Taiwan bans carcinogenic estrogen in cosmetics, to pull all products next July

TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday announced plans to ban certain components of estrogen- estradiol, estrone and ethinyl estradoil - in cosmetics and personal care products effective next July.

Any producing, distributing or selling of products that contain the components of estrogen may result in a fine up to NT$150,000 (S$6,514) or a fixed-term sentence of up to one year, the FDA stated.

At present, estrogen is on the list of controlled substances in Taiwan, which requires manufacturers and importers to possess a permit for its use.

The policy follows recent bans on estrogen in cosmetics by governments worldwide. The EU, the United States, Canada and mainland China have previously introduced restrictions on the substance due to concerns that it may cause cancer and contribute to pollution, said FDA division chief of medical devices and cosmetics Yeh Meng-i.

Consumer products often add estrogen to help speed up hair growth or soften skin, observed Yeh.

The FDA initiated a large-scale investigation into products of companies with the "estrogen permit." It is currently evaluating approximately 200 products to determine whether they contain the three banned estrogen components. The items include skin care products, shampoos and facial cleansers.

Products in the market under review include shampoos and hair conditioners from famed consumer brand 566 and the "hair gain shampoo" produced by pharmaceutical company IBL Co.

Cancer Risk

The World Health Organisation categorizes cancer-causing agents into four levels of risk. Estrogen is listed under the highest, where human exposure to the compound may lead to an increased risk of breast cancer or endometrial cancer, said Yen Tzung-hai, head of Clinical Toxicology division at Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital.

Also, exposure to the chemical may cause young girls to mature earlier and lead to increased feminine characteristics in boys, remarked Yeh.

Those used in cosmetic products are "endogenous estrogens" - introduced to the body from outside, said Yeh. It would have a lower risk of inducing cancer than directly taking estrogen pills.

However, it still poses significant risks for pregnant women and infants, since injuries on the surface of our skin may absorb the chemicals.

It is common for doctors to prescribe the substance for clinical treatment or to prescribe to female patients experiencing menopause or osteoporosis. Patients are informed of the side effects and risks beforehand, remarked Yeh.

Also, he stressed that such products would not be banned until July next year, so he urged the public to thoroughly check labels for estrogen compounds before purchasing over this period.

If purchased products in the home contain the substance, they should be discarded immediately, especially in households with pregnant women or infants, Yeh advised.