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The Labelling Legislation
Product labelling in the EU is regulated by law under the EU Cosmetics Regulations (1223/2009). The regulations main purpose is human safety.
Cosmetic laws apply to both products that are intended for sale and those that are given away for free. Ultimately, the making and selling of cosmetics is considered to be a commercial enterprise. The penalties for non-compliance can be severe, and ignorance of the law is not a defence.
All cosmetic and personal care products must have a label. This could be on the primary container (as in, the bottle or jar the cosmetic is contained in) or on the secondary container (the box or outer packaging the product is sold in).
It must be indelible, easy to read, and include the following information:
- Name and address of manufacturer or supplier
- List of ingredients
- The amount of contents (weight or volume)
- Date of minimum durability (“best before date”) or a “Period After Opening” (PAO)
- Warning statements and precautionary advice
- Batch number or lot code
- Product function (when appropriate and if use is not obvious)
Name & Address of Manufacturer
- The name and address of the manufacturer (or supplier) is required on both the primary container and any secondary outer packaging.
- If the product is made outside of the European Economic Area (EEA), the country of origin must also be shown on the label.
- Ingredients have to be listed on any outer packaging. If there is no outer packaging, it must be on the main container.
- The label must have the title INGREDIENTS followed by all the ingredients contained in the product. The ingredients are listed in descending order of weight. However, for ingredients that are in concentrations of less than 1%, they can be listed in any order after all other ingredients.
- The ingredients have to follow a standard with regard to terminology so there is consistency between different brands. Importantly, it also makes it easier for the consumer to identify if there are any ingredients in a product that causes them issues, like an allergic reaction. Naming of ingredients is set in the International Nomenclature for Cosmetics (INCI). It means that wherever you buy the product, the ingredients are always named the same.
- The term “parfum” means perfume, which can consist of many ingredients. These do not have to be listed individually, with the exception of certain ingredients which must be shown on the label.
- The term “aroma” means flavour (for things like toothpaste) and the raw materials in the aroma do not need to be listed, with a few exceptions.
- Colouring agents are shown by “Cl” followed by its number and can be listed in any order after all other ingredients.
- For coloured products that come in various different shades (for example, lipstick), the symbol “+/-” or words “may contain” can be seen before the list of colours. This means that not all the colours listed are necessarily used in every shade.
- Nano ingredients must have “(nano)” after it. For example, “titanium dioxide (nano)”.
The Amount of Contents
- The amount of product at the time of packaging must be given on the label. It can be shown as either a weight or volume.
- For the EU, the net contents must be given in metric. However, you may also see ounces (“oz”) listed. Some products may also list the weight for other markets, like the USA (so the weight will also be listed in “US OZ”).
- The “e” symbol (which means estimated) is a guarantee that the product has been filled in accordance with 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 single application and anything less than 5g or 5ml.
Durability of Product
Cosmetic products must indicate how long they are good for using. Products with a lifespan of less than 30 months must have a “Best Before Date”. For products with a lifespan of over 30 months, this is shown by the “Period After Opening” (PAO) symbol.
There are some exceptions to this requirement, including aerosol products (as they are effectively sealed), perfumes which have a high alcohol content and single-use packs.
Best Before Date – Lifespan of less than 30 months
- Any cosmetic product that has a lifespan of less than 30 months from the date of manufacture must have a “best before the end of” date on the packaging.
- This is shown by the words “best before” followed by the date (month/year). This indictes 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”, and “Best Before End” to “BBE”. The “egg timer” symbol may also be used.
- Labels must show any special precautions to be observed. For example, any special storage conditions needed in order to maintain the product as required by the regulations must be shown on the packaging.
- For products with a lifespan longer than 30 months, they must have a “Period After Opening” time. This means once a product has been opened by the consumer for the first time, it has a shelf life of so many months under normal conditions of use.
- It is shown on cosmetics as an open pot with a number in it and an “M” – this shows the number of months that the product is safe to use once it has been opened. So for example, 24M means that you can use the product safely for 24 months once you have opened it.
Warning Statements & Advice
- Not all products have this on them. It is for any special information like how a product must be properly used or disposed of safely. It also includes warnings about ingredients, preservatives or UV filters, or how not to use a product. For example, precautionary advice includes things like “Avoid eye area” or “Do not use to dye eyelashes”.
Batch Number or Lot Codes
- This is a code that enables the manufacturer or supplier to identify when and where the product was made.
- This is only required on a label if the function of the product is unclear from the presentation and design. For example, the function of lipstick is clear, so it does not need to be labelled as lipstick. However, a depilatory cream could not be labelled just as “cream” – it would have to state that it was for hair removal.
- Where there is not enough space on a product to include the ingredients list, any warnings and instructions for safe use, the manufacturer will include that information somewhere else in the packaging; for example, on a leaflet contained in the packaging.
- The “Hand Book” symbol shows that information is included elsewhere in the packaging.
Other Information Given on a Label
A product’s label can provide other information, which is down to the manufacturer rather than it being a legal requirement.
Organic or Natural
- There is no legal definition for organic cosmetic products in the EU. 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. They are used by manufacturers to simply make the consumer think they are buying something pure, better or safer.
- To find certified organic products, there are five European certification bodies that have developed the Cosmetics Organic Standard (COSMOS) to try and harmonise organic standards across the globe. They have high standards, and to achieve COSMOS certification for a product, that 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. They are used by manufacturers to convey that they think the product will not cause a bad reaction when used. However, no proof of this is needed from the company – anyone can put these terms on a label.
Not Tested on Animals
- Some companies may take liberties on labels and can use word trickery to make the consumer think that their products are not tested on animals. For example, “We do not test on animals” may mean that the company itself doesn’t test on animals, but may contract another company to animal test on its behalf.
- Manufacturers may state on a label what is not found in their product. It’s often things like parabens, preservatives, synthetic fragrance or colourants. Basically those ingredients that some consumers do not want in their products, or find irritating to their skin. It can be useful to know.
- The “Green Dot” is a trade mark that shows the company has membership of 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.
- In the UK, there are a number of competing recovery and recycling schemes, so this logo is not used. However, you will still the green dot on packaging in the UK for products that are also sold in other European countries.
Languages Used on Labels
There are 32 countries that come under the legislation – the 27 member states of the EU, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, UK and Switzerland are included as part of the single market. The cosmetic labelling laws require that certain information on a label has to be translated into the language(s) of the country where it is sold. The information that must be translated is:
- The nominal contents (weight or volume)
- The date until which the cosmetic can be used
- Particular precautions to be observed by the user
- The function of the product
So, for example, products sold in the UK and Ireland must have the above information in English; products sold in Greece must be in Greek; Switzerland requires French, German and Italian.
Ingredients in a product have to be listed using their “International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients” (INCI) names. Therefore, the ingredient names used will be the same, no matter where the product was made or is being sold in the EU.
Reporting Non-Compliant Cosmetics in the UK
If you think a cosmetic product being sold on the UK market is fake or not complaint 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, and the Citizens Advice organisations listed below provide help on a wide range of consumer issues. You cannot contact Trading Standards direct and have to go via Citizens’ Advice, who will pass your complaint on to Trading Standards:
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
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 who understands cosmetic law. Alternatively, there are organisations like the CTPA (Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association), who act as the voice in the UK for the cosmetics industry. They have a wealth of information on their website.
- Labelling law as per the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008
- Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfume Association (cpta.org.uk) has various useful information, including: Making and Supplying Cosmetics in EU | FAQs on Making Cosmetics
- The Facts About: Understanding Your Label | 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 e.g. “anti-dandruff”, “preservative”