From toothpaste to make-up, the European cosmetics industry affects the lives of consumers almost every day. Why can the EU ban ‘ultra-dark’ fake tan? Is glitter leaving the European market? Will skincare products be affected by new rules on Vitamin A consumption? From micro-plastics to animal testing, this Just the Facts dives into the origins and effects of the EU Cosmetics Regulation.
Origins of Cosmetics
Cosmetics products have an ancient legacy in human history. Around 4000 BC, in the ancient urban centres of predynastic Egypt and the Sumer civilisation in Southern Mesopotamia (Modern Iraq), eye cosmetics were first used. Similarly, both civilisations are also credited with inventing lip-colouring. However, it was not until the late 1800s and early 1900s that cosmetics and other beauty products became acceptable and widely used within society.
As of 2022, the global cosmetics market is worth an estimated €353.6 billion. With sales valued at €80 billion, Europe is a global flagship market for cosmetics and personal care products. It is estimated that the cosmetics and personal care industry brings in at least €29 billion in added value to the European economy annually. €11 billion is contributed directly by the manufacture of cosmetic products and approximately €18 billion indirectly through the supply chain. The industry supports roughly 3.6 million jobs through direct, indirect, and induced economic activity.
How does the EU regulate cosmetics?
The European Commission classifies cosmetic products as anything from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items such as perfume and makeup. They are regulated at the European level to ensure consumer safety and secure an internal market for cosmetics.
Regulation in this industry began in the early years of the European Economic Community, focusing on consumer protection and public health concerns. In October 1972, the European Commission proposed a Directive for the EU cosmetics industry. This Directive (76/768/EEC) was approved in 1976, with the goal of harmonising cosmetics laws within Member States.
Since its introduction, the Directive has evolved to accommodate the expanding market. In 1993, it was adapted to ensure that mandatory safety assessments of every product placed on the market would be carried out by suitable and trained safety assessors.
The Directive was replaced in November 2009 with Regulation 1223/2009. Since then, it has been revised over 30 times as recently as August 2023. The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) is the trusted authority to provide opinions on the health and safety risks of cosmetic products within the EU.
So what does Regulation 1223/2009 include?
The Cosmetics Regulation covers any substance intended to be placed in contact with external parts of the human body, with a view exclusively or mainly to cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance, protecting them, keeping them in good condition or correcting body odours (Article 2).
Chapter 2 details that cosmetic products should be safe for human health while Chapter 3 presents the safety assessment the cosmetic product must undergo.
The Regulation also deals with the production of cosmetic products within the EU. For example, since 2013, products where the final formulation has been the subject of animal testing are prohibited under Article 18. This means that animal testing may continue in the earlier stages of production. In addition, the ruling only applies to products manufactured within the EU. Regulating cosmetic products imported to Europe is significantly harder.
Under Article 22, Member States must monitor compliance through market controls of the cosmetic products made available in the EU’s Single Market.
Yes, but what are the real-world effects of Regulation 1223/2009? Let’s look at the more recent changes:
Fake it until you can’t make it
Ireland has the highest per-capita fake tan usage in the world, and ‘tanning Thursday’ is a ritual in many households. Yet in 2022, an EU directive banned certain fake-tan products from the market due to a key active ingredient in their formulation. Until then, most ultra-dark fake tan lines contained up to 14% dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a 3-carbon sugar which reacts with the surface cells of the skin to produce a darkening effect. The new rule established 10% as the maximum DHA level allowed, causing retailers to choose between reformulating their ‘dark’ products or taking them off the EU market.
All that glitters is not….. allowed?
More recently, the EU introduced a ‘glitter ban’, outlawing the sale of loose plastic glitter and some other products that contain microbeads. Introduced in October 2023, the ban is part of the EU Green Deal, which aims to make Europe a climate-neutral continent by 2050. While the ban is an attempt to tackle microplastics, and their harmful effect on the environment, the cosmetics industry may be affected depending on what the glitter is made of, what it’s used for, and whether it is loose, trapped in or attached to an object. Beginning in 2027, the EU plans to halt the sale of rinse-off cosmetics containing loose glitter. Other products such as lip gloss or nail varnish containing glitter can continue sales until 2035, but after that must bear a label indicating that they contain microplastics.
Don’t worry – the EU won’t completely dull your sparkle. While this ‘ban’ might affect the formulas of certain products, it’s a big win for Planet Earth and will likely encourage more brands to produce biodegradable glitter– something which brands such as Barry M have already released.
While many of us have been inspired to update our skincare regime in recent years, new restrictions for certain cosmetic substances, including Retinol, will enter into force by the end of 2023. Retinol is a form of Vitamin A and is used in skincare products to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Yet seen as Vitamin A can also be obtained through food sources (eggs, fish, dairy etc.), the SCCS is concerned the consumption rates of European consumers could exceed the limit determined by the European Food Safety Authority. For consumer safety, this draft Regulation will introduce lower maximum concentrations within a range of body and face products, including those containing retinol.
Nanos are a no-no:
Products that contain nanomaterials are now subject to a full safety assessment by the European Commission. Nanomaterials refer to insoluble or bio persistent and intentionally manufactured materials that are most commonly used in moisturisers (they help improve the appearance and feel of products) and sunscreen (they keep the product transparent as it provides protection from UV rays).
Going forward, the cosmetics industry will also be subject to the Green Claims Directive. In September 2023, the European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement to tackle greenwashing, and improve consumer information and product durability. These new rules would ban generic environmental claims about certain products, e.g. “environmentally friendly”, “natural”, “biodegradable”, “climate neutral” or “eco”, without proof of recognised excellent environmental performance.
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