Olaplex and infertility – Get the facts! | Ask Doctor Anne

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I love Olaplex. I have used it faithfully for more than five years now and believe me, I was shocked when I reached for my phone one morning reading the headline: “Olaplex banned in the EU by March due to ingredients causing infertility!”

 

Olaplex hair care
Parts of the Olaplex family

 

I mean, I don’t want any more kids, but that came as a surprise. But do you – and I – really need to worry? What is the real story behind that headline?
Let me explain.

 

 

Is Olaplex really banned in the EU by March 2022?

No.

Olaplex, a hair care brand claiming to help repair bleached or otherwise damaged hair, has one product among their line that contains an ingredient called Butylphenyl Methylpropional or, in short, Ilial. This product is their No 3 Hair Perfector (100 ml for 29,95 €), their best seller and the first one to be available outside the No 1 and No 2, which are used as part of the coloring process in the salon. (More info: Is Olaplex worth the hype and how does it work?)
Only No 3 contains Ilial, which is the ingredient that will be banned for use in cosmetic products in the EU by March 1st 2022. The rest of the line is not affected.

 

What is Ilial and why are there safety concerns?

Ilial is a fragrant ingredient that is – was – commonly used in cosmetics and household products. It adds a floral note and can be found in paint, air fresheners, perfume and apparently Olaplex No 3.
The first time someone raised concern about it being potentially harmful in high concentrations was in 2015, which led to an evaluation of the existing data and then to an animal study conducted by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) starting in 2017.

In this study several animals, namely rats, mice and dogs, were fed Ilial over different periods of time and in pretty high concentrations. The data of the study was published in 2019 and showed reproductive issues in rats that were fed high concentrations of Ilial over a longer period of time, meaning they had a high cumulative exposure.

When interpreting this data, you need to keep in mind that we are not rats and we do not tend to eat our hair care, but still the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) decided to issue a ban in 2020. These bans never take effect immediately, companies do get a period of time to reformulate and sell the already existing stock – unless it is a highly dangerous situation obviously, but that isn’t the case here as we will discuss in a bit. This transition period ended on March 1st 2022, so after this date, no cosmetics containing Ilial are allowed to be sold in the EU, so no more Olaplex No 3 in the original formula.

 

Is Olaplex worth your money?
Still safe?

 

Why is it banned in the EU, but not in the US?

Very often when we talk about ingredients banned in the EU, but not in the US, you will hear that the EU is much safer and that cosmetics in the US contain potentially harmful ingredients. That is absolutely not true, it is just that the SCCS and the FDA take a different approach. In both countries it is prohibited by law to use substances that you know are harmful to consumers – apart from the fact that killing off your customer base is a pretty shitty marketing strategy anyway. In the EU, many of them are listed as banned, like for example Uranium – that isn’t listed as banned in the US, but as it is harmful, it is forbidden without being banned anyway. (More info: A doctors truth about clean beauty)

In the case of things like Ilial, the SCCS takes a very cautious approach, probably because reproductive health or potential harm done to a mother and fetus is an area where we prefer to err on the side of caution.
The thought process here is not that using one product with a low concentration of Ilial is a problem, it is more that it is, in theory, possible that through repeated exposure to Ilial by using it in your perfume, your air freshener, your paint, your hair care and your cosmetics every day, you might, again in theory, enter a zone where it could cause harm.

Very unlikely, yes, but not impossible, hence the ban.

 

So will Olaplex No 3 still be sold in the EU?

Yes, of course.

Just like many other brands that used Ilial in their formula, they took the time between 2020 and now to reformulate and create a new version of Olaplex No 3 without the Ilial. And as Ilial is part of the scent, not part of the active, that will have zero effect on performance. It might just smell a little different.

According to the brand, they have not been selling Olaplex with Ilial since January 2022 in the EU and the UK and have by now stopped using Ilial worldwide, despite it not being banned outside the EU.

That is actually not uncommon, as it is often more expensive for a company to produce two different formulations for two different markets – having one you can sell everywhere is much easier.

 

If I have used the old formula, do I need to worry?

No.

I still have some old formula left and will finish it before I purchase a new one. As I said before, we are not rats and we don’t eat our hair care – Olaplex No 3 used Ilial in as low a concentration as 0,019%, with anything below 0,1% being considered low concentration. That in a rinse off-formula applied to your hair and not designed to be absorbed through the skin is vastly different to eating high concentrations, even if you don’t take into consideration that a rat’s reproductive system is much more sensitive than a humans.

As someone that struggled with infertility for a few years I assure you I know how hard that can be and how eager you are to get an explanation or someone or something to blame. But that is a story for another day, and one that you are most likely not interested in anyway. For now, I assure you that you can keep using your Olaplex without worries, no matter if you live in the EU or in the US.

 

Olaplex and infertility - explaining the little bit of truth that led to the myth that your hair care is dangerous.
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