Brexit and Cosmetics

Well Brexit is still in the news and looks like it will stay there for some years to come. Whatever we might think of it we will now have to cope with it. What does it mean for those of us who work in the cosmetic industry? The cosmetic industry is a particularly international one and for those of us based in the UK there are some potential risks ahead, and given the size of the UK market there will be plenty of companies around the globe that supply into it who will be looking on with interest and maybe a little worried about the ways any upcoming changes might affect business.

The main one is the requirement of the EU cosmetic regulations that any person or company trading in the EU has to have an address at which they can be contacted, and that address has to be in the EU. If the UK simply decides to go its own way on cosmetic regulations then UK addresses will no longer qualify. If things turned out particularly badly, the UK could impose the same requirement on EU businesses to have an address in the UK of course which would affect everyone on the continent who trades into the UK.

This would not be too much of an issue for big cosmetic companies who can cope with extra cost of running an office in another country, but would affect the ability of small companies to trade freely across the Channel. I dare say that low cost solutions will be found – but even low cost can be a problem if you are small enough.

The approach that any sane person would favour would simply be for the UK and EU to mutually recognise each other just as they currently do. This would mean that the status quo would continue which is what would suit most people involved best.

The obvious and logical response the EU would make to that suggestion would be that this would only be possible if the UK worked to EU cosmetic regulations, including any further alterations and changes to them in the future. I don’t see that as much of a hardship since any UK company that wanted to sell in Europe would have to comply with them anyway. The UK would of course lose any way of influencing those rules – and that would be something of a culture shock because UK representatives have in the past been very active in the framing of the legislation. But that is what the people of the UK have voted for so until they change their minds we’ll have to live with losing our say.

Whatever is done, I hope that it can all get sorted out quickly and that good sense and moderation prevail on both sides. Not knowing what is going to happen next is in many the worst situation to be in.

Another less urgent but probably in the long run more important issue is the newish system of cosmetovigilance that the last version of the EU cosmetic regulations introduced. Companies are now obliged to report all serious adverse reactions to their local authorities who in turn pass this onto a central database. In principle this is an important public health initiative, although because it hasn’t been running for long and also because health issues with cosmetics are pretty rare, there is not much to report in the way of beneficial effects as yet. It only went live in 2013. Again, it would make most sense if the UK simply signed up to the programme and participated in it on the same terms that it would have done if it were part of the union.

The other big long term initiative coming up will be the review of acceptable claims. This is something that has been in the public domain since 2009 when the draft of the current regulations was first released, but it doesn’t seem to have made much impact on people’s thoughts yet.

This process is due to start this year so we should be getting some details soon. I would expect the panel that is appointed will start publishing rulings at least by next year. Whether they have any legal validity in the UK in the circumstances I‘ll leave to the lawyers. But practically I would suggest we have no choice but to conform to them. We can hardly have claims that are acceptable in the UK but not across the Channel. And we certainly don’t want the perception to arise that you can get away with things in the UK that the EU doesn’t allow. Appearing indifferent to consumer rights is not a good look.

So basically if things go well the effect of Brexit on the cosmetic industry should be negligible if everyone behaves sensibly. The big risk is that if negotiations overall don’t proceed smoothly the cosmetic industry could find itself being used as bargaining chip in a much bigger game.

Let’s hope that doesn’t prove to be the case.


  1. Great information, but I don’t see why the big players or tiny weeny brands would want to avoid transparency when it comes to ingredients labelling. Customer centric means transparency for all don’t you think?

    1. Which companies are trying to avoid ingredient listing?

  2. Hi Colin,

    Thanks for great insights. We plan to import Korean cosmetics to the UK, however, still not sure if we will be required to register items into CNPN?

    Also, do you know what happens if importing and selling cosmetics without registering into CNPN?

    Thanks in advance,

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