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Keeping people and the environment safe

An overview of the science-based approaches we use to keep consumers, workers and the environment safe

An illustration of a scientist looking through a microscope

The safety of our products is our top priority. That is why each new product innovation is evaluated systematically and scientifically by our team in the Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC). Our scientists consider any safety risks to the consumers who use our products, to the workers who make them, and to the environment to ensure all our products are safe to use.

Keeping people safe

To keep people safe, we conduct two types of consumer safety risk assessment: ingredient safety and microbiological safety. Ingredient safety assessments evaluate the potential effects an ingredient in our products could have on the body. This type of assessment ensures that all the ingredients we use are safe at the levels we use them at in our products and for the type of product we put them into.

Microbiological safety assessment focuses on the potential presence and the level of microorganisms in products. This type of assessment ensures that none of our products contain harmful levels of microbes or their toxins. Other microbiological safety assessments focus on the ability of our products to inhibit/kill undesirable microbes, whilst protecting the good ones.

SEAC scientists apply the best science available for assessing safety to make sure all our products are safe to use every day. However, it is still important to read the label on the product and follow the directions for use and any other advice given.

Ingredient safety assessment

All our ingredient consumer safety assessments are exposure-led. This means that the first thing we do when we start to assess the potential risk of a new ingredient is calculate how much of it a consumer is likely to come into contact with when they use our products.

To calculate the exposure, we need to understand what product the ingredient will be used in and how much of the ingredient is going into that product.

Different products are used by people in different ways, so each exposure scenario is unique. For example, the exposure you might get from a new ingredient in an aerosol antiperspirant is different to the exposure pattern from including a new ingredient in an ice cream.

Ingredient safety assessment ensures that all our products are safe for consumers to use.

We then identify the hazard profile of the ingredient – we look for all the potential ways in which it could be harmful. To do this we gather existing information on the ingredient or generate new data if we need to. Almost all ingredients can cause harm if you are exposed to high enough levels of them, so it is important to calculate this.

Lastly, we compare the exposure level of the ingredient in our product to the exposure level of the ingredient which is likely to cause harm – determining the overall risk to the consumer. Ingredient safety assessment ensures that all our products are safe (low risk) for consumers to use.

Exposure Hazard Risk infographic

To use an example... It is well recognised that cyanide is a chemical which is likely to cause harm. So, you wouldn’t want to eat anything that contained cyanide, right? But you might eat an apple…

Did you know that apple pips contain a small amount of cyanide? Eating 1 apple pip won’t cause you any harm at all. However, if you did eat 100 apple pips in one go this may well do you some harm.

It is through understanding the link between exposure and hazard that we can define risk. Generally, low levels of exposure lead to minimal safety risks. This explains why apples are safe to eat – even if you swallow the occasional pip!

Microbiological safety assessment

Microbiological safety assessments make sure that harmful levels of microbes such as bacteria (and the toxins that they might produce) are not present in our products. Other more complex assessments focus on the ability of our products to inhibit/kill undesirable microbes, whilst protecting the good ones. For these more complex assessments, we work closely with world-class experts to build the knowledge and science to tackle evolving problems. For example, we used a novel antimicrobial resistance (AMR) framework to assess our Lifebuoy handwashing products, which help to protect consumers from diarrhoea and respiratory diseases, particularly in developing countries.

For more information on the science behind our novel risk assessment approaches, please visit the website, where some of our external publications have been made available.

Keeping the environment safe

From shampoos to laundry detergents, many of our products are washed down the drain after they have been used and so have the potential to end up in the environment. It is important that we continually assess the environmental safety of the ingredients we use so we can be confident that they are not having an impact on rivers, lakes or other parts of the environment.

Environmental safety assessment

We use environmental safety assessments to determine any potential risk of adverse effects that could come from using and disposing of our products. Our assessments are exposure-driven: we use state-of-the-art computer modelling approaches to predict what happens to each of the ingredients once they are disposed of, and how much could end up in the environment. We consider factors influencing how much could enter the environment, such as whether the product will undergo wastewater treatment as well as whether the ingredient will biodegrade and, if so, how quickly.

Using this information of how much of an ingredient is likely to be present in the environment from our products (the environmental exposure), we then compare this against the levels of an ingredient which could potentially cause harm to the plants and animals in the environment. Only when we are confident that the levels of our ingredients in the environment are so low that they won’t cause harm will we use them in our products.

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