The EU Has Banned 1,342 Cosmetic Ingredients?

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the EWG state the EU has banned 1,342 cosmetic ingredients, whereas the US has only banned 10.

Has the EU banned 1,342 cosmetic ingredients?

To get the answer for this question, I contacted Dr. Christopher Flower, Director-General of The Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association Ltd.

This is what Dr. Flower had to say:

The list of banned substances in the EU is probably over 1300. They are all listed in Annex II of the Cosmetics Regulation, but the overwhelming majority, no one would have ever considered using anyway but are there for ‘completeness’.

For example, arsenic, lead, cyanide, human tissues, potent steroids, medicinal antibiotics, and a long list of very nasty chemicals obtained from oil. The number of substances once used but subsequently found to be of questionable safety on that list is minimal. Although the US does not have the same list, it does not mean those same substances can be used in the US.

In both US and EU cosmetics must be safe and formulators start from the ingredients they know to be safe not from the idea of using anything not actually banned. In this respect, critics of the cosmetics industry deliberately try to confuse the issue and mislead people by suggesting safety requires a long banned list. In fact, the best system is actually to require companies by law only to make safe products, to require companies to be able to show why the product is safe (on the basis of a safety assessment), and for the authorities to be vigilant in checking compliance.

  • Anonymous

    “..the overwhelming majority, no one would have ever considered using anyway but are there for ‘completeness’.”  Why are they there? Do they have properties that make them possibly useful in cosmetics? (preservative properties or remove oils or produce great foam?) Has someone tried to made them usable already but tests have shown that they can’t be?

    Tina S 

    • Rich Summers

      The list includes stuff like Aircraft fuels, exhaust fumes, wood preservatives. To be honest I would imagine that no one in their right mind would attempt to use them, but if they weren’t on the list then some idiot probably would. The EU works on a “use unless it is on the list” principle, so I guess this is why they have to add anything that could potentially be used, even if it is absolutely ridiculous. 

      • Lisa M. Rodgers

        Thanks for your comments Rich. It is absolutely ridiculous to think anyone would use aircraft fuels, exhaust fumes and wood preservatives in cosmetics, and that they would need to be on a list of banned substances.

        It was time to discuss this quote, and the truth behind it. Hopefully it can be put to rest. Very doubtful, but one can hope!

      • Anonymous

        In putting myself into a chemist’s shoes I know I would not deliberately hurt someone by using dangerous chemicals in cosmetics. But that’s just me and that’s my mental block: it’s inconceivable to me that anyone would use them. I believe all of you here have expressly stated that you are not out to poison us!
             I picked a chemical from the list and AOL’d it: Aconitum napellus L. (leaves, roots and galenical preparations)…also known as monkshood, wolfsbane, aconite, etc. “Aconite can be found throughout Central Europe, from England to the Carpathian Mountains and from Portugal to Sweden” – bioforce. usa. “The whole plant is highly toxic, acting especially on the nerve centres. At first it stimulates the central and peripheral nervous system and then paralyzes it. Other symptoms of poisoning include a burning sensation on the tongue, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea. Simple skin contact with the plant has caused numbness in some people[4, 7, 9, 10, 14, 19, 65, 76, 244]. The root contains 90% more poison than the leaves” – It is, however, still being used as a medicine, namely homeopathy. To me, this gives me a small explaination why. It’s a folk remedy used for perhaps hundreds of years…so it must be good, right? Nope. Homeopathy is water plus placebo, thank goodness since Wikipedia calls it a cardiac poison and Herbarium calls it a potent neurotoxin and says it is easily absorbed through the skin.
        I forgot my point. I suppose since there does seem to be some crossover from homeopathy, aromatherapy and the like into cosmetics that it just seemed reasonable to me that since this is a medicine in some countries that it could be used  elsewhere. Ah, well. Oh, and I don’t know if it’s on an FDA banned list or not but my romantic side equates wolfsbane more with Old Europe and not Salem, Mass.

