Butylphenyl methylpropional, also known as lilial or lily aldehyde, is a synthetic fragrance material that has been banned in cosmetic products (EU and UK) as of 1st March 2022.
What are the benefits of butylphenyl methylpropional?
It diffuses a strong floral scent, reminiscent of a fragrant bouquet full of lilies and lily of the valley. Due to the very delicate nature of these two flowers, their perfumes are very difficult to extract by distillation or solvents, it is even impossible with the lily of the valley. This is why scientists tried to develop synthetic molecules that would replicate their very popular scents and resulted in a compound called hydroxycitronellal, which was patented in the early 20th century. Although this became a very popular perfume material, still used today, a group of scientists continued to explore the possibilities of this type of floral scents and created a new molecule in 1946 trademarked lilial.
Along with 25 other fragrance substances, butylphenyl methylpropional has been classified as an allergen by the EU and other global bodies. This meant that, before the ban, it was a substance commonly found in perfumes that was more likely to cause allergic reactions in the form of skin irritation. As such, its use in cosmetics was restricted, and it had to be declared in the product's ingredient list if it exceeded a certain limit.
In May 2019, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) published an opinion concluding that butylphenyl methylpropional could not be considered safe for use in cosmetics. In a nutshell, they concluded that individual concentrations did not present risk, but in case people layered different products containing lilial, the added exposure could present risks, more specifically skin sensitisation and reproductive toxicity. As a result of these concerns, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has classified the molecule as a CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic) material, due to the potential reproductive toxicity from aggregated use, and as such has been banned from cosmetics as of 1st March 2022.
Lush has been using butylphenyl methylpropional in some of its fragrances for years, thoroughly following regulations and usage recommendations. Since 2019, aware of the upcoming ban, Lush inventors have carefully reformulated these perfumes. It was a long process that ended in the summer of 2021. Still, it took a little longer to see the changes in the stores, the time for the last batches of perfume to be sold, and the old labels to be used.
Reformulating products is one of the most challenging tasks at Lush and can take a lot of time and effort. Customers expect a certain smell, performance and consistency in the products they know and love. It is also important that any substitutes are safe and maintain the quality of the product. Some alternatives worked for certain scents, not for others. The ban had a long horizon which allowed us to find the balance between quickly reformulating and doing it with enough care to still provide customers with the experience they are used to.
Finally, although the ban of March 2022 only applies to the European Union and the United Kingdom, Lush has chosen to extend the change to all of its products sold worldwide.
Safety and human-relevant testing
At Lush, we manufacture our own product fragrances, which is quite rare as cosmetics companies usually purchase them from an external perfume house. We carefully select and source natural and synthetic aromatic ingredients and comply with legislation and recommendations from bodies like the International Fragrance Association (IFRA). We also do our own testing to ensure they are safe for cosmetic use within our standards.
Indeed, Lush has always opposed animal testing and does not rely on it. Butylphenyl methylpropional, for example, was banned on the back of cruel animal tests, such as the LD50. For more than a decade, we have worked with XCellR8, an animal-free laboratory with in vitro testing methods, to conduct our own research and create a cruelty-free database. In these tests, butylphenyl methylpropional was found to be a minimal sensitiser with a moderate risk of genotoxicity. More specifically, the material appears to be genotoxic in a test applied to 2D cells, but if metabolic enzymes (like those present in our bodies) are introduced, it is no longer genotoxic. It is therefore likely that the same would happen when used as part of a cosmetic routine. We did not perform any further toxicity testing because the material was already banned and we switched our focus to reformulating the product.
Of course, safety in cosmetics is essential and, at Lush, we welcome precautionary bans such as this one, but are critical of the methods, based on cruel animal tests with problematic accuracy. You can learn more about Lush’s fight against animal testing here and about the Lush Prize, a global prize fund that supports initiatives to end or replace animal testing, here.