The Olaplex and Infertility Discussion, Explained

·6 min read
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It's completely understandable if you feel uneasy when someone claims that a certain product could interfere with your fertility. And if you're one of the many diehard fans of Olaplex, recent chatter about whether the treatment can cause fertility issues might've sent you into full-on panic mode.

If you're unfamiliar, Olaplex has a line of products that are designed to help repair and strengthen hair. Originally a salon-only treatment, Olaplex now sells at-home products such as a bonding oil, shampoo, and conditioner. One of its most popular at-home products is called Olaplex No.3 Hair Perfector, a bestselling weekly treatment that reduces breakage. Rumors making the rounds on TikTok claim that Olaplex No.3 Hair Perfector is about to be banned in the U.K. and European Union over fertility concerns.

The issue, according to TikTokkers, is an ingredient called butylphenyl methylpropional or lilial. It's not entirely clear when the topic first made its way to the app, but it seems like Hasini Kay (@hasinikay) might have kicked things off. Kay, who regularly posts about beauty and hair products on TikTok, shared a video on Sunday that says, "When you find out Olaplex is going to be banned in the EU UK next month."

In a follow-up post, @hasinikay says that "there are reports that Olaplex is being banned in the EU and the UK and that's because of this ingredient, which has been linked to infertility," before pointing to lilial on a green screen and noting that "it's in Olaplex No.3." The TikTok creator continues, "Some sources say it's already been reformulated, but if not, they're likely to reformulate before the ban comes into effect."

People promptly freaked out, and comments on the post run the gamut from the joking, "good hair > fertility," to the more serious, "@olaplex you gonna refund us all or send us new bottles? Bc this isn't okay."

Some people also chimed in that they recently purchased bottles of Olaplex No.3 and neither butylphenyl methylpropional nor lilial were listed on the ingredients list.

So, what's the deal? Here's what doctors have to say about the link between Olaplex and possible fertility issues.

What is butylphenyl methylpropional?

Butylphenyl methylpropional, aka lilial, is a type of fragrance that's used in some cosmetics and products, says Jamie Alan, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University. "It's a chemical found in some perfumes and soaps," she says.

Research conducted by the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety concluded that butylphenyl methylpropional may not be safe for use in cosmetics. The ingredient has in fact been banned for use in cosmetics in the European Union from this month forward, but Olaplex has already phased out the ingredient in advance of the deadline. "In September 2020, the EU regulatory authority announced their intent to [have] Butylphenyl methylpropional commonly referred to as 'lillial' phased out by March of 2022," Olaplex wrote in a statement to Shape. "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. While this phase out is limited to the EU, out of an abundance of caution, Olaplex proactively removed lillial from our No.3 Hair Perfector globally. Since January 2022, Olaplex no longer sold products using Lillial in the UK or EU."

Can Olaplex interfere with your fertility?

It's important to point out that no one has come forward to claim that they've experienced fertility issues that they think are due to Olaplex. Still, the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety cited a small study on rats that found that those that were exposed to high doses of butylphenyl methylpropional had ovaries that weighed less and also had overall lower weights during pregnancy than those who were not exposed to high doses of the chemical. "Alterations in reproductive organs and hormones can lead to fertility issues," says Zorimar Rivera-Núñez, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health. But, "these data come from animal models and we should use caution when extrapolating these results to humans," she adds.

It's important to note that it's possible that any topical products could interfere with your fertility, says Rivera-Núñez. "Chemicals found in personal care products can cross the epithelial barriers of the skin and reach key reproductive organs and alter biological processes that are critical for reproduction including fertility," she explains.

But Christine Greves, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando, points out that fertility is complicated. "There are a lot of confounding variables with fertility," she says. Topical products are absorbed into the skin but "less so than systemic products," says Dr. Greves. (Systemic products are things that you either ingest or inject that that then spread throughout your body.)

Pinpointing ingredients that could impact fertility is tricky, agrees Joel Batzofin, M.D., co-founder and medical director of Dreams Fertility. "Eggs may be exposed to numerous toxins over the years," says Dr. Batzofin. "Accordingly, how anyone can claim that one particular ingredient in a specific product is the specific culprit responsible for decreasing fertility is a question I have pondered for many years."

Should I stop using Olaplex?

If you have an old bottle of Olaplex with butylphenyl methylpropional or lilial listed in the ingredients, Alan advises throwing it out to be on the safe side. However the brand's stance is that the old formulation is still safe to use. "Cosmetic experts at The Cosmetic Regulator have clarified that lilial is usually present in formulations at a concentration of 0.1 per cent or less and 'is not enough to directly impact fertility,'" the brand wrote in its statement to Shape. "Olaplex previously used 0.0119% as a fragrance and as an inactive and non-functional ingredient in OLAPLEX No. 3 rinse out product. According to the Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA), 'Consumers who have bought cosmetic and personal care products that contain lilial can be reassured that these products are still safe to use. They will have undergone a rigorous safety assessment by an expert safety assessor to ensure their safe use.'

In any case, moving forward, you won't have to give up your regular Olaplex treatment or plan to hoard bottles in preparation for an imminent ban; The company has already phased out the fragrance ingredient in question.

If you're trying to conceive and this whole thing has you second-guessing your lifestyle habits, Rivera-Núñez suggests consulting the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' advice on pre-pregnancy care to make sure you're doing everything you can to be as healthy as possible while you try to get pregnant. If you have questions or concerns about specific products you use, Dr. Greves suggests asking your ob-gyn about them: "They should be able to offer up personalized guidance."