Preservatives are added to cosmetic products as needed to prevent the growth of fungi and bacteria in the products and to ensure a good durable quality, and ensure that consumers are protected from harmful influence of micro-organisms in the product.
Some preservatives have been shown to cause allergy while others are suspected of being endocrine disruptors or to provide resistance to some bacteria.
The EPA therefore decided to launch a project to increase the level of knowledge regarding the use of preservatives in cosmetic products on the Danish and assess what the risks may be.
To do this, the EPA set about identifying the preservatives used in practice in cosmetic products and which of the permitted ones are used most frequently; before making an environmental and health assessment of the selected permitted preservatives, as well as a hazard and risk assessment of the selected permitted preservatives.
The Danish body tested a total of 639 different cosmetic products from groups ranging from sunscreens to powder to wet wipes, and found a total of 53 preservatives used.
These 53 preservatives included a total of 31 of the 55 reference numbers for preservatives in Annex V of the cosmetics legislation, and of the 639 identified products, 31% did not contain preservatives, which the EPA says may be because of the product's packaging and/or composition making preservation unnecessary.
Of the 53 preservatives identified in cosmetics products, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, zinc pyrithione, thimerosal, and phenoxyethanol were “suspected of damaging the environment and health”, and were tested further.
“It can be concluded that there is an allergy risk by using cosmetic products containing 3 of the 5 preservatives further investigated in this project: DMDM Hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea and Thimerosal,” says the Danish EPA.
“Disregarding the allergy risk of preservatives, the risk assessment of the five selected preservatives shows that the use of these is safe when the assessment is made on a single product containing the maximum permitted amount of the preservative.”
The study also notes that phenoxyethanol is generally the most commonly used preservative - either alone or in combination with other preservatives, meaning that consumers are likely to be exposed to phenoxyethanol through multiple products, but whether this poses a health risk is unclear, says the EPA.
“Overall, this study shows that most preservatives are safe for use in cosmetic products in the permitted concentrations - both by exposure to a single product or by daily use of several products containing the same preservative,” says the report.
“However, there is a risk of induction of allergy by use of some of the permitted preservatives. The study has not been able to substantiate this allergy risk further due to lack of data on the individual substances.”
The study also found that the use of parabens has decreased significantly, by comparison with previous Danish studies, which is also confirmed by the manufacturers, which have supplied information for this survey, says the EPA.