An additional annex confirmed by EU authorities regulating the use of claims will significantly impact the labelling and marketing of cosmetic products from July 1, 2019. While some of the rules make sense and promote the principles of fairness and honesty, others silence the voices of consumers, compromise sustainability and facilitate greenwashing.

From July 1, 2019 many claims including “paraben free”, “perfume free”, “allergen free” and “hypoallergenic” will be restricted to use on cosmetic products. According to the EU regulation, claims on cosmetic products should conform to a common criteria, including legal compliance, truthfulness, evidential support and fairness, which is totally reasonable. The newly released guideline interprets these and many more claims as unfair or misleading. But is it truly so? In the case of restricting “paraben free” and similar claims, the guideline actually throws the baby out with the bathwater and compromises the rights of consumers to demand the kind of products they want – safer and more sustainable.

Parabens – so what`s the problem, again? Parabens are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics. The main concern regarding parabens in cosmetics is the potential of some of them to act like hormones in the body, in particular - oestrogen, the female sex hormone. In 2011 the Danish government banned the use of some parabens in products intended for children as they might be especially vulnerable to hormone-like effects. Following Denmark’s initiative, the European Commission amended the EU Cosmetic Regulation by adding five parabens to the list of substances prohibited in cosmetic products (isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, phenylparaben, benzylparaben and pentylparaben). However, the most commonly used parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben) remain listed as preservatives of cosmetic products.

After a series of scientific publications and growing evidence on the risk of parabens, it was actively discussed in the media and by consumers and parabens became a commonly blacklisted ingredient. As parabens are used to preserve the majority of conventional cosmetics, it caused headaches for synthetic/conventional cosmetic formulators. The rise of the “paraben free” formulations became tremendous over the years. No wonder that Cosmetics Europe, the European trade association that include conventional cosmetics and personal care manufacturers, was one of the major influencers in the lobbying process for the new annex.
According to the new guideline, the claim “paraben free” should not be made, because some of the parabens are legally allowed to be used. So strikingly simple! Besides, the “paraben free” claim must go away because it implies a negative perception on the whole group of parabens. It`s like assuming that if one family member is found guilty of a crime, the rest of the family are guilty as well.

Illustrations: Kristīne Martinova.

And now, inhale, exhale and read it again. Did it mention safety? Shall we consider the list of allowed cosmetic ingredients (CosIng) as the “Ultimate Bible” which ensures the safety of ingredients from A to Z? Now I would like to remind you that in the past five years 137 raw materials were banned for use in cosmetic products in the EU, and the total amount of beauty poisons currently includes 1382 substances. The list of allowed cosmetic ingredients is a dynamic document with ingredients removed from the list nearly every year. Compliance with regulations does not ensure the ingredient or product safety per se, as the regulation itself is subject to change along with the increasing scientific evidence on ingredient risks and side effects. Safe and allowed today does not necessarily mean safe and allowed tomorrow.

Even though some parabens have less adverse effects than others, they are far from being fundamentally safe. Instead of promoting further education of the market (both consumers and manufacturers) on the risks and benefits of some important ingredients, the new annex just shuts the mouths of consumers and tears off the labels. People have no more rights to demand a paraben free product and explicit labelling, no more freedom of speech on either the manufacturer or consumer side.

I have never been an advocate of paraben free types of claims because I have seen too many “greenwashing” formulas which reduce the parabens but introduce phenoxyethanol (formaldehyde donor) to preserve luscious mango butter (which, in fact, is based on mineral oil and infused with synthetic mango fragrance). But, on the other hand, such claims along with media influence definitely contributed to shifting the consumer preference towards greener choices and fuelled the ongoing double-digit rise of the natural/organic product demand for more than a decade.

The new reality removes pressure from conventional producers to deliver “free from” formulas, be it parabens, phenoxyethanol, or any other blacklisted ingredient. Along with the fact that Europe still misses a legal definition of organic/natural cosmetics, we can expect a new wave of greenwashing products overflowing European beauty shelves with lush green herbal essences, preserved with whatever kills microbes the best.

Of course, parabens are just a bold example of the ugly side of the beauty industry, but there are many more shady or explicitly dangerous ingredients, for instance chemical sun filters. Luckily, there is some good news, too. Some of the outlined norms are applaudable, as they are designed to prevent cosmetic marketing from going nuts with misleading or over-exaggerated claims. Starting July 1, 2019, consumers, for example, can go shopping for shower gels with honey because the products explicitly or implicitly claiming that they contain honey must actually contain it – not just honey flavour or scent, in order to be truthful.

Any moisturising or anti-wrinkle promise should hold appropriate and adequate scientific evidence to substantiate the claim. Even though it is common sense, not all formulators or brands have followed the principle of evidence-based communication. The new annex also provides brief guidelines for cosmetic testing principles.

Words by


the founder of AS Madara Cosmetics