In March of 2019, I came across Ecoleaf Hand Soap, produced and marketed by Suma.
The ingredients listed benzisothiazolinone as preservative.
Benzisothiazolinone is not approved for use as a preservative in cosmetics in the EU.
I wrote to Suma to alert them to this, and that the product should be withdrawn.
This is the response from their Customer Information representative, on 2nd April, lightly edited to include only the relevant parts:
“Handwash is not considered a cosmetic as it rinsed off immediately. It’s also not banned in cosmetics”
Both these statements are incorrect.
Here is the EU’s definition of a cosmetic, from which it can easily and rightly be deduced that hand soap is a cosmetic:
‘cosmetic product’ means any substance or mixture intended to be placed in contact with the external parts of the human body (epidermis, hair system, nails, lips and external genital organs) or with the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity with a view exclusively or mainly to cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance, protecting them, keeping them in good condition or correcting body odours
And here is the list of the EU’s legally approved preservatives, on which you will not find benzisothiazolinone (but will find both methylisothiazolinone, and the methylisothiazolinone / methylchloroisothiazolinone blend, both still permitted in the EU in rinse-off products).
I pointed these two errors out to Suma.
I heard nothing more.
I decided to contact the CTPA — the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, which represents the breadth of the cosmetic industry, but has no enforcement powers. The CTPA got in touch with Suma and told me that discussions were underway. I followed up in May, and in June, and heard nothing, and in August asked to speak with someone at the organisation.
This was agreed to. I spoke with their Head of Scientific Services, who told me that Suma had been advised that benzisothiazolinone was an inappropriate preservative for hand soap.
Back I went to Suma. I asked why the product had not been withdrawn. No answer to that. Life got in the way, and I let it slip.
Last month I flagged the issue to Trading Standards, who told me to file a formal complaint with Suma. Why substantial onus often seems to fall on the consumer in matters of labelling and illegality I really don’t know. (It is something I have also experienced recently with problem food labelling at Morrisons, which you can read about on my Allergy Insight website here.)
Now, December, I emailed Suma again. I noted that the product was still for sale, still with benzisothiazolinone, eight months after I first alerted the brand to the problem. The response:
It turns out that we’ve had some behind-the-scenes workings on this. All new Liquid Hand Soap has had the benzisothiazolinone taken out … we have been in constant touch with the CTPA and they are satisfied that we have changed … We need to change the information on the website …
Today they have corrected it. And that is that. I presume the old form of the product is still in circulation, perhaps still on some shelves, since no recall has been submitted, and I received no acknowledgment from Suma for their errors, nor apology from them for risking the health of the isothiazolinone-allergic community with this product.
I am angry with myself for not conveying this publicly sooner. I wanted to give Suma — a brand with a superb ethical reputation — the chance to do the right thing.
They didn’t do the right thing, or at least, not soon enough. They were poorly informed, their formulator used a non-compliant preservative, and they were slow to act or recognise the seriousness of the situation.
I’m not sure how I will report a non-compliant cosmetic should I spot one in future — and I still feel it is unclear how consumers are meant to best do this — but I intend to alert relevant communities to it far sooner next time.