September 2, 2015 Trends

Controversial cosmetic ingredients: what consumers think

In June 2015, CosmeticOBS-L'Observatoire des Cosmétiques conducted a survey of its web users on controversial cosmetic ingredients*. Which ones are best known and identified? What are they reproached for? Lack of information and evaluation of packaging indications, guarantees of organic labels, requests for bans and alternatives… Here are the first results.

Parabens: the most well-known, recognized, and controversial

Parabens are the cosmetic ingredients that have received the most media coverage since 2005, and they are the most well-known among those pointed out as harmful, as 98.5% of survey respondents state they know them, ahead of aluminium salts (95.7%), silicones (93.9%), and UV-filters (86.1%).
They are also part of the best recognized controversial actives, along with methylisothiazolinone and phenoxyethanol, as consumers can spot them in the lists of ingredients: 81.5% of the people surveyed rightly identify them as preservatives, and they are mainly reproached for being endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. If 80% of the participants think there are substitutes available to replace them in beauty products, only 48.6% wish they were completely banned.
In the consumer barometer of the ingredients deemed the most controversial, parabens are ranked 5th, with a score of 80.6%. They are behind formaldehyde and formol releasers (91%), methylisothiazolinone (90.2%), aluminium salts (88.1%), and triclosan (84.1%).

Lack of information on controversial ingredients

Despite the numerous issues covered by the media, mainly on television and the Internet, only 17.6% of the people surveyed declare they think they are informed enough by the press on the controversial ingredients used in beauty products. This score is confirmed by the low percentage of respondents considering they are globally well informed on the actives present in cosmetics (25.6%).

Absence of controversial ingredients: an additional purchase criterion

People are still dreaming of healthy beauty products free from substances harmful for the skin, health, and the environment: for 76.4% of survey participants, the absence of any controversial ingredients in a cosmetic product is an additional purchase criterion.
69.7% consider the indications on the packaging meant to inform of their absence in the product are necessary or sufficient. Nevertheless, 20.4% note that these claims amount to greenwashing, and 9.9% think they are too present or useless.

Organic labels do not guarantee the absence of controversial ingredients

Consumers think organic labels are not reassuring enough regarding the absence of toxic substances in cosmetic formulas: 66.2% of the people surveyed actually question their charters, which do authorize a few controversial ingredients like sulphates or alum.
By contrast, 76.6% of the respondents declare they are favourable to a label or some kind of labelling indicating the toxicity of cosmetics, just like what has been done with the energy labels for electrical appliances, cars, or real estate.


The results were taken from a survey of CosmeticOBS-L'Observatoire des Cosmétiques web users on controversial cosmetic ingredients (parabens, phenoxyethanol, methylisothiazolinone, aluminium salts, triclosan, formaldehyde and formol releasers, silicones, sulphates, mineral oils, UV-filters…) conducted from June 1 to 30, 2015, via an online questionnaire.
Among the 535 respondents aged 15 and over, 90.1% live in France (and 96.4% in French-speaking European countries) and 92% are women.
57.9% have an average monthly budget for cosmetics of 21 to 50 euros.
61.1% declare they have already experienced a skin reaction following the use of a cosmetic product, and 63.2% consider they are not sensitive/allergic to a particular cosmetic ingredient.

The detailed results of the whole survey are available in the PRO Section (access limited to subscribers)

© CosmeticOBS-L'Observatoire des Cosmétiques
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