Europe: ban on the use of methylisothiazolinone in leave-on products approved

As of February 2017, leave-on cosmetic products containing methylisothiazolinone will no longer be allowed on the market.

A widely-used preservative in many personal care products, methylisothiazolinone has been associated with various allergic reactions.

The ban was proposed last year and will most probably be followed by a complete restriction in the very near future.




Zinc Oxide has been approved as a UV filter in Europe

Zinc Oxide has finally been approved as a UV filter! On the 22nd of October, the EU Standing Committee on Cosmetic Products has authorized Zinc Oxide as a UV filter, in both its nano and non-nano form.

UV filters are used to protect our skin from the harmful effects of UV light, and can be organic or inorganic. The organic filters absorb the ultraviolet light and convert it into heat; they are also the UV filter most commonly used, though their efficiency is rather low and are often supplemented with inorganic filters. Inorganic filters, depending on the size of the particles (the smaller the size, the more increased their efficacy is), can reflect, scatter and absorb the UV light, and protect against both UVA and UVB radiation.

Zinc Oxide powder

Zinc Oxide powder

Zinc Oxide, as well as Titanium Dioxide, are renowned broad-spectrum “active semiconductor photocatalysts used extensively in heterogeneous photocatalysis to destroy environmental pollutants that are organic in nature. They are also extensively used in sunscreen lotions as active broadband sunscreens that screen both UVB (290–320 nm) and UVA (320–400 nm) sunlight radiation and as high SPF makers. When photoactivated by UV light, these two particular metal oxides are, however, also known to generate highly oxidizing radicals” (Nick Serpone, Daniele Dondi, Angelo Albini,University of Pavia – “Inorganic and organic UV filters: their role and efficacy in sunscreens and suncare products”).

The list of UV filters allowed in cosmetic products in Europe currently comprises 28 substances and represents Annex VI of the EU Cosmetics Regulation EC 1223/2009. Zinc Oxide will be officially included in early 2016.

Crystal Structure of Zinc Oxide

The crystal structure of Zinc Oxide

Restricted and prohibited parabens in Europe

In April 2014, five long-chain parabens: isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, phenylparaben, benzylparaben and pentylparaben were banned by the European Commission, under the recommendations of the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety [Regulation (EU) No.358/2014]. Companies were given six months to place (new) compliant products on the market – deadline was October 30 2014, and fifteen to withdraw the existing non-compliant ones – action to have been undertaken by the 30thof July 2015.

In October 2014, new restrictions were imposed on butylparaben and propylparaben whose maximum allowed concentration has been lowered to 0.14% (as esters), “when used individually or together”. In addition, the two have been prohibited in leave-on products intended for the nappy area of children under three years of age. All new products made available to the consumers after the 16th of April 2015 have had to comply with the new requirements, whilst the cosmetics already placed on the market could still be marketed until the 16th of October 2015.

The EC’s decision is much related to the 2011 Danish ban concerning products designed for children under three, after which the SCCS was asked to investigate further.

Vials of Parabens

Vials of Parabens

However, the whole controversy surrounding parabens is not recent news and has arisen from an assumed critical endocrine-disrupting activity and endocrine-related toxicity of propyl and butylparaben and their iso compounds, and of benzylparaben (according to the SCCS, “these properties appeared to increase with increasing chain length”).

The debate has commenced in 2004, when three medical reports formulated by an oncologist stating to have found parabens in human breast cancer tissue were published. Even though the results had never been supported by any of the global scientific communities, the media rapidly embraced the story. The outcome? Consumer hysteria and consternation. On a global scale.

We all know that, while parabens might indeed have an “oestrogen-like” effect, those added to cosmetic formulations cannot go any deeper than the stratum corneum. Parabens are also easily metabolized so the body can get rid of them very quickly. They are present in cucumber, vanilla, olives, onion, carrots, they can be found in insects and animals, as well as in a precursor of coenzyme Q10 in humans – the para-hydroxybenzoate (parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid). Even though the study might have indeed found that parabens can accumulate in tissues and that there might be a risk associated with them, no connection with the development of malign tumors could be established.


They have been successfully used for decades for the preservation of foods and personal care products, due to their low cost, low toxicity, versatility, efficiency and tolerance rate. Since 2005, parabens have been evaluated by the Scientific Committee Consumer Safety various times. This final decision relating to their use in cosmetics was adopted on a worst-case-scenario hypothesis, as potential risk to human health could not be assessed due to inconclusive or lack of data.

This might have been one of the worst decisions ever made in regards to the restricted and prohibited cosmetic ingredient lists, since the catalogue of safe preservatives is not very generous as it is anyway; besides, I cannot see any movement towards providing innovative and safer alternatives. Even if, while the science evolves rapidly, it is still going to take years, maybe even decades, to complete assessments on the safety of new, innovative preservatives.

Meanwhile, people are encouraged to purchase paraben-free products, obviously by “free-from” advocating companies. It is hard to change the general consumer’s perception taking into account that the majority does not have the qualification to understand the science behind cosmetic ingredients, but I trust it won’t take long before they realize that free-from-parabens products are not necessarily better alternatives. Just because a product does not contain a paraben, it does not make it a healthier, more efficient, or a safer choice, as it can contain a series of much more dangerous ingredients disguised under the “free-from a, b, c” message on the label.

Looking forward to the day the Commission will take serious action against “free from” claims made by companies that take advantage of the lack of knowledge amongst consumers and of the fact that the legislation is very unclear in regards to the matter. But, well, that’s another story. In the meantime, we can only hope that the common user will also start making more informed choices. In the end, we should all avoid everything we have health concerns about, but what I cannot agree with is companies promoting paraben, silicon and other “chemical”-free products as a safe option, when we all know that, in most cases, this is just a marketing strategy to attract clients, increase sales and improve reputation.


More about the science behind this debate below (SCCS Opinion on Parabens, adopted in December 2010 and revised in March 2011):

Amendments to the list of allowed preservatives in Europe – Methylchloroisothiazolinone (and) Methylisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone

The European Commission Regulation (EU) No. 1003/ 2014 of September 2014 amended Annex V of the EU Cosmetics Regulation with respect to the use of methylisothiazolinone and of the mixture methylisothiazolinone (and) methylchloroisothiazolinone in cosmetic products commercialized in Europe.

The mixture methylchloroisothiazolinone (and) methylisothiazoline has been banned from leave-on products, to reduce the skin sensitisation/ allergy incidents.The Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety has, however, concluded that the previously-approved maximum concentration of 0.0015% of a mixture in the ratio 3:1 of methylchloroisothiazolinone (and) methylisothiazolinone) is still safe for use in all rinse-off cosmetics.



The maximum allowed concentration of methylisothiazolinone remains 0.01%, nonetheless it has been established that the use of methylchloroisothiazolinone (and) methylisothiazolinone is incompatible with the use of methylisothiazolinone alone in the same products as it would affect the 3:1 ration agreed upon precedently



The deadline for making available on the market new compliant products was the 16th of July 2015, while those already marketed can still be sold until the 16th of April 2016.

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