statement of the Danish Association of Cosmetics and Detergents. See the box below.

xpel marketing / Argan oil    

No answer

The Body Shop      

No answer

Saether / Rimmel                     

No answer

Redken            

No answer

Miaray

No answer

Trade organization: We follow the regulatory process on the issue

"We are aware that Butylparaben now is included in the candidate list. We follow the regulatory process on the issue. Today there are many products on the market with or without Butylparaben.

What they all have in common is that they are safe. Should Butylparaben be even further regulated by REACH, this will be evaluated in the same way as all other cosmetic ingredients. There is no evidence, which gives reason to doubt the safety of cosmetic products containing Butylparaben.

In the Danish Association of Cosmetics and Detergents we always encourage our members to have a focus on new scientific research and to phase out substances, where possible, that could be problematic.”

Helle Fabiansen, CEO, Danish Association of Cosmetics and Detergents