European Scientists Urge Stricter Cosmetics Controls

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 9, 2001 (ENS) - A scientific committee of the European Union has stunned policy makers and the cosmetics industry by calling for a blanket ban on all confirmed and likely carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances in cosmetic products without any prior assessment of their exposure related risks.

The call is a fundamental challenge to the European Union's cosmetics law, which regulates based on risk assessment. It also contributes to a wider debate under a Commission policy paper on the regulation of chemicals in products.

In an opinion adopted at a regular meeting last month but published on Friday, the Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products says carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances (CMRs) "represent a health hazard...of concern to...the consumer...and ought not to be present in cosmetics." In consequence, the committee says, they "must not be intentionally added" to products.

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Girl applies a cosmetic mask (Photo courtesy Colipa)
It is not yet clear how many ingredients of cosmetics products such a move would affect, but it could be significant. A spokesperson for the committee declined to comment on the opinion Monday.

The move has taken the Commission off-guard. "Maybe [the committee] just wanted to put out a signal, but it could create a needless panic," an official said Monday. "We were already considering [CMRs] before this opinion," the official stressed, adding that the EU cosmetics law already prohibits dangerous products.

The European Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association Colipa has yet to respond officially, but one source claims that the committee is aiming to "overthrow the principle of risk assessment" in cosmetics legislation, even though it was "their idea" to introduce it in the first place. Colipa and its member associations represent the interests over 2,500 companies operating in the cosmetic sector in Europe.

Both Commission and industry sources say there has been no controversy over the operation of the law until now; indeed, it was recently picked out by Denmark - a stern critic of EU substance regulation - as an example of an effective EU chemicals law.

The timing of the committee's opinion is significant as EU member nations are preparing to reach a common position on proposed amendments to the cosmetics law, though these almost exclusively deal with animal testing of cosmetics. The opinion will also be seen as a contribution to the ongoing general review of EU chemicals policy, where the question of chemicals contained in products is proving a delicate issue.

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