    • Lisa M. Rodgers

      Hey Tina, thanks for your comments/question. Rich summed it up very well, and I have contacted Dr. Flower to comment as well.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, he did. It helped to actually look at the list: carbon monoxide, chlorine and the like. Its not that I didn’t believe Rich, I just got to see some of it for myself and look up a couple of things. Maybe it’s like trying to stay one step ahead of your toddler or the warning labels we get on everything now: seems like common sense but as Rich put it “some idiot probably would” try it. I can’t say it any better! Thanks, guys…..and gals 

  • Joseph Colas

    just goes to show how one can cherry pick a statement and twist it for their own use…it’s always important to get the complete facts ! thank you for writing this and i’ve put it on my facebook wall for my friends!

    • Lisa M. Rodgers

       Yep, exactly Joseph. Thanks for your comments and sharing on your Facebook wall!

  • Colinsanders

     On a practical day to day basis the list no longer serves any purpose.  I have only ever referred to it once – and that was when I was when assessing a very early stage technology which did use some very unusual materials.

    The list has been in the legislation since very early on but subsequent amendments have really made it redundant.  Since every formulation is individually assessed for safety anything on the list would be picked up, and more importantly anything not on the list but dangerous nonetheless would be as well. 

  • Heidi Bannister

    Chris a fabulous answer, as ever to quieten the scaremongers. The voice of reason will always win in the end.

  • Anonymous

    I skimmed the list (important: skimmed only.) There are colourants listed, there are qualifiers on some of the ingredients (words like “except when” or if it contains a substance greater than a certain percentage and even toluene when used in hair dyes (there’s actually than one chemical that says this).  I also counted 16 “moved or deleted” lines within this list. There didn’t seem to be any additional information listed when I clicked on the words so I don’t know what the chemicals were or where they went.
         I am feeling my oats today so please bear with me if I’m on my soap box a bit. Technically yes there are 1328 banned chemicals on that list but after just skimming that list one can see that there’s more to it. I don’t know if the US’s list of banned chemicals includes colorants or not but if what EWG is saying doesn’t include that number then what they are saying is false, in my opinion. It’s not an accurate list of what has been banned.

  • Dene62

    I don’t know how many people bother to check the “Related posts” above, but it is also worth reading in conjunction with Chris’ comments above, especially the follow-up comments. (OK – it’s MY article, but I think the two complement each other!)

    • Anonymous

      I thought we’d been through this before. Thanks, Dene. 

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone know where the list of 10 banned ingredients in the US is? Thank you. 

    • Anonymous

      I beleive I’ve been taken again, the wording: the FDA has only banned 10 ingredients/chemicals. The cosmetic industry is self regulating, correct? They would do the banning and restricting and they would have the full/master list? The FDA’s list is incomplete.

      Would this be correct? And did the EU obtain a master list of banned and/or restricted ingredients from the cosmetic industry itself in order to make their own?

      PS: I found the list of ten so you can ignore my above question. Thank you! 

      • Sarah

        I could be wrong, Tina, but my impression (guess?) is that in the US, it is up to the cosmetics company to formulate a safe product.  I don’t think there’s a master list anywhere of things not to include (again, I could be wrong), but I believe there is guidance about the safe use of many of the common ingredients that are used in cosmetics.  That is just my impression–hope one of the experts might step in and clarify.

        • Sarah

          I guess to elaborate a little on my guess–it’s that the guidelines that are in place here typically refer to ingredients that would commonly be used in cosmetics (preservatives, colorants) rather than an exhaustive list of substances with animal bones, jet fuel, etc in it.

          • Sarah

            The other part being that what you do include in a product must have been tested for safety.

          • Anonymous

            Thanks, Sarah :) 

    • Dene62

      Hi Tina – that list is given in a link in one of the comments on my earlier article (Related Post No. 1) :-) 

  • Philippe Papadimitriou

    I think it is somewhat funny to read all of the below comments.

