Lose the lilial: European Union ban shows risks of chemical in cosmetics

The European Union’s ban on lilial as an ingredient in cosmetics recently took effect, serving as a timely reminder of the need to end use of the chemical in U.S. personal care products.

Lilial is used in a variety of products to impart floral notes in a fragrance mixture. You’re most likely to find its commercial name, “lilial,” on product labels, but it is also known as butylphenyl methylpropional and p-t-Butyl-alpha-methylhydrocinnamaldehyde.

There are more than 1,200 personal care products containing lilial in EWG’s Skin Deep® database, which offers hazard rankings for those and other products, including shampoo and conditioner, hair treatments and styling aids, moisturizer, body wash, antiperspirants and shaving cream.

Lilial is also used as a fragrance ingredient in some non-cosmetic products, such as household cleaners and detergents.

Health risks of lilial

According to the EU’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, “when considering the use of multiple product types used at the same time the proposed concentrations of lilial cannot be considered as safe.”

Since the average American uses almost a dozen products as part of their daily routine, exposing ourselves repeatedly to many unique ingredients, the EU’s conclusion is significant. Some ingredients may have been thoroughly studied and have no known health concerns, but others may be linked to negative health impacts. More research is needed to fully understand the safety of cumulative exposures to mixtures of cosmetic ingredients.

Lilial has been identified as having endocrine-disrupting properties – it can interfere with natural hormone functions and may pose risks to fertility and fetal development.

In 2020, lilial was deemed by the EU’s European Commission to be a “carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic” substance – a presumed reproductive toxicant, based on animal studies. With this classification, lilial was set to be prohibited from use in cosmetics sold in the EU and Northern Ireland as of March 2022.

Due to concerns about skin irritation and sensitization, lilial has also been classified by the European Commission as one of the 26 allergenic substances that must be disclosed on product labels in the EU and cannot be included in the terms “fragrance” or “perfume.”

In 2020, the International Fragrance Association also prohibited the use of lilial in lip and oral care products, and researchers at EWG that year added it to our EWG VERIFIED® list of unacceptable product ingredients. The EWG VERIFIED mark identifies products that do not contain any ingredients on our unacceptable list, fully disclose all ingredients and follow good manufacturing practices.

U.S. regulation of lilial

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has identified lilial as one of the most common fragrance allergens present in cosmetic products.

But it remains unregulated.

The cosmetics industry in this country is notoriously underregulated. For more than 80 years, Congress has neglected to increase the FDA’s authority over cosmetics, limiting the agency’s ability to ensure the safety of personal care products.

The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act devotes only a couple of pages to cosmetics regulation, and the FDA has banned or restricted only nine ingredients in cosmetics for safety reasons, compared to the more than 1,600 ingredients banned or restricted by the EU.

How to protect yourself and your family

Lilial could appear in products you buy in the U.S., even though it’s been banned from use in cosmetics in the EU. The best way to know what’s in your products is by reading the list of ingredients. Avoid products that don’t disclose their fragrance ingredients and that use the catch-all term “fragrance.”

Consumers who want to limit their exposure to lilial can use EWG’s Skin Deep database, Guide to Healthy Cleaners and Healthy Living app to find products that may contain lilial and choose safer alternatives.

You can also look for the EWG VERIFIED mark on personal care products and household cleaners to know that the product meets our highest standards for health and transparency.

Skin Deep Database

Know what ingredients are in your cosmetic products

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