EU cosmetics regulation bans free from claims – What does that mean for you?

On July 1st 2019 a technical document came into force that bans the use of several “free from” claims in cosmetics, and that has caused quite a stir. But if you don´t produce cosmetics yourself, how would that change in cosmetic products regulation affect you as a consumer?

I admit it isn´t a topic that I usually pay much attention to, and it isn´t a topic you´ll see talked about in a regular beauty video. But with increasingly more people interested in the ingredients they apply to their face and the way their products are not only formulated, but also harvested and produced, I figured it was about time we covered that topic on here.


The change in EU cosmetics product regulation
The change in EU cosmetics product regulation – is it a good thing?


Now I bet you have all seen packaging that has “free from parabens”, “free from perfume” or even “free from toxins” printed on. Even I, “powered by chemicals” (to quote my favorite Lab Muffin), have a few brands in my rotation that sport these claims.



And now they are banned by cosmetics product regulation for cosmetics in the EU?


As long as an ingredient is legal for use, a free-from claim related to the ingredient is forbidden. Which means that companies can no longer use “free from parabens” as marketing advantage.


An example of "free from" claims
An example of “free from” claims


The paraben issue – getting a little sidetracked

You see, parabens are legal to use in skincare products. And they are safe to use in skincare products. All research, all the experts agree on that. They are among the best researched preservatives we have, and the marketing driven decision to no longer use them is in parts responsible for the increase in cosmetic product recalls due to bacterial overgrowth we are experiencing at the moment.

I mean, you can of course create an efficient preservative system without using parabens. Just like you could spend a great summer without eating any watermelon. But the question is, why would you?

And to address all the “parabens are endocrine disruptors and cause cancer” comments this blog post is probably going to get, here is a fun fact for you:

Did you know the biggest source of parabens in our lives? Blueberries and carrots. Actually, any dark berry is naturally rich in parabens. Acai-Bowl anyone?

So as long as you continue to drink your berry smoothie for healthy living, you really shouldn´t worry about the small amount of parabens used in your cosmetics. (Oh, and if you want to see me in full on ranting mode, watch me in todays video where I get on the “your skin is your largest organ” tangent – it is NOT!)

So why would companies create products without parabens in the first place?

Because at a certain point consumers decided that parabens were unsafe, and no amount of research could convince them otherwise. So companies followed their lead and switched to other preservative systems, printed “free from parabens” on the packaging and sold more products.


A second example of "free from" claims that are problematic
A second example of “free from” claims that are problematic


Which “free from” claims will be banned by EU cosmetic regulations and why?

But why would the EU worry about what companies write on their packaging? I mean, does it do any harm to the consumer?
Actually, the paper doesn’t state anything new. For a long time already cosmetic claims on the packaging weren’t allowed to be misleading. Companies couldn´t write “will make you fly” on their serum (not even on their CBD skincare, read more on that here), because that would be a false claim.

But what actually was “misleading” was open to interpretation, and that is where the new cosmetics products regulation gets more precise.
The following claims are now defined as misleading and can no longer be used:


• “free from any forbidden substance” like Arsen, horse shit or toxins.

It is never allowed to put toxins or even horse shit in your products, and claiming that you don´t do it implies that others do, which is defined as misleading.


• “free from allergens

There is no one substance that will never provoke an allergic reaction. Yes, some are more likely to do so than others, but anyone can react to anything in your product, so no product is ever free from allergens (unless it is a tub of air).


• “free from fragrance

At least not if your product does contain any fragrant components, be it perfume, artificial fragrance or essential oils, not even if you use the latter for supposed skincare benefits. You can however say that your product is “free from artificial fragrance” if you only use fragrant components of natural origin.


• “free from any substance that is legally allowed to use

Which means the above mentioned “free from parabens”, but also free from silicones, free from butylene glycol, whatever. Because claiming that implies to customers that these substances are harmful and should be avoided, when actually they are not.


Are there any exceptions?

Of course there are!

You can still make claims like “free from animal products” (assuming that is true) to help consumers choose vegan alternatives.
Why that is allowed when other free from claims are forbidden? Because it is not misleading. The claim simply helps consumers differentiate a vegan from a non-vegan product and does not imply that one is more dangerous or potentially harmful than the other, or, in simple words:

Does not use fear mongering tactics for the sake of selling products.

So if you ask me, I think the new EU cosmetics regulation is an important step towards more transparency that helps you as consumers make well informed purchasing decisions.
What do you think?


EU cosmetics regulation bans free from claims
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