The fact that the EU’s cosmetic regulation is terrible is one of Europe’s worst-kept secrets. It allows for using several well-known hazardous chemicals in the products we apply to our faces. The good thing is that the Commission has promised to change it. But the current public consultation makes us wonder: Where do the ambitions lie?
As a part of the Commission’s Chemical Strategy, it has promised to revise the Cosmetics Regulation. It has been evident for a long time that the current legislation is insufficient as it allows for cosmetic products with harmful substances to the environment and humans, such as PFAS and hormone disruptors. As a result, substitution of the most harmful chemicals has obviously not occurred at the expected pace.
Even though there is an awareness of the problem with the Cosmetics Regulation, the way the question is formulated in the current public consultation makes us wonder how high the ambitions for this revision are set.
The first question, for example, is about whether or not you would be comfortable buying cosmetics if they contained chemicals that could cause cancer or damage your immune system, or your neurological system. The fact that it is not a rhetorical question makes it absurd. No person on this planet would prefer cosmetics that contain chemicals that can cause cancer over one that doesn’t (surprise!).
“What is certain is that we need a shift in how we think about cosmetics. It should no longer be about how big a risk we are willing to take when using cosmetics”
What is certain is that we need a shift in how we think about cosmetics. It should no longer be about how big a risk we are willing to take when using cosmetics; we should be able to find a better way.
Because of how the current version of the cosmetics regulation is set up and how the questions in the public consultation are asked, we believe that REACH is better suited to address the Chemical Strategy ambition and restrict the most harmful chemicals in cosmetics.
Product-specific regulations, like the cosmetics regulation, should, however, be more ambitious than REACH and specifically target problematic chemicals within the product group – and a lot can be done.
“The most harmful chemicals should not be found in cosmetics”
We know, for example, that preservatives can be very problematic. But you could dramatically reduce the need for preservatives if you used a tube instead of an open jar for the product. This would reduce the product’s exposure to air and bacteria, which is the principal reason why preservatives are needed in the first place.
We must apply a broader perspective on substitution and think outside the box. Without keeping this in mind, there is a risk that we are approaching this topic with a too narrow mindset. Finding better and safer solutions is not always about changing one chemical for another chemical.
The Commission also wants to know more about how companies would react to specific changes in the legislation. This relates to an ongoing discussion about how much legislation companies can handle. The discussion is founded on the false notion that everything will be better if nothing changes. The truth is, however, that everything will remain equally bad if nothing changes. So we need better legislation, not only to improve the safety of ordinary people and to protect the environment better but also for companies.
To fulfil the aims of the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability, the revision of the cosmetic regulation needs to be ambitious and strict. The most harmful chemicals should not be found in cosmetics. Instead, they should be regulated as this is what the European citizens want and expect.
Just ask anyone on the street, and you will see.