In July, cosmetics retailer Sephora released an update to their chemicals policy. The policy applies to all products sold by Sephora, with the aim of demonstrating a focus on ingredient safety and sustainability.

The July update saw the addition of multiple chemicals. The list now mainly covers a number of preservatives (including many formaldehyde releasers, parabens, phthalates and methylisothiazolinones) and aluminium salts. Other inclusions are oxybenzone, ethanolamine compounds, and – more bizarrely – toluene, coal tar and various naphthas. Sephora’s own brand products already exclude these chemicals, all and third-party brands must reduce their use of these chemicals by 50% within three years.

By applying to all products sold by Sephora, the chemicals policy goes beyond their voluntary clean seal. The move reflects emerging consumer expectations around due diligence and, undoubtedly, Sephora expects an associated first-mover market advantage. The policy is a significant step in moving beyond baseline compliance with chemical regulations, and should be applauded for this reason.

However, the justification for the phase-out of these chemicals, and why they have been prioritised over others, is lacking. The list appears to be driven by consumer concerns, which have varying scientific foundations. Such technicalities may be immaterial to Sephoa, but it would be interesting to know if a chain with such industry clout considered other options – which could better empower their customers while also delivering real-world outcomes.

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