While it is still not included in the agenda of the Senate, the bill proposed by Yvan Lachaud (an MP from the ’Nouveau Centre’ party, centre right), adopted on first reading by the National Assembly with the aim to ban the use of phthalates, parabens and alkylphenols in consumer goods, continues to cause some turmoil in France and Europe.

The cosmetics industry is divided

If, after the vote, the UIC (Union of Chemical Industries) expressed its feeling of "utter incomprehension", and the industry of plasticizers, represented by the ECPI (European Council for Plasticizers and Intermediates), was pinpointing at a proposal "scientifically unjustified and unenforceable in practice" and which was offering "more drawbacks than solutions", representatives from the cosmetics industry were for their part, much more cautious in their reactions.

Thus, to date, the FEBEA (the French trade association representing manufacturers specialised in beauty products) expressed no opinion whatsoever on the subject, merely relaying on the site ParlonsCosmetiques.com an interview with Marc Mortureux, the Director General of the Anses [1] stressing on the fact that "the levels of exposure to these substances and the risks they may pose are highly contrasted".

The discretion was the same at the Colipa, the European cosmetics association, which issued no general statement on the subject. “All ingredients, including parabens, are screened by top experts. The use levels recommended by the SCCS (the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) in their latest Opinion on the safety of parabens in cosmetic products [2], reflect to a great extent current use practice in cosmetic products on the EU market,” Bertil Heerink, Colipa Director-General, told Premium Beauty News.

The organization, which represents manufacturers with the European authorities, however, alerted the Commission via the Directorate General for Health and Consumers, on the incompatibility of the proposed Lachaud bill with European regulations.

But it’s probably through the stand taken by the COSMED, the association of French SMEs in the cosmetics industry, that the embarrassment of this industry seemed the most visible. In a lengthy statement published on its website, the COSMED expressed its concerns about a proposed bill that would cause "an immediate detriment to the cosmetics industry", but also believed that it "could also be regarded as visionary". In fact, the association took note of consumers doubts and believed that scientific expertise alone would not be sufficient to alleviate them. "in spite of its flaws and even in the case of its possible withdrawal, this proposed bill will clearly play a role in accelerating the finding of alternative solutions acceptable to all, as well as by launching the necessary dialogue to be engaged with consumers".

Eventually, COSMED asked for time: the association called for the rejection of the proposed bill while announcing "a total or partial abandonment of parabens by the trade itself provided alternative solutions were made available on the market". Indeed, the abandonment of parabens would represent a considerable and yet probably impossible effort to achieve for most brands. COSMED thus noted that the relative success encountered with paraben-free cosmetic lines most often resulted from products which were designed with this in mind, and more rarely through the reformulation of existing lines.

The controversy is extending to medicines

In its edition dated May 24, 2011, the French newspaper, Le Monde reported having identified about 400 medicines containing parabens and published a list of them on its website lemonde.fr.

The list includes all sorts of products, such as creams like Biafine; many cough syrups (Clarix, Codotussyl, Drill, Hexapneumine, Humex, Pectosan, Rhinathiol); gastrointestinal protectants (Maalox, Gaviscon); treatment for intestinal transit disorders (Motilium) or against nausea and vomiting (Primpéran); oral suspension forms of cardiovascular medicines (Cozaar, Vastarel) or of antibiotics (Josacine, Zinnat); medicines against pain and fever (generic forms of ibuprofène and paracétamol) treatment against asthenia (Sargenor).

Is this extension of the debate, beyond the cosmetics industry, likely to change its nature? It is possible because medicines do not share the same status as cosmetics, in the minds of consumers not to mention the ones of MPs.