“If things go in the wrong direction, it could be a significant challenge to the industry”: Cosmetics Europe director on EU regulations

By Kirsty Doolan

- Last updated on GMT

Chave noted that the regulatory system in the EU is more intense than its ever been (Image: Getty)
Chave noted that the regulatory system in the EU is more intense than its ever been (Image: Getty)

Related tags Cosmetics Regulations Eu European union Cosmetics europe

We spoke to John Chave, director-general at trade body Cosmetics Europe, about changing regulations, what’s important for the cosmetics industry in Europe right now and what’s potentially coming next…

With sustainability in the limelight, ever-changing regulations, as well as the rapidly changing needs of consumers, there’s a lot for the industry to consider. 

Cosmetics Design Europe (CDE): What have been some of the most notable events on Cosmetics Europe’s agenda over the past year?

John Chave (JC):​ Last year was particularly intense in terms of things happening around the world; policy proposals and regulatory changes, but also in terms of some of the proactive activities we've undertaken to address certain aspects of our industry that we felt were crucial for our evolution going forward.
We’ve launched the first phase of our COSMILE app​ and there's another phase of the app to come, with an elaboration of the database called a widget, which will allow anybody to access the database through a website.

For many years, the industry has been concerned about the understanding of some ingredients and the scientific basis of our use of ingredients. Sometimes this gets distorted by some information sources in the public sphere, which we feel doesn’t always give an accurate account of our ingredients. We hope that in time, the app will become the go-to source for scientifically based, accurate information about ingredients. Companies will be able to affix the widget function to their website, so it can become sort of the ‘Google of cosmetics ingredients’. You can put the name of the ingredient there and it will take you to the database from any website.  

On top of that, we launched our Commit For Our Planet​ voluntary initiatives in late 2022 and this is been growing in momentum over 2023. This is really important because this was the first time the industry had collectively moved forward to address sustainability issues.

This is progressing successfully, and we would hope that more companies join us on our journey to make sure we address areas of vital concern for the industry, consumers, policymakers, and ultimately, the planet.
And finally, 2023 was the year that the industry launched a very significant new initiative on alternatives to animal testing called the International Collaboration on Cosmetics Safety​ (ICCS).

Cosmetics Europe was instrumental in developing this and pushing forward the agenda on scientific research, as well as looking at regulatory acceptance – as regulators tend to be a little bit conservative when we ask them to consider non-animal-testing methods.

CDE: What kinds of challenges is the industry facing right now?

JC:​ In 2023, several proposals began their passage through a very complicated European regulatory system and some of these are still going through.
So far, I think in general we've had some positive outcomes. I point to particular one, which was related to the CLP Regulation​ where there was potentially a threat to our industry’s ability to use some natural ingredients. The impact of this would have been quite severe particularly on fragrance. We didn't feel that the scientific basis for that proposal was well founded and after some considerable work, together with our colleagues in the Fragrance Association and others, we managed to find a satisfactory solution to that.

So that shows I think that even though the regulatory pressure on the industry and European level is strong, we still can get positive outcomes if we ‘put our shoulder to the wheel’. If we speak with one voice and explain when we have a very good case.

CDE: What else should beauty and personal care businesses be aware of in terms of regulations now/what else is on the upcoming agenda?

JC:​ The regulatory situation in Europe is quite intense, perhaps more intense than it's ever been, and it continues.

I think a couple of things to draw attention to is that the possible publication of a revision to the Cosmetics Products Regulation, which is the most important regulation for us. That has been promised for some time but has not yet emerged. If it is published, it will be a major preoccupation for Cosmetics Europe and its stakeholders in the coming months after the European Parliament reconvenes. The European Parliament will probably begin to consider it in September after the elections.
At the same time, it's plausible that REACH has been delayed and that will also be published towards the end of this year, after the parliamentary elections.

This year we still have those dossiers that have already been published and are now being considered by the institutions – notably packaging and green claims. One point that I think is particularly concerning for our industry is the Urban Wastewater Directive​.

So just from a regulatory perspective, there is a lot to keep us busy and an awful lot of the issues for the industry to consider. Some which could be a significant challenge to the industry if things go in the ‘wrong direction.’

At the same time, it's that time in the political cycle when the Parliament goes to re-election, so there'll be a newly constituted European Parliament in the summer, and there are some elections at Member State level too.

There'll be a change to the European Commission by the end of the year as well. So, these institutional changes are important because obviously they tend to influence the direction of policy going forward.

One of the big questions that our industry and many other industries are considering is whether there will be a change of approach in the new Commission and the new Parliament following the election and following the renomination of the Commissioners.

“Will the Commission maintain its Green Deal momentum?” Or will there be a slightly more pragmatic attitude that will be more responsive to concerns that industry expresses, which is “yes, we must of course achieve green objectives, but we must do so in a way which also promotes and protects European industrial competitiveness.”

I think the European cosmetics sector is notably falling behind the United States by a significant margin. And I think that should be a concern for everybody in Europe from a wide range of perspectives. So yes, of course, green objectives are important, but the more pragmatic and proportionate approach to achieving them, which promotes our industry and other industries and protect them is something that we would hope for in the new constitution arrangements and institutional arrangements.

CDE: Going back to the Urban Wastewater Directive you mentioned. The cosmetics industry has been singled out as the second biggest polluter. Why do you think this was?  

JC:​ We honestly don't know and we've asked the Commission to provide the scientific base for their assessment that the cosmetics industry is the second biggest polluter because there is plenty of evidence in the public sphere also coming from European institutions like the Joint Research Centre (JRC), that cosmetics is not the second biggest producer polluter.
The irony of the situation is that we're not against the EPR principle. We're not trying to avoid paying for micro-pollutants, which can ultimately be traced to cosmetics products. We accept that. But what we find difficult is being asked to pay for micro-pollutants, which are not emitted by our industry at all. And this will have all sorts of negative effects because those industries that are also emitting micro-pollutants but are not included in the the EPR scheme will have no incentive to change the practices.

All the industry is asking is for the proper and accurate application of the ‘polluter pays principle’ and we think that's a question of fairness and proportionality.

Cosmetics Europe will discuss the latest issues for the beauty and personal care industry at its annual conference​ on 19th​ – 20th​ June 2024 in Brussels.

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