EDQM Finds Allergenic Fragrances in ‘Perfume-Free’ Cosmetics

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Results showed that 7.7% of samples were non-compliant with legislative requirements due to a missing or false declaration of allergenic fragrance compounds.

A study by the European Network of Official Cosmetics Control Laboratories (OCCLs) indicates that some cosmetic products sold throughout Europe still contain excessive levels of allergy-inducing fragrances.

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The study was coordinated by the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & HealthCare (EDQM) of the Council of Europe as part of its effort to enhance market surveillance in Europe.

Results showed that 7.7% of samples were non-compliant with legislative requirements due to a missing or false declaration of allergenic fragrance compounds, and that 3.1% of products marketed as “perfume-free” contained fragrance compounds.

The most common issues related to the allergenic fragrances found in this study were the presence of linalool, benzyl alcohol and limonene, which Regulation (EC) No. 1223/2009 (the Cosmetics Regulation) requires to be listed on labels when present above certain thresholds.

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Regarding perfumes, 41% of tested samples contained allergenic compounds. Allergenic fragrance compounds are among the main causes for skin sensitization and correct labeling is a prerequisite for preventing allergic reactions.

The samples were also checked for compliance with other requirements than those for allergenic fragrances: 12.7% of samples were non-compliant, for reasons such as incorrect labeling or misleading claims.

Other problems were related to preservatives not in accordance with the Cosmetics Regulation, to high cadmium content or to the presence of mineral-oil compounds (in lip care products).

Two samples also had to be classified as unsafe products: a body lotion containing a prohibited substance (iodopropynyl butylcarbamate—IBPC) and one skin care product sold online which was found to present microbiological contamination.

This market surveillance study, which aimed to assess compliance of cosmetic products with European legislation governing their safety, labeling and claims, was conducted between 2018 and 2020. In total, 932 samples of cosmetics, such as skin, hair and lip care products, as well as deodorants and perfumes, were tested for the presence of 24 allergenic fragrance compounds.

Some 544 of these samples were from products marketed as “perfume-free.” Samples were collected in eight countries at various stages of the distribution chain (manufacturer, customs, retail, internet, etc.). The majority of these products (85%) had been manufactured in Europe, and, overall, 34 different countries of production were identified.

Susanne Keitel, director of the EDQM/Council of Europe, stressed the importance of market surveillance: “Ensuring compliance of cosmetic products is key to avoiding potential health risks. The problems revealed by this study demonstrate the continuing need for close co-operation between Official Cosmetics Control Laboratories, in the interest of public health in Europe.”

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