Since the 1960s and the expansion of the consumer society in France, it has been a tradition. When a child is born, maternities offer one or several present boxes to its young parents; those boxes usually contain various samples of consumer goods that may be useful for the baby and its parents: toiletries, skincare products, disposable nappies, magazines, soap and… a lot of advertising leaflets.

Eventually, it’s no surprise that these promotional operations be on the verge of banishment. They generate a lot of packaging waste and are now found guilty to encourage useless consumption. In short: an easy target for the attacks of environmentalist action groups. However, French scientists and hospital executives gathered in the Committee for sustainable development in health (Comité pour le développement durable en santé - C2DS) have sparkled a high profile press campaign, not limiting their action to the fight against packaging wastes. Indeed, they are blaming some of the products available in these boxes, mainly the cosmetics, to be potentially harmful for the young children.

In brief, C2DS members consider that the products offered in these boxes may contain ingredients that should not be put into contact with young children. They point out substances such as: parabens, which are known endocrine disruptors, phenoxyethanol, BHT or bisphenol A. The latter was recently forbidden in the making of baby feeding bottles in Canada, but last July, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reaffirmed its safety at the existing limits. Nevertheless, claims Olivier Toma, C2DS’ president: “We have strong presumptions regarding many of these products.

For the French trade association FEBEA (Fédération des entreprises de la beauté), on the contrary, “all cosmetic products, including products for children, are submitted to a stringent regulatory framework”. On the one hand, the FEBEA explains that “proven carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic substances are prohibited for use in cosmetics” and that, on the other hand, control authorities can “whenever needed, require a market withdrawal” of any product not complying with regulations or being dangerous to health. Furthermore, “before being put on the market, all cosmetic products are submitted to a stringent safety assessment,” the FEBEA says. As far as safety assessment is concerned, the European regulation additionally requires that a specific assessment be done for each cosmetic product designed for use by children under 3 years of age.

As a leading French producer of cosmetic goods for pregnant women and for babies, the Laboratoires Expanscience, and their Mustela brand, are directly concerned. Mustela products contain only “ingredients that are authorised by the law and that comply with all legal restrictions for use,” the company said. Few months ago, the Laboratoires Expanscience precisely launched a campaign to promote their commitment towards sustainable development, declaring their will “to replace certain raw materials that are suspected to present risks for health”.

However, for C2DS members, the precautionary principle should rule ingredient issues as soon as there is any doubt. They want cosmetics to be submitted to a market authorisation, similar to the one applicable to pharmaceutical products.

But their views are far from being shared by all of the other scientists questioned on the issue. Some of them consider that the C2DS’ views go far beyond current scientific knowledge, and also that there is a confusion between the potential danger linked to a substance, and the risk associated to the use of this same substance under specific conditions. Risk is precisely what can be evaluated and reduced, in particular through exposure rules. That’s a complex debate, which from the consumer’s point of view, is probably a source of perplexity.

In the meantime, C2DS carries on its fight and campaigns maternities to convince them to stop distributing present boxes.