Do you shop cosmetics abroad or online? The chemical contents may vary from country to country

A global comparative study performed by the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals with input from us and 32 other partner organizations reveals that the same 39 products exists in 176 different versions worldwide. The products also contain several unwanted substances.

Is your favorite product the same if you buy it abroad instead of in the country were you live? Does the version you find at your vacation destination abroad or when you shop online contain other ingredients you have to be aware of? The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals set out to find the answers to these questions in cooperation with 33 NGOs, including WECF in the Netherlands, from all over the world.

Many versions of the same product

The study took place over the summer 2020. In total 34 organizations participated covering five of the seven continents. NGOs from developed and developing countries participated spanning the globe from the Americas via Africa and Europe and all the way to Asia and Oceania.

39 international products were chosen based on their popularity in the Danish app Kemiluppen. Kemiluppen is an app, developed by the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals, where consumers via their smartphone can scan the barcode of their cosmetics and get a rating of the product based on the chemical content. Among the 39 products where lotions, skin oil, mascara, toothpaste, shampoo, hair dyes, and more. The study shows that these products came in many different versions worldwide.

One shampoo was found to have 13 different versions. The shampoo receives a C-rating (the lowest rating – A being the highest) in the app Kemiluppen because it contains sodium salicylate in the Danish version. The substance is suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child. In other countries, this substance is not in the product, but instead these products contain zinc pyrithione, which is also suspected of damaging fertility. In some countries the shampoo also included the allergenic substances MI and MCI (methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone), to which exposure can result in life long allergy. The shampoos found in Canada, USA and New Zealand contained these substances. Other products were found in up to nine different versions worldwide.

63 different unwanted chemicals were found in the cosmetics

In total, the 39 products contained 63 different unwanted chemicals.   Out of these 63 chemicals, 23 of them are substances that are suspected of being endocrine disrupters, of damaging fertility or the unborn child or of damaging the ability to have children. Others can cause allergy as the before mentioned preservatives MI and MCI. Cosmetics with unwanted substances were found in all the participating countries.

The cocktail effect is problematic – not the individual shampoo or lotion

The concept of the cocktail effect is often highlighted when scientists discuss the effects of unwanted substances. The concept of the cocktail effect is that you have to look at all the exposures from everyday products when you evaluate the risk of exposure to different chemicals. It is not enough to look at one product at a time. One product will seldom be a problem. However, the sum of all of the exposures to unwanted chemicals could be a problem for human health and the environment.

Therefore, it is a good idea to avoid unwanted substances in cosmetics and personal care products if you want to minimize the risk for unwanted effects on your health. Many of the unwanted chemicals you cannot avoid because you are exposed through the food you eat, the air you breathe and the environment you live in. However, you can choose which chemicals you do not want to be exposed to from your everyday products.

Be aware abroad or when shopping online

The many differences in the products worldwide means that you have to be aware of the ingredients when you shop on your holiday trips abroad or online.  Do you want to avoid a certain substance or substance group? Follow the advice below:

  • Be aware that a cosmetic product you normally buy in your own country not necessarily is the same when you shop on vacation or online.
  • Always read the ingredients list – when on vacation or shopping online.
  • Cannot find the ingredient list? Choose another product or another web shop.
  • In the EU it’s obligatory for cosmetic products to have an ingredient list on the product. However, for web shops there are unfortunately no requirements regarding ingredient lists.

Check out this list with unwanted chemicals in your cosmetic products!

The full report can be found here: Cosmetics around the globe (MASTER)-FINAL