Toxics Watchdog Finds Banned Preservatives in Cosmetics Products

A watchdog group tracking banned substances in consumer products found 15 items laden with certain types of parabens, which should no longer be used in cosmetics formulations starting January 1, 2016.

As part of its ongoing campaign for chemical safety and zero waste, the EcoWaste Coalition conducted test buys on January 16 and 17 to determine if the ban on certain parabens under the ASEAN Cosmetics Directive (ACD) is being followed or not.

Annex II of the ACD has been amended to include benzylparaben, isobutylyparaben, isopropylparaben, pentylparaben and phenylparaben  in the “list of substances which must not form part of the composition of cosmetic products.”

Last year, Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) OIC Director General Maria Lourdes Santiago through FDA Circular 2015-014 advised cosmetics companies to recall products containing the banned parabens and other substances by the end of the grace period, which lasted until December 31, 2015.

“While the grace period has already come to an end, we still managed to find and buy 15 products that list either isobutylparaben or isopropylparaben or both among the product ingredients,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“We found them in skin lightening and moisturizing lotion, body wash, liquid hand soap and foot scrub cream,” he said.

“Out of these 15 products, six are locally manufactured and the rest are imported from Canada and Indonesia,” he added.

In addition, the group also found US-made sun protection lotion products with isobutylparaben on store shelf, but did not buy the high-priced items.

The group on January 18 sent its findings to the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), which promised to ask concerned companies to conduct the necessary product recalls.

In their letter to the FDA  Center for Cosmetics Regulation and Research (CCRR), the group requested the agency “to enforce FDA Circular 2015-014 and related issuances, compel the concerned companies to immediately withdraw the above products, which are out of specifications, and undertake other necessary legal measures to ensure industry compliance.”

“It will also be useful to remind cosmetics consumers to carefully read the product labels and shun those listing any of the banned parabens as ingredient,” the group said.

Newly-designated CCRR Director Ana Rivera immediately replied saying that the information received from the EcoWaste Coalition will be forwarded to the FDA Field Regional Office.

“(We) will also write the concerned companies and call their attention to the agreement to voluntarily recall these products by December 31, 2015 with the appropriate penalties and sanctions that may apply,” the CCRR said.

Parabens are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics to prevent the growth of microbes and promote a longer product shelf life.  However, parabens have attracted critical attention because they can mimic hormones and disrupt normal endocrine functions that can negatively affect human health.

Some studies have indicated that parabens can imitate estrogens, which have been associated to an increased risk of breast cancer.  Other studies have suggested that parabens can disrupt reproductive hormones.

The ban on cosmetics containing any of the abovementioned parabens took effect in most ASEAN member states on August 1, 2015 except for Philippines and Thailand, which requested for a longer grace period that ended on December 31, 2015.

The European Union had also banned these five parabens in April 2014 because “limited or no information was submitted by industry for (their) safety evaluation,” according to the European Commission Regulation No. 358/2014.