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Europe Moves To Tighten ‘Free From’ Guidelines

July 21, 2019

Cosmetic brands have been selling themselves as ‘paraben free ‘or ‘sulphate free’  for years now but that may be about to stop in EU based markets in a move that for once, sees (un) common sense prevail.

This article came out in April 

Basically there has been, in place since the EU cosmetic laws came into force, a provision for brands to be challenged for making claims that undermine the law. This includes brands that make ‘free from’ claims about ingredients that have been assessed as generally safe such as is the case with parabens and sulphates plus many more chemicals (mineral oils, silicones, PEGs, perfumes etc).  The provision for prosecution due to breaching the current guidelines hasn’t been widely utilised up to now as far as I know because of a lack of guidance as to how it should could be used. This year, guidelines and training have been rolled out so it is easier for brands to now be formally challenged and, on the other hand, easier for brands to know exactly what is and isn’t legal.

The document that was part of this training process is here.

If you are a brand that operates outside of the EU market then maybe you feel you don’t need to even look at these laws, I can see the point. However, for once, in law (in my opinion) there are some pretty good things in this, things that I think all of our cosmetic buying public will like and appreciate, especially when it comes to truthfulness.

Here is a snippet of what the EU law says on truthfulness of product claims: 

  1. Truthfulness
    1. (1)  If it is claimed on the product that it contains a specific ingredient, the ingredient shall be deliberately present.
    2. (2)  Ingredient claims referring to the properties of a specific ingredient shall not imply that the finished product has the same properties when it does not.
    3. (3)  Marketing communications shall not imply that expressions of opinions are verified claims unless the opinion reflects verifiable evidence.

A link to the full EU cosmetic law can be found here (in English). It is also available in other languages to download from the Eu website and I’d always recommend you go back to the EU law site before making business decisions in case this link gets old and outdated.  There is quite a bit more said on how products selling in the EU should be labelled and presented so it is worth a read.

After reading through this new legislative push I have to say that I’m quite glad that the EU have stepped up here.  Making ‘free from’ claims about ingredients that people FEEL unsure about or HAVE HEARD are unsafe has long been a bug bare of mine as it is actually selling on fear, a false fear and as such, it is deeply dishonest.   This type of behaviour has been contributing to what I’ve seen throughout my career and that is a denigration of science, a complete break down in the general publics ability to discern good science information from bad, respect for scientific process and thinking (and that’s not the same as respect for scientists as a group or as individuals by the way) and a lack of ability to separate our emotional response from a more calculated, pragmatic one.  That said, some ‘free from’ claims will be allowed.  The information makes a case for brands wanting to claim that their products are free from animal derived ingredients, this makes sense, Vegans deserve to have this information easily available without them needing a science degree.  Also, in some cases claims such as ‘alcohol free’ make sense, for example when products such as mouthwash are to be sold for children (this is an example given in the documentation).

If you are reading this article from anywhere outside of the EU I’ll remind you that you don’t have to comply with this but I will also remind you that this law actually makes a lot of sense, is focused on the consumer and their access to honest, science-based information and is not actually that hard to implement.  I’ll definitely be advising my clients to take heed of this if they want to be as honest as they can be.

Happy reading!



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