Does Olaplex No 3 Hair Perfector actually affect fertility? Experts weigh in

Olaplex removed lilial from its No 3 Hair Perfector following EU ban on ingredient

Meredith Clark
New York
Friday 11 March 2022 19:36 GMT

The haircare brand Olaplex has removed lilial from its popular No 3 Hair Perfector after the EU issued a ban on the ingredient. Lilial, also known as butylphenyl methylpropional, is a fragrance used in many cosmetics and household cleaning products. However, researchers found in a 2019 study that the fragrance compound “cannot be considered as safe,” as it proved to adversely affect reproductivity.

The ban on lilial caused concern on social media this week when consumers learned that the No 3 Hair Perfector contained the ingredient, with many swearing off the Olaplex brand altogether over fears that it might cause infertility issues.

However, experts believe consumers shouldn’t throw out their shampoos, conditioners and haircare products just yet, or not without doing their research at least.

In 2019, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) for the European Commission published their study on lilial. The study involved feeding animals, specifically rats, mice, and dogs, lilial over a range of short and long periods of time and in relatively high concentrations. While regulators recorded adverse effects in reproductivity in the test subjects, no studies have been conducted to assess the effect of lilial on human reproductivity.

“Lilial present in cosmetic formulations, which are not intended to penetrate through skin or hair, are highly unlikely to have a direct link to infertility,” The Cosmetic Regulator, a regulatory affairs professional who prefers to remain anonymous due to working in the industry for six years, told The Independent. “When reviewing lilial, toxicologists use a ‘margin of safety.’ This means the actual safe limit is only a fraction of what’s actually expected to cause an effect.”

Assessments of lilial’s safety have been in the works for quite some time. Inquiries began in 2015 when the SCCS, which reviews ingredients used across consumer products, published an opinion where it determined lilial was a CMR - carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic.

“This didn’t necessarily entail the ingredient was harmful and in fact, the ingredient was initially concluded to be safe until further research was done to understand potential aggregate exposure,” said Esther Olu, a cosmetic chemist and esthetician. In 2017, safety data on the ingredient was submitted to the European Chemicals Agency. From December 2017 to February 2018, the study on lilial was conducted before it was then published in 2019.

“There is such a long and thorough process all chemical substances including those used in cosmetics and household products have to go through before publishing an amendment to the regulation,” said The Cosmetic Regulator. “Whenever there is a ban, the EU cannot expect industry for all products to be taken off-shelf or reformulated immediately because it isn’t feasible, and also because of the financial aspects this could impose on existing stock worth thousands of pounds.”

In a statement to the Independent, Olaplex said it had now removed lilial from its No 3 Hair Perfector across the world, adding that Olaplex products containing lilial had not been sold in the UK since January.

“At Olaplex, lilial was previously used in small amounts as a fragrance in No 3 Hair Perfector. It is not an active or functional ingredient,” a spokesperson said.

Contrary to widespread belief, Olaplex users should not be worried that they could be infertile after using the No 3 Hair Perfector. Even though lilial was present in the product’s formula in tiny amounts - 0.1 per cent to be exact - hair products present a relatively low risk, since it is applied on the hair and does not penetrate deep into the skin, according to the Cosmetic Regulator.

Rather, the ban on lilial shows the immense power that social media has over consumer decisions. “When it comes to consumers separating fact from fiction, I suggest believing in science, and listen to the relevant experts,” Olu said.

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