In March 2022, an ingredient called lilial made headlines as it was formally banned from cosmetics products in the EU after the European Commission found the substance to be a potential reproductive toxin. This conclusion was formed as a result of animal studies.
In the wake of this news, Olaplex was thrust into the spotlight as it once contained lilial in its very popular No. 3 Hair Perfector. As of 2022, the brand no longer uses the ingredient.
“Medical experts have confirmed that the trace amount of lilial that had been used in our No. 3 Hair Perfector for added fragrance—not as an active or functional ingredient—isn’t harmful,” Olaplex tells Verywell Family in a statement. "However, we stopped producing and distributing products containing lilial, out of respect for any potential concerns our customers may have. Consumer trust is of the utmost importance to us."
While lilial is not currently banned in the U.S., it's understandable to have concerns, based on recent headlines. We turned to cosmetic chemists and an OB/GYN to find out whether or not people should be worried about products with this ingredient.
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What Is Olaplex?
Olaplex is a haircare line of shampoos, conditioners, and treatments, mainly used to nourish and heal damaged hair. It’s long been touted by celebrities and used in salons, particularly for clients that routinely color or bleach their hair.
The brand’s products have won multiple Allure Beauty Awards and their No. 3 Hair Perfector, which once contained lilial but currently does not, is one of the best-selling hair products in the world. Their range of products is free of parabens and phthalates, and is also vegan and gluten free.
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What Is Lilial?
Lilial is typically used in cosmetics as a fragrance, not as an active ingredient.
“Lilial is a synthetic fragrance compound and a chemical known as butylphenyl methylpropional used to enhance the fragrance of cosmetic and non-cosmetic products,” says David Petrillo, cosmetic chemist and founder of Perfect Image. “It is also used in common household cleaning products and perfumes.”
Because the study showed links between the compound and reproductive issues in rats, lilial has been banned in certain countries.
“Butylphenyl Methylpropional (Lilial) could be related to fertility issues,” says Yehiel Amouyal, Cosmetic Chemist at Bryhel Cosmetic Labs. “This chemical compound has been widely used for decades and in various products worldwide. Its use was banned in the EU in March 2022 and has also been banned from Israeli regulations.”
It’s not the first—or the last—popular cosmetic ingredient to come under the spotlight.
“Parabens are also hormone disruptors which are still in many beauty products being sold today,” says Petrillo. “Look at labels and ingredients to make sure they do not contain any. There still needs to be further studies conducted, but it may be best to proceed with caution. Many brands have already opted to not use these ingredients, but there are still plenty who do."
Other ingredients to be mindful of are phthalates, which Petrillo says can be inhaled or absorbed, and can be found in certain chemical sunscreens. “Chemical actives, such as Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, are in many big brands," explains Petrillo. "They can be absorbed into the skin and have a history of causing many side effects, including hormone disruptors."
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What If I Used A Product With Lilial in the Past?
There is likely little cause for concern if you have used something with lilal in the past.
“Since it is a fragrance, it will be added in a very low concentration, most likely under 0.1%,” explains Petrillo. “The study [in question] used highly absorbing solvents such as ethanol, which is going to penetrate the skin more aggressively. Additionally, the absorption rate is far lower in humans compared to rats, and the study said the applied dosage was excreted within 24 hours, where it was below the detection limit.”
Petrillo does note that more testing needs to happen to draw an accurate conclusion about a link between this ingredient and infertility.
Defne Arikan, founder ofBryhel Cosmetic Labs, also points out that there's a difference between everyday hygiene products and those that might be reserved for occasional use. “Everything is about the level of exposure, in addition to the period, which defines the potential danger," Arikan adds.
Although it’s not currently banned in the U.S., our experts do agree that lilial should be avoided out of an abundance of caution.
Does Olaplex Cause Infertility?
No, Olaplex does not cause infertility. Although more scientific studies are needed to determine a human connection between lilial and infertility, using shampoo, which is washed out, is unlikely to cause harm.
“Endocrine disruptors are widely present in our environment,” says Arikan. “We absorb them daily, mainly through food and skin.However, there is a difference between ingesting and applying on the skin or scalp.”
We have “thick skin” on purpose, to protect us and keep harmful things out of our bodies.
“There are problems with some ingredients, and it is rightly banned to protect consumers, but anyone using Olaplex will not face infertility. It's better to avoid ingredients that can harm us but again, it is all a matter of measurement. Only repeated exposure to endocrine disruptors or too high a dosage is dangerous,” says Arikan.
Safety Precautions to Keep in Mind While Pregnant
With cosmetics and beauty in general, a lot is unknown since there aren't many studies done on pregnant people.
“It is important to remember that there are very few randomized controlled studies (RCT) performed on pregnant women,” says James A. Gohar, MD, CEO and OB/GYN at Viva Eve. “Internationally, many societies agree that pregnancy and conception are not the best times to experiment and take uncalculated risks.As such, the medical community tends to be very conservative with products and medications while trying to conceive and during pregnancy.”
However, there are certain products and ingredients that should be avoided during pregnancy.
“Pregnant women have to be careful about what they put on their skin, as products containing potent acne-fighting ingredients—like prescription retinoids, over-the-counter retinols, hydroquinone, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid, to name a few,” says Dr. Gohar. There are more natural alternatives available, or you can temporarily switch your routine.
Fillers and Botox are not recommended during pregnancy either. Other treatments, like highlights, are generally considered safe after the first trimester.
“We recommend holding off on hair color until week 13 of your pregnancy, just to be safe,” says Dr. Gohar. “The first trimester is a time of rapid growth and development for your baby. To rest easier at night, wait until this critical period is over before reaching for the hair dye. If you do color your hair, try to do it in a well-ventilated area.”
Be sure to speak to your OB/GYN or healthcare provider about beauty treatments you are interested in while pregnant.
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A Word From Verywell
In short, Olaplex does not cause infertility. Furthermore, the ingredient in question, lilial is no longer used in the formulation of No. 3 Hair Perfector. It’s rare that an ingredient in a cosmetic, especially once that doesn’t stay on the skin or hair, such as a body wash or shampoo, could cause any harm.
However, since studies on pregnant people are very rare, it’s safest to avoid any ingredients that are known to be harmful, whether in animals or humans. If you have any concerns about ingredients in your beauty routine, be sure to reach out to your OB/GYN or healthcare provider.
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