Cosmetics Europe: ‘Free from’ guidance should create level playing field in EU

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

Guidance on 'free from' cosmetics claims is in 'the interest of consumers', says Cosmetics Europe (Getty Images)
Guidance on 'free from' cosmetics claims is in 'the interest of consumers', says Cosmetics Europe (Getty Images)

Related tags: Free From, European union, Regulation, guidance, cosmetics claims, compliance, Cosmetics europe, Cosmetics, European commission, Cosmetics industry

EU ‘free from’ guidance helps clarify the legal framework behind cosmetic claims and should create a fairer European beauty and personal care market, says the director-general of Cosmetics Europe.

This July, a guidance document came into force for making cosmetic claims - the Technical document on cosmetic claims​ ​from the Sub-Working Group on Claims, part of the European Commission’s advisory group the Working Group on Cosmetics Products. The guidance was compiled in response to concerns around cosmetic product claim substantiation, particularly around ‘free from’ which was now specifically addressed in Annex III.

A ‘helpful’ document to defend regulation

John Chave, director-general, Cosmetics Europe
John Chave, director-general, Cosmetics Europe

John Chave, director-general of Cosmetics Europe, the European trade association for the cosmetics and personal care industry, said industry was “broadly supportive”​ of the guidance.

“The guidance is there to create a level playing field and clarity, particularly in the area of enforcement,”​ Chave told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.

“We really need to defend the regulation and make sure our use of ingredients is properly understood and I think the technical guidance is helpful in that way,”​ he said.

Speaking from Bulgaria, where Cosmetics Europe was holding a member’s meeting this week, Chave said if the guidance succeeded in achieving its goal, it would be a “net positive”​ for industry. However, it would likely take some time before the true impact ‘on the ground’ was fully understood, he said.

At our meeting, we’ll be talking about the attitude being taken by enforcement authorities because that is, in a sense, what it all boils down to."

Clarifying ‘fairly broad brush’ criteria

Chave said while the technical document was a guidance, not a regulation, it remained “firmly rooted in a legal framework”​ and was there to “help cast some light”​ on current regulations already in place [Commission Regulation (EC) No 655/2013​]. 

The common criteria within the regulation are 'fairly broad brush', says Chave
The common criteria within the regulation are 'fairly broad brush', says Chave

“You do have regulation around common criteria; it’s fairly broad brush and perhaps inevitably those concepts are open to interpretation when you try to enforce claims on the ground. The guide is there as an attempt to remove the confusion about these principles,” ​he said. “…With good will and common sense all round, the new guidance does bring new clarity to the common criteria." 

Six Common Criteria in Cosmetics Claims Regulation

. Legal Compliance

. Truthfulness

. Evidential Support

. Honesty

. Fairness

. Informed decision-making

It also made certain ‘free from’ claims harder to make, Chave said, particularly “more controversial ‘free from’ claims” ​like those claiming to be free of approved and safe-to-use ingredients; parabens was just one example.

“We have really sophisticated regulations in Europe, the most sophisticated in the world, so consumers can be confident safety is taken extremely seriously by regulation and it’s built in and a necessity for industry. If there is too much suggestion that ingredients which have been approved for safe use are not safe, people are going to ask: ‘why do we have regulations in the first place?’

“Moving beyond the industry perspective, into the interest of consumers, it’s primarily about consumers having better, more reliable information and an honest and open relationship with their product,” ​Chave said.

Asked if the guidance had created more confusion, the he said: “From where we’re sitting, it’s too soon to say. This is certainly not the message we’re getting from members, but it may take some time for a firmer view of this; time for this to be more firmly established once enforcement authorities have started to look at it on the ground.”

‘We need to spread information about the guidance as much as possible’

Cosmetics Europe, along with its local association network, had already introduced its own guidance setting out key principals and objectives for industry to follow around making cosmetic claims. It had also set up numerous outreach seminars that would likely be continued moving forward. 

This guidance needs to be communicated to all industry players, from big multinationals to smaller SMEs, says Chave
This guidance needs to be communicated to all industry players, from big multinationals to smaller SMEs, says Chave

“Obviously, if we’re going to achieve the aim that industry wants – to bring more clarity and a level playing field – we need to spread information about the guidance as much as possible.”

Importantly, Chave said this guidance was relevant to all of Europe’s beauty and personal care industry, from the larger multinationals right through to the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), of which there were more than 5,000 in Europe alone.

“We’ll carry on this conversation with our broader membership going forward and also through our periodic meetings, either with the European Commission or through the Working Group, about what has been good, successful and areas that could be improved for the future. We would hope to do that. We want what is best for the consumer.”

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