FEBEA contests ‘harmful cosmetics’ list published by French National Consumer Institute mag

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

The National Consumer Institute-owned (INC) magazine 60 million de consommateurs assessed 86 cosmetic and personal care products on the French market, scoring them A-E based on health and environmental impact (Getty Images)
The National Consumer Institute-owned (INC) magazine 60 million de consommateurs assessed 86 cosmetic and personal care products on the French market, scoring them A-E based on health and environmental impact (Getty Images)

Related tags: FEBEA, Regulation, Toxicology, INCI list, safety

The French Federation for Beauty Companies (FEBEA) has denounced the methodology used by consumer magazine 60 million de consommateurs to compile its list of ‘harmful cosmetics’.

Last week, the National Consumer Institute-owned (INC) magazine published a front-page article on cosmetics products it classified ‘toxic’ using a rating system Cosmeto’Score​ that it said was independent, encompassed health and the environment and was “simple and easy-to-understand”.

The National Consumer Institute rated 86 cosmetic and personal care products on the French market, scoring each from A-E – rating them safe to use or strongly discouraged – across six categories: face creams, shower gels, nail varnishes, foundations, toothpastes and shaving foams.

Findings showed that “almost every category”​ contained products rated A, considered safe to use without hesitation, but 60 million de consommateurs said there were also some products rated E because they contained “too many problematic substances”.

Clarity for ‘demanding consumers’

The magazine said its scoring system had been developed to help consumers navigate labels; it was also developing a free-to-use app Mon Assistant Conso​ that would enable consumers to scan household, cosmetic and food products themselves for A-E ratings.

Whilst cosmetics products in Europe were legally required to carry INCI lists, displaying what each product contained, 60 million de consommateurs said this was “difficult to rely on when making choices”.

“We have become demanding consumers: we want products that are safe for our health and neutral for the environment. However, neither the prices, nor the labels, nor the claims are enough to guide us, in all impartiality, towards the most qualitative products,”​ it said.

“…This is not the only scoring system in existence, but it has obvious advantages.”

60 million de consommateurs said its scoring system considered the impact on both health and the environment and this “double analysis”​ was one of the system’s unique points of difference. Importantly, this double analysis was conducted on each ingredient within a formulation, it said, considering the importance in the composition, how the product was used – rinse-off or leave-in/on – and how recurrently a product was used in daily life. Ultimately, it said the score system helped consumers “decide between two competing cosmetics” ​and highlighted “those to be avoided”.

An ‘approximate methodology’ with ‘anxiety-provoking’ results

In a statement issued to the press, The French Federation for Beauty Companies (FEBEA) said it denounced the “approximate methodology of the study of the magazine and disputes its accusations”.

FEBEA said the Cosmeto’Score mixed the impacts on health and the environment by “arbitrarily giving each one the respective weight of 70% and 30%” ​and put allergens and potentially carcinogenic substances “on the same level”. ​The method also considered the ingredients in each formula based on the INCI listing order, rather than the actual content, making it “difficult to judge the impact of a substance”​.

The scoring system’s reference to ‘use’ was also unclear, the association said. “It is not specified what this mention refers to: is it an assessment of the penetration into the skin? The frequency or duration of use? The quantity of products used? We do not know.”

Patrick O’Quin, president of FEBEA, said: “The debate on the composition of products is still legitimate, in cosmetics as for all other consumer products. On the other hand, worrying the consumer with catch-all indicators, necessarily anxiety-provoking, is not the right method.”

EU cosmetics have ‘the strictest regulations in the world’

FEBEA said it was crucial to remember that European cosmetics – of course including these products sold in France – were subject to the “strictest regulations in the world”​ under the EU Cosmetics Regulation No. 1223/2009​.

In its assessment, 60 million de consommateurs mainly identified “hypothetical and undocumented”​ risks and dangers of certain ingredients, FEBEA said, evidenced by the “very frequent use”​ of ‘can’, ‘potentially’ and ‘sometimes’ in its coverage. But every substance contained in these cosmetic and personal care products was authorised and reassessed regularly, by a range of European authorities including the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), the association said – “especially when their safety is potentially questioned”.

FEBEA also provided a list of 25,000 cosmetics ingredients on its website, outlining the INCI name, origin of the ingredient and function, among other things to ensure “the most complete transparency”.

 “…It is essential to have confidence in the regulations, enacted and monitored by the competent authorities,” ​it said.

O’Quin added: “Manufacturers of cosmetic products do not just comply with regulations: they also constantly make considerable efforts in R&D to develop products that are always better tolerated, more effective and respectful of the environment.”

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