    You guys act like this list is totally absurd while it is obviously not (some entries are not that crazy).

    Has any of you ever wondered why cobalt sulfate is mentioned and not cobalt gluconate (NB: copper is perfectly acceptable both in sulfate and gluconate salts)?
    Have you ever wonder why gold sold by manufacturers is always marketed as having fantastic physiological properties (but not elementary gold (!) even if elementary gold is the substance offered – gold salts are prohibited according to this list)?
    Has the average formulator always been fully aware that using some particular plants was indeed not acceptable (some additions on this list are not old and consider some essential oils with known benefits – see Council of Europe – “Plants in Cosmetics” Vol III)?

    The matter is far more complicated than it seems and I would really be happy to be the only idiot one here if all my questions above are so easily answered by you and all other visitors of this page.

    There are also experts behind this list and I think it would be fair to respect their work and knowledge.

    PS: I agree that the vast majority of substances do simply not make any sense in cosmetics, but if a negative list exists, why not put these substances on it..?

    • Anonymous

      If I was disrespectful, I do apologize. It was not intentional. I wondered if perhaps some ingredients had been tested for use but failed or if they seemed to show desirable properties but, again, they didn’t work out.

      From an outsider’s point of view it is an interesting list. I recognized a few names and was ridiculously happy to find wolfbane. I have a perfume by that name.

      Tina S 

      • Philippe Papadimitriou

        Do not worry, this existing list shows that we most have (at least) little things to learn, including myself. I often have smiled when going through these entries (known poisons, potent pharmaceutical substances, other weird stuff), but the presence of some rare ingredients is not that obviously “LOGIC”, particularly when it comes to naturals.

        The professionals out here follow regulations and are often informed beforehand, because they hear noise, but that does not imply everything is that obvious.

        I think some essential oils have been banned in the 2000’s (following data published in the book mentioned above). PABA or Vitamin K1 (both naturally occuring in the human body and physiologically needed ones) have also been prohibited recently. I wonder why I could not find any data regarding these on the Cosing. I hope someone will let me know why.

        One also sees “moved or deleted” (written as such) substances on this Annex II. Can anybody tell me why is that?

        Looking forward to some replies..

        • Rich Summers

          Hi Phil, PABA is item 167. under the chemical name, moved from the sunscreen annex. Not sure about the K1 though. 

        • Rich Summers

          and K1 is under 1371 Phytonadione.
          hope that helps.

          • Philippe Papadimitriou

            @32abe9d2d9dc5454f0d45704c1360e2d:disqus Thank you, Rich.
            I had found the Vitamin K1 on the Cosing web site ( – even under Vitamin K1), but it does not appear on the Annex II on this same web site! PABA is not be be found anywhere on the Cosing web site. PABA derivatives are listed though.
            I did not understand why these absences on the official Cosing web site.

            On the points I have rasied, I know we are not in disagreement. This remains true with most of the people here, but I thought it was important to share more data, than simply come back on this now well-known issue.

            Take care.

          • Anonymous

            If I may ask, what did you use as a reference before this list was created? How did you know what was restricted or banned from use? Thank you. 

          • Philippe Papadimitriou

            @summertimebluesandgreens:disqus  This list exists for a very long time within the frame of EU regulations. Amendments have been made with time. Everything was then only available on paper.

          • Rich Summers

             I have a printed copy from 1999 and at that point Annex 2 only had 422 entries, so nearly 1,000 materials have been added in 10 years or so.

          • Anonymous

            Thank you, both, very much.  

    • Dene62


      I don’t think that anyone is saying that the list is totally absurd – just that that there are some (many?) absurd inclusions, which is very different. The main point of drawing attention to the list is on the basis of the often-used comparison with the number of substances clearly banned in cosmetics by the FDA, rather than the EU list itself. And the main point here is that you can’t compare the two lists because they have been drawn up using totally different criteria. Most of the EU banned list have never been considered for use in cosmetics, whereas (as far as I am aware) ALL the FDA list HAVE been used. Any comparison is just another meaningless numbers game played out by the usual suspects and is no more relevant than the number of different chemicals we are exposed to every day.

