Green beauty: EU faces ‘radical’ environmental regulatory change, says Cosmetics Europe chief

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

The European Commission often leads with ambitious and radical regulatory change, particularly on environmental issues [Getty Images]
The European Commission often leads with ambitious and radical regulatory change, particularly on environmental issues [Getty Images]

Related tags Regulation Cosmetics regulation REACH microplastics European commission Eu Environment sustainable beauty green beauty Cosmetics europe

The European Union (EU) will see ambitious and radical environmental regulations take form in the coming years, and so beauty and personal care must be ready for the sectoral impact of these, says the director-general of Cosmetics Europe.

Earlier this week, John Chave, director-general of Cosmetics Europe, detailed why industry had to brace for ‘unprecedented’ regulatory change this year and beyond​, as a flurry of regulatory shifts started to come through various approval stages in 2023.

Two revised Directives were set to pass into law this year, for example: the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive​ and EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive​. Wide-ranging updates were also due to be made to the EU Cosmetics Regulation (EC) No. 1223/2009​ and the EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals [REACH] regulation​ and the EU restriction on microplastics under REACH​ was reaching final stages.

Whilst the latter three weren’t set to take any final regulatory form this year, Chave told CosmeticsDesign-Europe it was imperative industry understood the potential impact of these incoming regulatory “waves”​.

“The European Commission likes to lead the way for the world. You’ve heard of the ‘Brussels effect’, where other regions, countries and jurisdictions are very much influenced by what happens in Brussels and Europe, and the European Commission is aware of this and sees itself as leading the way,”​ he said, particularly on the subject of the environment.

“That, I think, drives some of the ambition but also, I think, to an extent, drives the fairly radical nature of some of the proposals we’ve seen,” ​the director-general said.

Achieving ‘balanced and proportionate’ change

For the EU Cosmetics Regulation (EC) No. 1223/2009 and EU REACH Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006, Chave said Cosmetics Europe had been in a dialogue phase with the European Commission for some time on best approaches in the target revision of the regulation, but things were now shifting gears.

“Once the Commission adopts proposals, we move into a different kind of phase where, in most cases, the proposals go to the European Parliament and Council of Ministers for consideration,”​ he said.

This was already the case for both the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and, if all stayed “on course”,​ would also be the case for the update to the Cosmetics Regulation later in 2023.

“That means a different kind of activity for Cosmetics Europe, because we have to engage with a broader range of stakeholders, notably representatives are national level and also, very importantly, in the European Parliament,” ​he said.

And the European Parliament had a “very significant say” ​over the final form of these initiatives, he said. “It’s a very, very intense activity. I think it’s reasonable to say that industry in very general terms, and not just our industry but others, has to work hard to get its voice heard within the European Parliament and get its point across so we can end up with legislation at the end of the day which is balanced and proportionate.”

Safety-first ‘benchmark’ in cosmetics

Chave said it would be vital the final revised EU Cosmetics Regulation maintained the safety of products and ingredients for consumers as central.

“Within the debate around the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, REACH and the Cosmetic Products Regulation, and some other things too, you’ve seen the concept of ‘essentiality’ thrown into the ring,”​ the director-general said. “You’ve seen a move towards regulating ingredients taking account of their hazard properties not their risk properties. And this means, when you put these elements together, that perfectly safe ingredients, and therefore perfectly safe products, may have to be withdrawn from the market.”

This, he said, was a “central concern”​ around the upcoming regulatory changes for the beauty and personal care industry.

Whilst it was important to discuss ‘essentiality’ – industry could certainly bring forward strong arguments on this​ – and it was important to discuss challenges presented by individual chemicals, the Chave said final regulations had to boil down to whether products were safe. “That should be the ultimate benchmark because once you depart from that benchmark, you’re going to really harm an industry; an industry that Europe needs to prosper.”

For the revision of REACH – a very “wide ranging legislation which affects chemicals in general”​ – he said it would be important the impact on different sectors, including cosmetics, was considered.

Microplastics REACH restriction

The upcoming restriction on microplastics under REACH, for example, was nearing final phases, the director-general said. Now waiting to be approved by Member States in the REACH Committee, with engagements ongoing since October 2022, the final vote, prior to the formal stage at European Parliament, was expected between the end of February and end of April, this year, he said.

“What seems likely to be the case is that the restriction will be adopted by the middle of the year by the REACH stage, and then European Parliament, which is really a formality, within 2023. Perhaps in Q4 we will have the final form, but we will pretty much know the final form once it’s gone through the REACH Committee.”

Current discussions amongst Member States, he said, were focused on two issues: football pitches and makeup, lip and nail products and, in particular, transition periods offered for restriction microplastics in these areas.

Chave previously discussed the impact of the REACH microplastics restriction in depth, with a first-part interview spotlighting how industry was fighting what it considered an ‘extremely disproportionate’ restriction​ and a second-part interview on best- and worst-case scenarios for final restrictions​.

Maintaining a ‘sectoral approach’

‘Our big concern throughout this is making sure that we protect the integrity of the sectoral approach,’ ​John Chave, director-general, Cosmetics Europe

There were a lot of ongoing discussions about the current regulatory context the REACH Regulation was being updated in, and how bringing change and new ideas to the regulation would impact sectors individually, Chave said. Concepts like ‘essentiality’; taking a generic risk approach; and looking into the ‘mixed assessment factor’, for example, deserved a closer look, with considerations necessary on how they translated for different sectors. Why? Because each sector working with chemicals had “very, very specific requirements” ​already and “their own robust history of regulation”,​ he said.

“Our big concern throughout this is making sure that we protect the integrity of the sectoral approach, which respects a very specific approach to cosmetics – a fast-moving, highly innovative, super diverse sector – versus this ‘one size fits all’ blunt instrument approach which you get through REACH.”

Asked if the beauty and personal care industry could overcome this challenge, Chave said: “I think it can be overcome, but I think one of our roles as an association is to really get this message across that cosmetics is a sector which has its own specific requirements; that it is an important sector economically; but it’s an important sector to consumers as well.”

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