The EU has banned more than 1,300 ingredients, while the U.S. has banned or restricted nowhere near that amount (11). The disparity between the two has some experts concerned. “In the U.S. it’s really a buyer beware situation,” said Janet Nudelman, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tells The Guardian. “Cosmetics companies can use any raw material that they like and there’s no way to know if they are safe before they reach the shelves. The contrast with the EU is stark and troubling.”
This could be in part because the EU bans things as a preventative measure, whereas the U.S. only bans things after they have been shown to cause harm to people.
But are all ingredients banned in Europe actually harmful? Let’s take a look.
Back in 2014, the EU banned certain parabens and restricted the use of others. In the official statement they said:
“The Commission limits the maximum concentration of two preservatives, Propylparaben and Butylparaben, from currently allowed limit of 0.4% when used individually and 0.8% when mixed with other esters, to 0.14%, when used individually or together. They are being banned from leave-on products designed for the nappy area of young children below the age of three since existing skin irritation and occlusion may allow increased penetration than intact skin… The Commission bans the mixture of Methylchloroisothiazolinone (and) Methylisothiazolinone (MCI/MI) from leave-on products such as body creams. The measure is aimed at reducing the risk from and the incidence of skin allergies. The preservative can still be used in rinse-off products such as shampoos and shower gels at a maximum concentration of 0.0015% of a mixture in the ratio 3:1 of MCI/MI… The Commission banned the use of five other parabens in cosmetic products – Isopropylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Phenylparaben, Benzylparaben, and Pentylparaben due to the lack of data necessary for reassessment.”
Although the statement mentioned only a handful of parabens specifically, this has caused a bit of a scare within the beauty community. People began questioning the use of parabens after a French study was published in 2017. The study concluded that repeated applications of products containing parabens could lead to a build-up in the skin and, eventually, body tissues. In the study, a reasonable amount (0.45 mg) of parabens was applied to the skin every 12 hours for 36 hours. For the first 24 hours, increased quantities of parabens moved across the skin barrier. But parabens applied to the skin had no cumulative effect after a day and a half, which suggests that, after 36 hours, they don’t build up after all.
In a study in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, researchers made the claim that parabens can bind to estrogen receptors in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. The study suggested that parabens, like those found in skincare, increased the growth of breast cancer cells and were actually found within the cells themselves. But the study came to its conclusions slathering participants in thousands of times the number of parabens a normal person would be exposed to by their everyday skincare routine. Another study subjected fish to ingesting between 100 mg/kg and 300 mg/kg doses of parabens, which resulted in an increase in estrogenic gene expression. The only catch is, that amounts to about 15,000 mg of parabens in the average American woman, which is far more than any cosmetic or combination of cosmetics regularly used could supply.
So should you be afraid of parabens? Though there is research to suggest that parabens can be harmful, those studies were conducted under such extreme conditions that it’s difficult to apply their findings to everyday usage.
Lactic Acid Treatment (10% Concentration or Higher)
As of 2017, no lactic acid treatment with a 10% concentration (or a pH that’s lower than five) can be sold in the EU. On the European Chemicals Agency website, the reason for the regulation is due to the fact that lactic acid “causes serious eye damage and causes skin irritation.”
This was bad news for skincare brand Sunday Riley whose hero product, Good Genes, has a formula that consists of lactic acid at 7% with a pH of 3. They quickly had to reformulate, in order to be compliant with the new EU regulations. And thus Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment was born. The new formula swaps the lactic for glycolic at the same 7% concentration, with lactic acid salt at 3% and a pH of 3.5. This ended up being a good thing for Sunday Riley as it helped to expand the Good Genes line, and both products are available for sale in the US on Sunday Riley’s website.
Can lactic acid cause eye damage? Sure! Can it irritate the skin? Yes. But, as is the case with any skincare product, you should gradually introduce it into your routine and see how your skin reacts to it. And obviously, don’t put any in or around the eye area!
Talc is a common ingredient used in setting powders and deodorants due to its ability to soak up excess oil and moisture. However, it was banned in the EU because (in its natural state) talc can sometimes contain asbestos. There is asbestos-free talc but even that has some researchers believing that it can possibly be carcinogenic. A 2006 review in Occupational and Environmental Medicine found no increased risk of lung cancer when using talc-based cosmetic products.
Another study found that applying talcum powder to the genital area could increase ovarian cancer in women. However, as pointed out by The Beauty Brains, the study found a higher risk with deodorizing powders (i.e., talc and silica) than non-deodorizing powders (i.e., talc alone). Further, the study ultimately concluded that the results were inconclusive, and additional research needed to be done. In one later study, the ovaries of rats were actually injected with talc, and cancer did not develop.
Researchers from Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology to the Cosmetics Cop Paula Begoun agree with my conclusion that talc is not only non-carcinogenic, but cosmetically beneficial to the skin, absorbing oil, preventing shine, and providing a lightweight base for further cosmetic application.
These ingredients can be banned in one country, and be used every day by people safely in another. When it comes to cosmetics, use what works best for you and what you feel comfortable with. If you don’t want to use products with talc or parabens, there are tons of amazing formulations that don’t contain those ingredients. Be a smart, savvy consumer and don’t be afraid to research something if you’re unsure about whether or not you should be using it.