“EU & UK labelling requirements for cosmetics” is not a very sexy title, we know! However, proper labelling on cosmetics is so important. It tells the consumer a variety of things, including what the product is, what the ingredients are and who made it. It also lists any warnings or instructions for use. Anyone working in makeup should have a basic understanding of what the labels mean.
EU & UK Cosmetic Legislation
- The member states of the European Union – product labelling in the European Union (EU) is regulated by one main law – the Cosmetics Regulation (EU) No 1223/2009. The primary purpose of this regulation is human safety.
- Great Britain – since the UK’s exit from the EU, there is the Product Safety and Metrology etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 for the cosmetic market in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). The regulation sets out requirements that must be met before a cosmetic product can be placed on the market in Great Britain.
- Northern Ireland must comply with the EU regulations.
The making and selling of cosmetics are considered to be a commercial enterprise – it doesn’t matter if you are an individual or a large corporation. Everyone must comply with the cosmetic laws.
The penalties for non-compliance can be severe. Furthermore, ignorance of the law is not considered a defence. So, before you embark on making or selling cosmetics in the EU or UK, please get legal advice from an appropriate organisation or person that knows the up-to-date rules!
What Products Do The Regulations Cover?
Cosmetic laws apply to any and all cosmetic products that are available to a member of the public, including:
- Products that are sold – for example, online, mail order, in a shop or at a market.
- Products that are given away for free – for example, samples, testers, products provided in hotels and other public facilities.
Where is the Information Printed?
All cosmetic and personal care products must have a label somewhere on the container or packaging:
Container – the main tube, bottle or jar the cosmetic is contained in.
Packaging – for example, the outer box the product is sold in.
Leaflet, tag, card or tape – for items that are difficult to label, such as bath bombs, the required information can be given on a leaflet etc. and attached to or enclosed with the product. There must be an indication that refers the consumer to it, such as the “hand and book” symbol.
Information That Must Be Printed on a Label
A label must be indelible, easy to read, and include the following information:
- Name and address of the Responsible Person. For the EU including Northern Ireland (NI), this address must be in the EU. For cosmetics imported into Great Britain, the address must be in the United Kingdom. There is a two-year transition period from 01 January 2021 before businesses have to include this – it is to allow products already in the supply chain to come to market.
- Ingredients – a list of ingredients.
- Quantity – the amount of the product can be given as a weight or volume.
- Durability of product – for example, the “Best before Date” or a “Period After Opening” (PAO) to show how long the product may be kept or used .
- Warning statements and precautionary advice – on how to use the product safely.
- Batch number or lot code – to identify when the item was made.
- Product function – but only when it is not obvious or the use is not clear.
- Country of origin – but only for imported products.
The Label Information
Name & Address of the Responsible Person
- The name and address of the responsible person is required on both the container and the outer packaging. If a product is made outside of the UK, the country of origin must also be given.
- The UK responsible person can be: the UK-based manufacturer, or a person designated by a written mandate by a manufacturer that is outside the UK, or a distributor, or the importer. This is a very simplified look at this new UK rule.
- For the UK – more about the Responsible Person: www.gov.uk/guidance/making-cosmetic-products-available-to-consumers-in-great-britain
- The ingredients must be listed on any outer packaging. However, if there is no outer packaging, it must be on the main container.
- The list of ingredients must be headed “Ingredients”.
- The ingredients must be listed in descending order of weight. The exception is ingredients with a concentration of less than 1% – they can be listed in any order after the main ingredients.
- Ingredients have to be named following a standard terminology. It ensures consistency between different brands. It also makes it easier for the consumer to identify any ingredient that causes them issues, like an allergic reaction.
- The International Nomenclature for Cosmetics (INCI) sets the names for all cosmetic ingredients. Therefore, the ingredients listed on a product always have the same name, no matter where you buy the product.
- The term “parfum” means perfume. It can consist of many ingredients. However, these ingredients do not have to be listed individually, except certain ones that have to be on the label.
