Cosmetics from outside the EU Is potentially harmful
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Cosmetics from outside the EU Is potentially harmful

Face masks, lip balms, hair oils, and creams from online shops outside EU may contain problematic substances such as PFAS or parabens, or even substances that aren´t allowed within EU.

Katja Ravn · 22. september 2023
care products

When purchasing cosmetics and skincare products from online shops outside the EU, you cannot rely on them adhering to the current regulations in EU.

This means that the products may contain illegal and potentially harmful ingredients, such as hormone disruptors or substances particularly harmful to the environment.

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals purchased 47 different popular products on the market, such as hair oils, face masks, and serums, and examined whether they had an ingredient list and for the presence of unwanted chemicals.

We purchased from these online shops:

  • Wish
  • Shine
  • AliExpress
  • Stylekorean

Ingredient lists are often missing

Our test of 47 cosmetic products shows that nearly 40 percent of the products do not have an ingredient list, which is a requirement in the EU for cosmetics and skincare.

Some have no information about their contents at all, while others have a list in Chinese or Korean, or with only some ingredients listed.

"When many of these products lack an ingredient list, it means you really don't know what's in them. The product may contain suspected endocrine disrupters, allergenic substances, or even chemical substances that are not allowed in the EU. Always buy your cosmetics and skincare products within the EU. Then you are protected by EU cosmetic regulations," says Christel Søgaard Kirkeby, project leader at the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals.

If you, as a consumer, buy a cosmetic product from an online platform outside the EU, you have no protection against unwanted chemicals that may be illegal in the EU.

Therefore, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency also recommends that you buy your products within the EU.

"The cosmetics legislation in the EU requires a high level of protection for human health, which may not necessarily apply to products outside the EU," says Grete Lottrup Lotus, Head of the Chemicals and Biocides Division at the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.

Unwanted chemicals in every third product with a declaration

When we look at the products that actually have ingredient lists, every third product contains unwanted chemicals that receive the lowest chemical rating, the C-rating.

These may include suspected endocrine disrupters, allergenic substances, or PFAS. The rest of the products receive a B-rating – the medium rating. None of the products obtained the best rating.

A hair oil from, for example, contains the substance colecalciferol, which is prohibited in cosmetics and skincare in the EU.

How to avoid unwanted chemicals

A good piece of advice is not to buy cosmetics and skincare outside the EU.

When buying cosmetics online, it's a good idea to check whether the webshop is located within or outside the EU.

You can also:

  • Choose cosmetics and skincare products with ecolabels and allergy labels.
  • Choose products without perfume.
  • Select products with an A-rating in the Kemiluppen app (available in Denmark).

About the test

  • The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals purchased a range of different skin and hair products from online platforms located outside the EU. These platforms include:

    • Wish
    • Shein
    • Amazon
    • Stylekorean
    • AliExpress

    We looked at whether the products had an ingredient list and whether there were problematic substances listed on the ingredient list.

    We did not analyze the content of the products.

    The companies have been informed of the test results.

  • We purchased 47 products. Here's how they break down:

    • 10 products contain unwanted chemicals and receive the lowest rating, C-rating.
    • 18 products lack a complete ingredient list and also receive a C-rating.
    • 19 products contain perfume or environmentally damaging substances and receive a medium rating, B-rating.
    • 1 of the products in the test contains a substance that is not allowed in the EU.
    • None of the products receive the best chemical rating, A-rating.

    Prohibited substance

    Cholecalciferol – a substance that is not allowed in cosmetics and skincare in the EU. The substance was found in 1 product in the test. Amazon has withdrawn the hair oil from the European market.


    Suspected endocrine disruptors

    We have found suspected endocrine disruptors in a total of 6 products.

    • Ethylhexyl salicylate
    • Octocryle
    • Homosalate
    • Cyclopentasiloxane
    • Methylparaben
    • BHT

    Allergenic preservative

    Methylisothiazolinone was found in 1 product.

    Particularly environmentally damaging substances

    We found PFAS in 2 products in the test. PFAS are environmentally problematic and can be harmful to health. The two products contain the substances Perfluorohexane, Perfluorodecalin, Pentafluoropropane, Methyl perfluoroisobutyl ether, and Methyl perfluorobutyl ether.

    We also found cyclic siloxanes in 3 products, including Cyclohexasiloxane in 2 products and Cyclopentasiloxane in 2 products.