The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ Red List of Chemicals of Concern in Cosmetics was developed to provide businesses with a resource to gauge the safety of ingredients in personal care products and cosmetics. Ultimately, the list is intended to help businesses determine which cosmetic chemicals should be banned or restricted in the products they make and sell.

The Red List includes chemicals found in personal care products that pose serious, chronic health concerns including cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive and developmental harm. The list also flags chemicals that are banned or have use restrictions by the U.S. or other world governments, ingredients that adversely impact worker health, and ingredients that are widely used in products marketed to women of color.

 

The Red List includes 102 cosmetic chemical ingredients. Of these:

  • 44 are carcinogens listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and/or the California Proposition 65 list.
  • 13 have evidence linking them specifically to mammary tumors in rodents, an indicator of possible breast cancer risk.
  • 29 are endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC’s) noted by the European Commission or that show evidence of endocrine disruption in the peer-reviewed scholarly literature, as noted in the Endocrine Disruption Exchange database of endocrine disrupting compounds.
  • 18 are considered reproductive toxicants by the U.S. EPA, California Prop 65, or the European Chemicals Agency.
  • 45 may pose health hazards to workers, either in the manufacture of finished products or through the application of cosmetic products by nail and salon workers.
  • 57 are prohibited or have use restrictions in the European Union, Canada, or Japan.
  • 41 have contamination concerns for carcinogens such as formaldehyde, ethylene oxide, 1,4-dioxane, nitrosamines, arsenic, PFOA and acrylamide.
  • 22 are especially prevalent in products marketed to women of color.

 

See our Technical Guidance for support in using the Red List.

 

How We Built the Red List

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics developed the Red List by researching cosmetic chemicals of concern identified by world governments and scientific authoritative bodies, advocacy organizations or businesses actively involved in the safe cosmetics dialogue, including:

  • Mind the Store’s Hazardous 100+ List of Chemicals of High Concern
  • Black Women for Wellness
  • com’s Vine Program
  • Whole Foods Premium Body Care Standard
  • Beautycounter’s Never List
  • Ingredients reported to the California Safe Cosmetics Program

 

We selected ingredients that appeared on at least two of these lists, then researched the data on nine health endpoints and two environmental endpoints for each ingredient, which included:

  • Nine serious health hazards: 1) cancer, 2) endocrine disruption, 3) reproductive/developmental toxicity, 4) organ system toxicity, 5) neurotoxicity, 6) occupational health hazards, 7) irritation, 8) allergies/immunotoxicity, 9) biochemical/cellular changes and damage.
  • Two environmental endpoints: 1) bioaccumulation, and 2) ecotoxicity.
  • Bans and restrictions issued by four governmental entities: 1) Canada, 2) European Union, 3) US Food & Drug Administration, 4) Japan; and one trade association: International Fragrance Association.
  • Nine authoritative scientific bodies and governmental or other respected organizational listings of health effects: 1) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC); 2) European Commission on Endocrine Disruption; 3) The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), 4) the National Toxicology Program (NTP); 5) California Prop 65, Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Prop 65); 6) The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Candidate List of Substances of Very High Concern for Authorisation; 7) EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS); 8) Silent Spring Institute Mammary Gland Carcinogens Database; 9) California Safe Cosmetics Act database of carcinogens and reproductive toxins.

 

Based upon this review, we determined the criteria for inclusion in the Red List. Ingredients included in the list had strong scientific evidence of links to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive/developmental toxicity, or occupational health hazards or the potential to be contaminated with chemicals with these health concerns. Ingredient lists by IARC, NTP, The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption, TEDX, California Prop 65 or the Silent Spring Institute Mammary Gland Carcinogens Database were included.

 

Methodology

In some cases, we identified our preferred data sets in advance. This was the case for well-established, clearly articulated authoritative lists, such as those for cancer issued by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or California Proposition 65.

 

To arrive at the data sources for other health hazards, two Breast Cancer Prevention Partners researchers independently investigated whether similarly robust data sources existed to support continued inclusion of the other chemicals on the list. Once the initial research was completed for all chemicals on our list, a third researcher reviewed the data sources used. This individual looked for data sources with the strongest evidence and most consistently available data in each adverse health effect category.

 

We established primary data sources for each adverse health effect. In cases where multiple authoritative bodies or strong data sets existed, we included more than one data source as a primary, preferred data source. We then re-reviewed the data on every chemical, in a final validation and consistency check to ensure we used the same notations and links in each health effect, environmental effect, governmental and authoritative entity.

 

Regulatory Bodies and Trade Associations

Canada – Prohibited and Restricted Cosmetics Ingredients

EU – European Union Cosmetics Directive

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Japan – Standards for Cosmetics

International Fragrance Association Codes and Standards (IFRA)

 

Authoritative Scientific Bodies

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

European Commission on Endocrine Disruption

Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX)

National Toxicology Program (NTP)

California Proposition 65, Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986

EPA Designation Group

Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS)

IRIS Critical Effect Oral

IRIS Oral RfD

IRIS Critical Effect Inhalation

IRIS Inhalation RfC

Mammary Gland Carcinogens (Silent Spring Institute Review, 2007)

California Safe Cosmetics Program Product Database

 

Data PointDefinitionSources
CancerCarcinogens are agents directly involved in causing cancer.
Endocrine Disruption“Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have been defined as exogenous agents that interfere with the production, release, transport, metabolism, binding, action, or elimination of the natural hormones in the body responsible for the maintenance of homeostasis and the regulation of developmental processes.” Read more >
Developmental/
Reproductive Toxicity
Reproductive toxins are substances that adversely affect reproductive capabilities, including chromosomal damage (mutagens). Developmental toxins are substances that adversely affect the embryo or fetus. The NTP has developed levels of evidence for evaluating reproductive toxicity. Read the PDF >
Occupational HazardsOccupational hazards are exposures found in occupational settings that can lead to adverse acute and chronic health effects.
Other Health EffectsOrgan System Toxicity: Relevant toxicity tests have shown evidence of specific organ system toxicity – these can include acute and long-term effects on organ function.

Neurotoxicity: This occurs when the exposure to natural or manmade toxic substances (neurotoxicants) alters the normal activity of the nervous system. This can eventually disrupt or even kill neurons, key cells that transmit and process signals in the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Read more >

Biochemical Changes and Cellular Damage: Early precursors of disease based upon the peer-reviewed literature.

Immunotoxicity: Immunotoxicity can be divided into two broad research areas which are mutually exclusive:

  • Studies of altered hematopoietic (blood cell development) or immunologic events associated with exposure of humans and animals to chemicals.

  • Studies of immune-mediated hypersensitivity (allergy and autoimmunity) resulting from exposure to environmental chemicals or therapeutics.

Read more >
Environmental Outcomes: Bioaccumulation & EcotoxicityPersistent Organic Pollutants (POPS) are organic chemical substances, that is, they are carbon-based. They possess a particular combination of physical and chemical properties such that, once released into the environment, they:

  • Remain intact for exceptionally long periods of time (many years);

  • Become widely distributed throughout the environment as a result of natural processes involving soil, water and, most notably, air;

  • Accumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms including humans, and are found at higher concentrations at higher levels in the food chain; and

  • Are toxic to both humans and wildlife.