      • Philippe Papadimitriou

        @97a3a77196457063be9f0c140ec728e9:disqus Thanks, Dene.
        I know all this and am almost disapointed to read you thought I wasn’t aware of it. Thank you for replying to observers and putting the whole thing back on tracks (the article tells it all already), but I would have hoped to get reactions to my questions as my comment was made in regard to the other comments below.

        The cobalt salts example shows it is not a stupid list, unless it is yet incomplete.

        Do you have an answer on my points below (PABA/Vit K1 or “moved or deleted”)??

    • Rich Summers

      I think that while I do agree that there are some materials that are there for good reason, there are also the majority that would/should never ever make their way anywhere near any cosmetics, which was kind of my point below. I completely agree with your p.s. btw.

  • Chemist

     None of this does not change the fact that the EU has more chemicals banned/restricted than the US in Cosmetics.  Stop playing word games, the FDA lacks the power/desire to properly regulate the cosmetic industry. One can put any misbranded untested, unpreserved product on the market, and as long as your competition doesn’t rat you out, you’re golden. Canada has stricter regulations even than the US.  We all know this, but the semantics game on both sides just confuses the issue.

     It will be interesting to see what happens if France bans parabens, and how that will effect the eu regs.  Chances are against it, the Chemical lobby has lots of money, but still an interesting proposition… 

    • chemist

      does not change the fact.. maybe i should proofread next time…or maybe not 

    • Anonymous

      A sample of chemicals from the EU’s list: epinephrine, antibiotics, atroponine, chlorine, carbon monoxide (?!?) I’m not criticizing this list, only wondering like some others as to who would think to use these and why. What about the wolfsbane/monkshood that made me so happy; why?  
      Allow me to ask you a question: what type of person/company would actually put onto the market, knowingly, a product that is misbranded, untested, unpreserved and would obviously cause harm to people? Perhaps these are people who shouldn’t be in the business in the first place if they don’t do the work to create safe products to provide them with a loyal customer base and good income, hopefully. You’ve also forgotten the fact that you, a customer, have the right to report reactions from cosmetics to the FDA.
      Not saying that the US doesnt need to make some changes, perhaps the reason the FDA has only banned 10 is because the industry was doing well enough on it’s own and didn’t need a babysitter. And no, I am not criticizing the EU either. Having important lists in one place beats having to chase them down in several other places, if that’s what US R&D has had to do all these years.
      thx :)

      • CFlower

        I think you have hit the nail on the head – only an unscrupulous person would do such a thing and such people are not welcome in this industry. The length of a banned list is irrelevant if there is a requirement for products to be safe, for safety to be substantiated and for efficient enforcement. I cannot comment on the US situation but enforcement in the EU is undertaken responsibly by the authorities and potentially harmful products removed from circulation; reputable companies of course do not put themselves in that position since they formulate with ingredients they know to be safe. 
        To try to compile a totally comprehensive list of banned substances would be a never-ending task since you quickly come to the position that some substances may be safe under certain circumstances but not others, so you try to regulate those too. We are talking about looking at the whole inventory of chemicals known to man, whether natural or synthetic, which will be in the hundreds of thousands. I must also say that even the most innocent of ingredients can be harmful if used inappropriately (for example, drinking about 5l of water may easily prove fatal, yet who would consider water a dangerous ingredient). 
        The only sensible, and actually very effective, way to manage cosmetic safety is the approach taken by the EU regulations – to require products to be safe by law and make someone responsible for that, to require a duly qualified expert to have assessed safety of each product before it is marketed, and to have efficient inspection and enforcement by authorities; banned lists are actually unnecessary under such circumstances so whether they are long or short is not the key point.

