15+ beauty brands call for swifter EU microplastics ban in open letter

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

The open letter says the current microplastics ban proposal doesn't go far enough, with 'exceptionally long transition periods' for some categories, including leave-on nail products [Getty Images]
The open letter says the current microplastics ban proposal doesn't go far enough, with 'exceptionally long transition periods' for some categories, including leave-on nail products [Getty Images]

Related tags microplastics European commission ECHA European union REACH Regulation European parliament Weleda Beauty Kitchen compliance

Several beauty brands and associations have signed an open letter to the European Commission (EC) calling for a faster and more complete ban on intentionally added microplastics in cosmetics.

The group of 15+ brands and associations, spearheaded by Weleda, Beauty Kitchen and Naïf, said the European Commission’s current revision of the microplastics regulation in the EU was welcomed but said upcoming legislation didn’t go far enough, largely due to “exceptionally long transition periods”​ in the current proposal.

‘We have demonstrated that microplastics are not essential’

The European Commission was currently reviewing a raft of EU regulatory frameworks as part of its European Green Deal and related Chemical Strategy for Sustainability – action recently described as ‘unprecedented’ by Cosmetic Europe’s director-general John Chave​.

Among a raft of legislative reviews, it had been reviewing the existing European Chemical Agency ECHA’s restriction on microplastics​ under its chemical legislation REACH – a review that was now entering final stages with a European Parliament vote anticipated in the coming months.

Under the current proposal​, ECHA said companies would have 36 months to report use of microplastics and various transition periods to remove them. The transition period for cosmetics products varied, with four years for rinse-off products; five to eight years for encapsulation of fragrances; six years for leave-on cosmetic products; and 12 years for certain lip, nail and makeup products.

The brands behind the open letter said these long transition periods, particularly the latter 12 years, remained “at odds”​ with the principles in wider EC initiatives and therefore had “no justification”.

“…For years now, we have worked tirelessly and successfully to remove microplastics from our products, whilst some brands have never used microplastics in any of their formulations. We have demonstrated that microplastics are not essential in producing a wide range of cosmetic and beauty products. It is about the willingness to do so,” ​they wrote.

All microplastics, they said, whether solid, liquid or water-soluble, should stop being used as swiftly as possible due to their “negative, irreversible environmental impacts and potential risk to human health”.

Microplastics had already been found in human blood, lungs and even the placenta, they said, warranting the call for leave-on cosmetics to also be microplastic-free quickly. “More often than not, microplastics can carry toxic chemicals, so a precautionary approach would imply that they should not be applied on human skin, even less on sensitive areas such as the mouth, eyes or the vulnerable skin of babies.”

Protecting ‘the principal driver’ of cosmetics – innovation

However, the beauty players acknowledged how important it would be to protect innovation, “the principal driver”​ of industry, moving forward with the phase-out of microplastics.

They said wider availability and increasing use of alternatives, alongside the promotion of these alternatives, would help – not only to widen reformulation efforts but also generate new green jobs.

Adaption to “increasingly rigorous consumer expectations”​ already meant many large and small cosmetic brands, including makeup brands, today offered microplastic-free products; legislation would simply widen this, they said.

“…Decisive, consistent and rapid introduction of microplastic-free legislation can act as an economic lever that will enable a triple bottom line approach, ensuring we have a pathway to the circular economy,”​ they wrote.

The brands and associations said a “future-proof regulation”​ was needed as the EC reviewed its regulation. “As responsible industries, we believe we should contribute to shaping tomorrow’s world, not fight to maintain yesterday’s practices,”​ they wrote.

Nataliya Yarmolenko, chief commercial officer at Weleda, said: We feel there is no justification for the exceptionally long 12-year transition period when certified natural cosmetics brands such as Weleda show that working without using microplastics at all has always been possible. We know that consumers share our passion for genuine sustainability, with 90% of shoppers believing ethics-related considerations are important when buying beauty products. The Beauty industry and others needs to prioritize alternatives to microplastics, so that we can move forward as an innovative, collective, planet friendly beauty industry.”

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