In 2017, the European Union Working Group on Cosmetic Products – a group established to provide advice to the European Commission on cosmetics – endorsed an update to their Technical Document on Cosmetic Claims. This document provides guidance for Member States to help them apply the requirements of Commission Regulation No 655/2013. The changes came into effect on 1 July this year, and many are currently speculating on its implications.

Two new sections were added to the Technical Document. One of these new sections relates to ‘free from’ claims (for example, “free from toluene”). It illustrates different types of ‘free from’ claims that could be considered unacceptable. For example, the Technical Document says that the following claims do not meet the requirements of Commission Regulation No 665/2013:

  • “Free from formaldehyde”, where the product contains a chemical that may break down to release formaldehyde (such as a formaldehyde-releasing preservative)
  • “Free from preservatives”, where the product is alcohol-based (like a perfume) and therefore self-preserving
  • “Free from fragrances”, where the product contains an ingredient that has a perfume function, even if that ingredient was not added for its fragrance
  • “Free from triclosan”, because triclosan is deemed safe in cosmetics when used in accordance with European law

The last example is particularly notable, and has generated the most interest. Many cosmetic brands rely on these sorts of ‘free from’ claims. This can create fear about the safety of some chemicals. However, some consumers may want to avoid ingredients that are safe for human use but could still have environmental impacts.

The justification for including this example is that claims like this “imply a denigrating message”. Particular issue is taken with claims that “are mainly based on a presumed negative perception on the safety of the ingredient”. As the changes have only just come into effect, we are waiting to see how this guidance will be applied in practice and if it will extend to environmental-based claims.

Commission Regulation No 655/2013 is law in all European Union Member States. It says that claims on cosmetic products must be legal, truthful, supported by evidence, honest, fair, and understandable to the user. However, the Technical Document is not law. Member States may apply the guidance in the Technical Document as they see fit.

Some are predicting the end of ‘free from’ claims, but only time will tell the full impacts of these changes.

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