- The term “aroma” means flavour (for example, in toothpaste). The raw materials in the aroma do not need to be listed, with a few exceptions.
- Colouring agents are identified by “Cl” (Colour Index), followed by its number. They can be listed in any order after all other ingredients are listed.
- Coloured cosmetics often come in different shades, for example, lipstick and eyeshadow lines. Colouring agents produce the various shades and all the agents used can be listed, as long as the symbol “+/-” or the words “may contain” is used. It means not all the colours listed are necessarily used in that particular shade but are found in the whole product line somewhere. They are listed in any order after all the other ingredients.
- Nano ingredients must have “(nano)” after them. For example, “titanium dioxide (nano)”.
- The amount of product at the time of packaging must be on the label. The label may have this as either weight or volume.
- The net contents must be given in metric for the EU and UK markets. However, you may also see ounces (“oz”) listed as well. It is because products may be sold in countries where they don’t use the metric system. For example, the weight will also be listed in “US OZ” for products sold in the USA.
- The “e” symbol (which means “estimated”) is a guarantee that the product is filled correctly, as per the average system of measures used in the EU.
- The term “Net Wt.” may also be seen by the weight/volume.
- Some products are exempt from this requirement, including free items, sachets for a single application, and anything less than 5g or 5ml.
Durability of Product
- Cosmetic products must indicate how long they are useable. Products with a lifespan of fewer than 30 months must have a “Best Before Date”. Products with a lifespan of over 30 months have a “Period After Opening” symbol.
- There are some exceptions to this requirement – for example, aerosol products (as they are sealed airtight), perfumes with high alcohol content, and single-use packs.
Best Before Date – Lifespan of fewer than 30 months:
- Cosmetic products with a lifespan of fewer than 30 months from the date of manufacture must have a “best before the end of” date on the packaging.
- It is shown by the words “best before” followed by the date (shown as month and year). It indicates when the product either ceases to fulfil its intended function or no longer meets safety requirements as per the regulations.
- “Best before” can be abbreviated to “Exp”. “Best Before End” can be shortened to “BBE”. The “egg timer symbol” may also be used.
- Labels must also show any special precautions that need following. For example, any special storage conditions required to keep the product in good condition must be on the packaging.
Period After Opening – Lifespan of more than 30 months:
- For products with a lifespan longer than 30 months, they must have a “Period After Opening” time. It means once the consumer opens a product for the first time, it has a shelf life of so many months (under normal usage).
- The “little pot symbol” indicated the shelf life. It has a number in it followed by an “M”, indicating how many months the product is safe to use after opening. For example, “24M” means that you can use the product safely for 24 months after you have opened it.
Warning Statements & Precautionary Advice
- Not all products have this information on them, as it is not always relevant to the product.
- It is for any special information, like how a product must be used properly or disposed of safely. It also includes warnings about ingredients, preservatives, UV filters, or how not to use a product. For example, precautionary advice could be “Avoid eye area” or “Do not use to dye eyelashes”.
- The manufacturer or supplier prints a unique code on the label.
- Should there be any complaints or issues with a product, it allows a manufacturer to identify which batch made the product.
- It is only required if the product’s function is unclear from its presentation and design. For example, a lipstick’s function is clear from how it looks; therefore, it does not need to be labelled as lipstick. However, it would not be acceptable to label a depilatory cream just as “cream” – it would have to state that it was for hair removal to prevent any misunderstanding or harm.
- If there is not enough space on a product to include key information, the manufacturer has to include that information somewhere else.
- For example, it could be on a leaflet contained in the box. There are also labels that peel back to reveal another layer underneath with more information on it.
- The “hand and book” symbol indicates to the consumer that additional information is included somewhere else in the packaging.
Other Information Given on a Label
In addition to the legally required information, a label can provide all sorts of other information. It all depends on what the manufacturer wants to tell the consumer. Here are some things commonly seen on cosmetic products.
Organic or Natural
- There is no legal definition of organic cosmetic products in the EU. Therefore, a company could label a product “organic” even if that product only had 1% organically produced ingredients.
