Friends of the Earth Germany (Bund) will extend its personal care products and cosmetics app ToxFox to children’s products in June. It will include toys, outdoor products and school materials.
"We will incorporate the 'right to know' provisions of REACH Article 33: consumers will be able to scan a product and send an automated email to the manufacturer to ask them about SVHCs," Ulrike Kallee, Bund senior toxics campaigner, told Chemical Watch.
Bund will store company responses in a Bund database. This will grow with each information request. It says the system is similar to the Danish Tjek Kemien app.
Bund launched the ToxFox iOS app in 2013. It enables consumers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to scan cosmetic products' bar codes for information on the presence of suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
The app was extended to Android devices in September 2014. Since March 2015, downloads have doubled to 900,000.
Bund’s campaign focus is on encouraging companies to remove parabens from cosmetics because, the NGO says, they are possible EDCs.
From its list of "Tox Ten" products – those frequently scanned by consumers and that still contain certain parabens – three are now available without preservatives, Bund says.
Some brands, such as Nivea have substituted parabens in some of their popular products. Others, though, still contain the preservative. "But there is certainly a shift in the industry towards EDC-free cosmetics," Kallee said.
'No scientific evidence'
The German Cosmetics Association (IKW) says that although certain organisations claim to have new references available on the hormone-like activity of substances, which they consider as proof for harmful health effects, "there is no generally accepted evidence in science for such an observation".
In an article on its website, it adds that the selection criteria of Bund used for its ToxFox campaign "are completely inappropriate as an orientation aid for consumers and, therefore, lead to unjustified uncertainties."
The EDCs rated in the ToxFox app were chosen because they are on the EU Endocrine Disruptors priority list (category 1), Bund says.
The priority list of chemicals developed within the EU-Strategy for Endocrine Disruptors is used to prioritise further detailed review of the information. However, the listings produced are not regarded as final and unchangeable. Category 1 is evidence of endocrine-disrupting activity in at least one species using intact animals.
IKW says that the priority list shows that for classification as endocrine – that is a substance comparable to hormones – an individual assessment of each substance needs to be carried out.
"The relevant ingredients which are assessed negatively in the Bund campaign have already been assessed by the scientific advisory body of the European Commission and have been considered as safe for use in cosmetic products and hence not as 'provably hazardous'. These substances have a very weak effect," IKW says. No actual influence on the hormone balance in the human body has been proven, it adds.
Bund says that parabens are known to be estrogenic in vitro and in uterotrophic assays in vivo and are therefore on the list.
"Parabens are easily absorbed through the skin. Consumers are exposed to several EDCs in all kinds of products on a daily basis. This 'cocktail effect' is not yet included into the legislation [even though] there are plenty of alternatives on the market," Ms Kallee said.