        • chemist

          “such people are not welcome in this industry” … that is seriously one of the best laughs I have had in a while.. Thank you

          • Dene62

            I fail to see the humour here – I am sure that the vast majority of companies have an ethical approach to the safety of their products and the actions of the unscrupulous undermine the entire industry. Unscrupulous companies/people are NOT welcome in the industry. Laugh again if you wish, but it is not especially constructive in the context of this discussion, and you disappoint me Bruce (if this is you) as you are usually more helpful than this.

          • Skincarebygrace

            You are SURE that the vast MAJORITY of companies have ethical approach to the safety of the ir products?  Seriously?  The Director of the FDA’s Office of Color and Cosmetics, John Bailey, points out that while most consumers believe that if something is on the shelf, it must be safe, but he clarifies that this ideas is simply not true.  Instead, he points out that there are no requirements for safety testing prior to selling a product and that instead this is a voluntary action.  Cosmetics is a SELF-regulated industry and the reason that the US has the LOWEST standards is simply GREED.  Large companies in the $35 billion personal care industry lobby the US government to keep the standards low, so they can use cheap fillers such as mineral oil, petrolatum, SD alcohol, etc to fill up a product and drive up product.  Period.  Why else would they use PETROLEUM in skincare?  Would you inject that into your blood?  No?  Then why let it absorb through your skin into your blood stream?  This is not semantics.  This is fact.

          • Dene62

            Yes, Grace, seriously. Your slur on large corporations is without foundation and a massive generalisation. What constitutes greed – the desire to make a profit? Show me a company who isn’t out to make a profit, and I will show you a company that will fail. On what grounds do you claim that the majority of cosmetics companies DON’T have an ethical approach to safety? Those companies that you claim lobby to keep standards low (again, on what basis do you make the very specific claim?) are those who have to comply with the stricter regulations elsewhere, and they sell mostly the same products globally – so there is, in effect, no difference. The companies you accuse of greed and a lack of concern over consumer safety are the very companies who spend hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars supporting their own in-house team of toxicologists and safety assessors in order to ensure their products are safe. The value of the brands ot these companies is enormous, and they can’t afford to take the cavalier approach to safety that you are suggesting, because their brands would suffer is they were proven to be unsafe. It takes years to build up a reputation, and this can be destroyed in days if a product causes serious problems.

            The US industry is NOT self-regulated – the FDA HAVE banned some ingredients, as is made clear in the article, so the self-regulating claim is clearly untrue. The regulation may not be especially robust, but that is very different.

            You don’t appear to understand the cosmetic industry, otherwise you would not describe mineral oil, etc as “fillers”. They perform functions within the product. If they were just fillers, as you claim, the manufacturers would use water  – much cheaper than mineral oil. Anyone who thinks that ANY cosmetic company uses petroleum is not thinking clearly. Who would buy a product that smelt of petroleum? What function would petroleum fulfill in a cosmetic product? You also seem to be of the opinion that cosmetics are all absorbed through the skin. This is a total fallacy. It’s easy to write “this is fact”, but you are wrong, I’m afraid. Very wrong.

          • curious

             So did Mr. Bailey actually make this statement?  And if so, why would he say that if it wasn’t fact?  This should be changed. 

            Another question….if they aren’t using petroleum than why is it listed on the ingredient list?  Artificial fragrances can be used to cover up odors as well, can’t they?

            No disrespect, just education needed for me….

          • Dene62

            Grace, along with many others, confuses petroleum with petrolatum. Petroleum has a very strong, unpleasant odour and has no useful function within a cosmetic product. To use petroleum as a ingredient would be beyond inept – the product would simply not sell. Petrolatum serves a useful function. Grace further demonstrates her lack of understanding by referring to mineral oil and SD alcohol as “cheap fillers”. Nothing is a cosmetic is a filler – everything has a function. Even water is not a “filler” – it is a solvent/carrier for the other ingredients. Costs has nothing to do this argument, and the rant against large corporations is more connected with politics than concerns over safety.