- Other similar terms used on labels are things like “natural” and “green”. Again, no legislation is in place for these terms. Consumers are made to believe they are buying something pure, better or safer. In some cases, they may be. However, the opposite is also true.
- To find certified organic products, look for logos from the organisations that approve products as organic.
- Five European certification bodies have developed the Cosmetics Organic Standard (COSMOS). It has the aim of harmonising organic standards across the globe. They have high standards – to achieve COSMOS certification, a product has to meet a strict set of criteria. It ensures that the product contains guaranteed organic ingredients and is not just label trickery.
- Terms such as hypoallergenic, dermatologist-tested, allergy-tested, or non-irritating have no legally defined meaning.
- Manufacturers use them to convey that they think the product will not cause a bad reaction when used. However, the company needs to provide no proof – anyone can put these terms on a label.
Not Tested on Animals
- Some companies take liberties on labels and use word trickery to create the impression that their products are not animal tested. For example, “We do not test on animals” may mean the company itself doesn’t test on animals, but they might contract another company to animal test on its behalf.
- Manufacturers may use a label to state what is not in their product. In this case, it is often things like parabens, preservatives, synthetic fragrance, or colourants – those ingredients that some consumers do not want in their products or find irritating to their skin.
- By and large, it can be useful information to know, as it helps someone avoid certain ingredients.
- There are various recycling symbols, including the “Green Dot”. It shows that the company has a membership in a recycling and recovery scheme to deal responsibly with the packaging waste of their products.
- All companies in Europe and the UK have a legal obligation to recycle and recover packaging waste. Companies often pay a specialist company to do the work on their behalf.
Languages Used on Labels
Thirty-two countries come under the legislation – the 27 member states of the EU, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, the UK, and Switzerland. The cosmetic labelling laws require that certain information on a label has to be in the official language(s) of the country where sold.
The mandatory information is:
- Quantity – the nominal contents in weight or volume.
- Durability – the date of usage.
- Particular precautions to be observed by the user.
- Function of the product.
So, for example, products sold in the UK and Ireland must have the above information in English. Likewise, products sold in Greece must be in Greek, and Switzerland requires French, German and Italian.
Multilingual labels are acceptable. Any language can be printed on a label, providing that the mandatory information is included in the required languages.
Ingredients in a product have to be listed using their “International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients” (INCI) names. Therefore, no matter where in Europe the product is sold, the ingredient names will be the same.
Reporting Non-Compliant Cosmetics in the UK
If you think a cosmetic product offered on the UK market is fake or not compliant with the law in some way, you can report it to Trading Standards via Citizens Advice.
Trading Standards is the organisation responsible for enforcement in the UK. The Citizens Advice provides help on a wide range of consumer issues. However, you cannot contact Trading Standards direct. You must contact Citizens’ Advice, who will then pass your complaint to Trading Standards.
The contact details for Citizens’ Advice:
England and Wales: Contact Citizens’ Advice by telephone on 0808 223 1133 (freephone), online chat, or by completing an online form. Website: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/get-more-help/report-to-trading-standards/
Northern Ireland: Contact Advice NI on 0808 802 0020 (freephone). Website: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/contacts/contacts-az/advice-ni
Find Out More
- This article on EU labelling requirements for cosmetics is for informational purposes only and does not constitute as legal advice. If you are a maker or supplier and have any queries about what is legally required on labels in the UK/EU, it would be best to consult with a lawyer or an organisation who understands cosmetic law.
- Organisations like the CTPA (Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association) act as the voice for the UK cosmetics industry. Furthermore, they have a wealth of information on their website, including Making and Supplying Cosmetics in EU and FAQs on Making Cosmetics.
- EU labelling requirements for cosmetics as per the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008.
- The facts about Understanding Your Label and Packaging and the Environment.
- The COSMOS Standard website – organic standards in the EU.
- FDA labelling requirements – cosmetic labelling in the USA.
- List of ingredient functions – for example, terms like anti-dandruff and preservative.