The main reason people use personal care products is for what they do for them. All but the most humble of products have a story they want to tell about the benefits you will derive from them. A product’s claims are its most important attribute.
Outrageous claims have been a part of human behaviour forever and are not going away any time soon. The cosmetic industry is probably no worse than most others, but it sure as heck isn’t a great deal better. The temptation to talk up the benefits of your offering is one that all marketing departments give into with all the hesitation of a chipmunk in a peanut factory. Given that so many products are otherwise indistinguishable from one another it is easy to see why. The pressure to give people a reason to buy your product rather than someone else’s is enormous.
Despite this, new stipulations of the latest update to the cosmetic regulations that came into force last summer attempt to bring some order to the claims that can be made on behalf of cosmetic products. Article 20 leads with this paragraph.
In the labelling, making available on the market and advertising of cosmetic products, text, names, trade marks, pictures and figurative or other signs shall not be used to imply that these products have characteristics or functions which they do not have.
That is pretty clear. You mustn’t lie about your product. But to be fair, out and out lies have never been particularly common. Saying stuff that can be shown to be false has never been good business. Marketing people are in any case generally highly skilled at coming up with ways of making things sound good. What I call a “2 log reduction in bacterial population levels” a marketer will call “kills 99% of all known germs dead”.
It is the next bit of the legislation that is intriguing.
After consulting the SCCS (the EU’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) or other relevant authorities, the Commission shall adopt a list of common criteria for claims which may be used in respect of cosmetic products.
So it sounds like a list of what claims can be made is on the way. June 2016 is quoted later as the date that this is going to come into force. There aren’t any details of how this is going to work in practice, but something similar is already in force for health claims in foods. EFSA, the European Food Standards Agency, will only allow claims that it has approved. There have already been some big name casualties. Danone have had to stop claiming that Actimel prevents diarrhoea for example.
EFSA are still chugging their way through the large numbers of claims made on behalf of so called nutritional foods and I imagine more claims are going to be stopped or modified to make them less misleading. EFSA judgements are goldmines for development scientists because they diligently list all the references they have used in researching the claim. But they are also good news for consumers who are less likely to be sold rubbish they never wanted or needed on the basis of spurious advertising. They also allow the companies that have done their homework and can support their claims to compete, since their claims are allowed.
Is the same thing going to happen to cosmetic claims? I have a feeling it isn’t. For a start a great many cosmetic claims defy not only strict scientific analysis, they don’t even follow logic. How exactly do you assess whether you are indeed worth it when handing over your cash for a skin cream? Very specific claims usually do have the data to back them up – but I don’t think that these play a huge role in marketing products. They certainly don’t cost very much when compared to advertising and celebrity endorsements.
So while I will be watching with interest, I am not expecting the new rules on cosmetic claims to make that much difference.
The only new rule that might have some impact is that you are no longer allowed to put ‘free from’ a particular ingredient on a formulation that would never have contained that ingredient in the first place. So you won’t be able to put say ‘alcohol free’ on a lipstick. I have a feeling that there won’t be too many times this is appropriate, but cynical ‘free from’ claims are very annoying so anything that reduces them is a good thing.
On the whole though, I don’t think legislation can do much other than outlaw the most flagrant of misleading advertising. It would be much better if consumers simply ignored all the hype and judged products on what they actually do for them. I get the feeling that this happening.
EU regulations – article 20 is the relevant bit