PHMB and beauty products that do more harm than good


This past week PHMB (Polyaminopropyl Biguanide) has made the headlines here in Finland and in Europe. This ingredient has been classified as a category 2 carcinogenic agent by the European Union and is banned since January 2015 in personal care products. A category 2 classification means that the agent is suspected of causing cancer. Unfortunately PHMB is still found in beauty products such as makeup removers, creams and lotions. One would think that there is some older products just hanging at the back of the shelves at cosmetic departments, simply forgotten and mixed together with the newer bottles with their renewed formulas. The fuss here started because these companies who had PHMB in their products, have denied the health risks and refused to remove the products from the market.  L'Oreal, Vichy, Nivea, Maybelline, Biotherm, Clinique... Just to name a few who still have this ingredient in their products after the ban. As soon as CosmEthics revealed the list of nearly 300 products including PHMB, social media went crazy. You can download the beautiful excel file from their website too and see yourself.

Nivea Product with PHMB
Nivea Product with PHMB

I went through my beauty cabinet and noticed two versions of Nivea's Daily Essential Eye Make-Up Remover there, which is one of the products on the list. I have noticed mild irritation when using this product. Which surprises me as the reason I originally bought it was the label: "Sensitive Eye Area" and "Gentle" The 2nd bottle I have received as a gift, otherwise I probably wouldn't have bought the item myself. The one at right that says "New Bottle, New Formula" on the lid is purchased late last year (2015) and doesn't have PHMB in it. The item has way shorter INCI -list too when compared to the bottle on the left has been purchased about 3 years ago. As CosmEthics notes "Some compositions may have changed (to comply with the law) or discontinued. However, they might still be available for sale with the older composition."  To read more about PHMB and the responses from the manufacturers, click through the sources list at the end of this entry.

I originally started boycotting products with way too long INCI -lists and absurd chemical names that I can hardly spell after I found out that SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) was one of the main ingredients triggering my eczema breakouts. Even SLS causes cancer but it is not banned. I still have a lot of cleaning (and learning) to do within my cosmetics, but I am very cautious of the INCI list behind the bottles.

When the news about PHMB first hit my twitter feed, I was only more confirmed that I should invest in more natural products with eco certifications and so on. Or why not, start making more of my beauty products by myself at home.

There is multiple ingredients in our personal care products that are irritating, allergenic, cancerous... yet they have not been banned. Like SLS. Even though, the marketing industry seems to boost their sales with "No Parabens, no sulfates" etc type of labeling. The situation is worse in the United States. In Europe thousands of chemicals are banned that are still ok in the US.

The EU has a list of 1,377 chemicals banned from use in cosmetics. In the USA, only 11 chemicals are banned from use in cosmetics, and lead is still used in lipstick. The huge differences in standards that produce such different outcomes are also present in animal testing. - link.

In the US, you don't have to list all the ingredients in the label unlike here in Europe, you do. At least for now it is pretty safe to buy your cosmetics in Europe but that might change in the future.

Websites to help learn about the ingredients in your cosmetics:

Cosdna - Cosmetics analyzer for irritation CosmEthics - An app to track the ingredients in your cosmetics EWG SkinDeep - Cosmetics Database to protect human health and the environment

Let me know if you know other websites like that!

The trend of making cosmetics more natural and eco-friendly is amazing and the knowledge among consumers is higher. But the other side of the coin is the advertising. Less educated consumer will buy the product that says "Natural" without knowing what actually is the definition of natural in the product. In worst cases the 'natural' part of the product is barely 1%. Just like the "No Sulfates" advertising in hair conditioners. Sulfates are foaming agents and hair conditioners have never had sulfates in the first place, simply for the reason that they don't need to foam. The fact that something isn't there, doesn't mean that the product is better.

As bloggers react to the PHMB in Europe, a woman from the United States is filing a law-suit against EOS lip balm after a serious skin reaction. Obviously the easiest way to discontinue the use of a harmful product, is when it gives you a reaction. But what if the reaction won't show until years later in the form of cancer?

I don't see "No PHMB" type of advertising happening any time soon but this entire topic should make us be more aware about what we put in our bodies through the pores of our skin. Even if I am now going to pour my eye make-up remover from Nivea down the drain, it doesn't mean that I am now safe from toxic cosmetics. We should be more aware and read between the lines of our beauty products' labels that make more too-good-to-be-true promises than your ex after you are done fighting.

The name of this blog entry could've also been "MI (Methylisothiazolinone) and beauty products that do more harm than good" or any other chemical that has been advised not to be used in cosmetics. The never-ending "Don't use products with alcohol, silicone..." etc. really has no easy solution. The research you should do about the ingredients in your daily beauty products is time consuming but worth it. Another option is to opt out to brands that have actually been certified as being ecological and organic. Europe has multiple certifications for organic skincare/cosmetics but the US has none specifically for cosmetics. Your next choice is to make your personal care products by yourself at home.


Check your beauty products for the presence of polyaminopropyl biguanide and throw them away, since L'Oreal disagrees about the health risks and won't help you out in this. Be cautious of long INCI -lists in your personal care products. Learn more about the chemicals used in your beauty products. Ignorance is bliss, but might be cancerous in the long run. Try out natural and organic products. Unfortunately that requires research too as false advertisement can possibly take you further away from natural than you would think. If reading the labels of organic beauty products gives you headache your last option is to make your cosmetics by yourself. But is the honey and sugar you get from your closest grocery store too processed and what about sugar being an addicting drug, is anything to be trusted at all.