            I have no idea if John Bailey actually said those words, so I can’t comment on that, but the US regs DO need tightening, imo, if only to stop people like Grace from making political capital out of the situation. Any regulation will, in reality, have only minor impact on the safety of cosmetics, because, by and large, they are safe already.

    • Dene62

      This is not word games – it’s a numbers game, and the point is that the number quoted for the EU banned list is distorted by the vast quantity of nonsensical inclusions. There is no question that the EU has banned more substances, but the numbers are being misused. There is also no question in my mind that the USA needs better regulation, but that is not the point of the article. 

    • Philippe Papadimitriou

      No one has ever argued here that the US has a perfect regulation system. I would myself be very happy to learn that something is going to be done about this (but with some common sense). Know the issue is definitely going to be a bigger burden on small brands and manufacturers, among which many “natural” products ones. More tests, more time, more money involved. Better results and more safety have their price for consumers as well.
      The EU system is well thought-out, but still many people create their soaps or skin care products in their garage and sell them in regional street markets. Nobody is above the law, but still you find some who don’t care. Their products are safe, for what I have been able to experience myself (and I have bought unlabelled products as well).On an eventual parabens ban in France, I doubt anything will happen – not on all of them, probably on none of the ones used and still considered fine after the SCCS decision (December 2010). It is not a matter on lobbying, but one on scientific proofs and knowledge. The persons at the “Assemblée” (parliament) are commoners and did vote with their emotions (236 vs 222). If this goes to the “Sénat” (a higher parliament), which decision depends on the government (in part dictated by the Ministry of Health), the science will be considered. It is impossible that all parabens, all phthalates and all alkylphenols will be immediately banned in all consumers categories (food, cosmetic, household care, car, etc. industries). Consider PET as example. PET is the plastic type out of which you drink most -if not all- your bottled beverages (including water). PET is based on phthalates. Sure there is a chemical lobby, but regulations are today made on science and this phthalate polymer has been shown to be safe.If regulations change because of science, be sure the cosmetic industry will be grateful.

  • Sue Apito

    I would like to invite readers to participate in a similar discussion on LinkedIN.

    One recent fact that came to light – some of the ingredients banned by the EU Cosmetics Directive are ingredients that are medicinal – so not allowed in cosmetics.

    That is basically the same process we have here in the USA – if a product contains an ingredient that has an FDA monograph then the ingredient has to be used according to those rules, and the product is no longer considered a cosmetic.

    This EU list is NOT all ingredients “banned” for being dangerous!

    And by the way…some of the banned ingredients are rated as very safe by Skin Deep – the same folks misrepresenting what this list consists of!

  • carolyn

    Don’t base everything off what the skin deep database says!!! Use the ingredients as your guide. Last I checked, propylene glycol (antifreeze, for your car) which is in Tom’s of Maine deodorant, among other things, is rated as a 3 ..”FAIR” ?!?! That is way worse than fair!!!! That is not supposed to be on your body. If it is a chemical, it is likely not supposed to be on your skin. I believe Aquaphor has a low rating on their scale as well but it is loaded with chemicals. yuck. so that doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t go by that scale any more. I solely look at the ingredients.

    • Katherine

      Actually Carolyn, your comment doesn’t show an understanding of ingredients or their chemical properties. What do you mean?… “if it is a chemical, it is likely not supposed to be on your skin.” or “aquaphor is loaded with chemicals.”

      If you don’t like an ingredient then by all means avoid it, however a blanket statement as to “chemicals” being the problem is not accurate since everything we place on our skin is “chemical”. You cannot have products without chemicals. Water is a chemical, your body is made up of chemicals, any natural ingredient, (botanical) is chemical by nature. Many natural components require synthetic processes to make them safe for skincare or cosmetic uses.

      Plus your analogy of Propylene glycol is inaccurate as there are many varieties available and are determined safe. Perhaps a bit of science will help you have a better understanding of this ingredient.

      Hope the link can give you a better understanding of this ingredient you are fearful of.