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Selling cosmetics

All cosmetic products supplied throughout Great Britain must be safe to use and comply with strict legal requirements. Read this guide to find out more about selling cosmetics.

All cosmetics in Great Britain which are intended for sale or to be given away for free (eg in the course of commercial activity), must comply with the UK Cosmetics Regulation (as included in Schedule 34 of the Product Safety and Metrology Statutory Instrument). Where cosmetics are intended for the market of Northern Ireland, they must comply with Regulation EC 1223/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council on cosmetic products.

This means that cosmetics placed only on the GB market must comply only with the UK Regulation, while cosmetics placed only on the NI market must comply only with the EU Regulation. For more information, see the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) guidance for the GB market and NI market

Where cosmetics are to be sold to the EU, sellers need to comply with the Cosmetics Regulation (EC) No. 1223/2009.

A cosmetic products is defined as “any substance or mixture intended to be placed in contact with the various external parts of the human body or with the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity with a view exclusively or mainly to cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance and/or correcting body odours and/or protecting them or keeping them in good condition”. 

Based on this definition, the following three questions need to be considered when determining whether a product is a cosmetic product. 

1. What is the purpose of the product?

Ask yourself whether the product’s purpose is fully or predominantly cosmetic. Consider if the product is intended to:

  • clean

  • change appearance

  • alter body odour and/or perfume

  • perfume

  • protect

  • maintain in good condition

If the product’s main purpose is not to perform such a function, then it is unlikely to be a cosmetic product.

2. What is the product applied?

Ask yourself where the product is intended to be applied. For example, consider if the product is to be used on:

  • skin

  • hair

  • nails

  • lips

  • teeth

If this is not the case, then the product is unlikely to be a cosmetic product.

3. What is the product’s composition?

Ask yourself whether the product’s composition (ie the ingredients used to make the product) comply with the UK Cosmetic Regulations. Consider: 

  • ingredients prohibited for cosmetics

  • ingredients restricted for cosmetics (certain ingredients have specified maximum amounts that can be used, eg tooth whitening products may contain a maximum of 0.1% of hydrogen peroxide)

  • preservatives, UV filters and colourants which are permitted for cosmetics (note that all preservatives, UV filters and colourants not listed in the the UK Cosmetic Regulations are not permitted)

Where a product’s composition does not comply with these Regulations, it cannot be marketed as a cosmetic product.

For a cosmetic product to be placed on the GB market, it must have a designated responsible person. The responsible person is responsible for ensuring that all relevant legal requirements are complied with.

The responsible person for a cosmetics product that is to be placed on the GB market:

  • must be either an individual or a company 

  • must be located in Great Britain, and

  • should have access to the Product Information File

The responsible person may be:

  • the manufacturer of the cosmetic product

  • the brand owner marketing the cosmetic product under their name or trade mark

  • the importer of the cosmetic product

  • a person or company established within Great Britain, by the manufacturer, brand owner or importer, to act as the responsible person

Every cosmetic product must have its own Product Information File (PIF), which contains information about the product. A PIF must include:

  • a description of the cosmetic product

  • the Cosmetic Product Safety Report

  • details on how the cosmetic product was manufactured

  • evidence proving the effects claimed of the cosmetic product

  • any data on animal testing

The PIF is available for inspection by the relevant enforcement authority (ie Trading Standards) and the responsible person, as the party guaranteeing that the product is safe for human use, must make the PIF accessible for inspection.

Cosmetic products must be safe for human use. The manufacturer or supplier of the cosmetics is responsible for ensuring they are safe. 

The safety of cosmetic products is demonstrated by the cosmetic products undergoing a full safety assessment and a Cosmetic Product Safety Report  being compiled before the product is placed on the market. Enforcement authorities (ie Trading Standards) may inspect these documents.

Safety assessment

Cosmetics are assessed for safety by a qualified expert (ie a safety assessor) carrying out a safety assessment. In determining whether a cosmetic products is safe for use, the safety assessor will consider all relevant information, including:

  • the ingredients’ toxicity

  • the ingredients’ chemical composition

  • the level of exposure of the ingredients

  • the exposure characteristics of the class of individuals for whom the product is intended

  • the exposure characterics of the areas on which the cosmetics are intended to be applied

Cosmetic Product Safety Report 

A Cosmetic Product Safety Report (CPSR) is a document which contains all information required to prove that a cosmetic product is safe to use. There is no prescribed format for a CPSR but it must follow the minimum requirements detailed in Annex 1 of the Regulations, which include the following information necessary for the CPSR to be produced:

  • the cosmetic product’s quantitative and qualitative composition

  • the cosmetic product’s physical and/or chemical characteristics and stability 

  • microbiological quality of the cosmetic product and its ingredients

  • impurities of ingredients

  • trace of prohibited substances and evidence for their technical unavoidability

  • information about the packaging material

  • normal and reasonably foreseeable use of the cosmetic product

  • exposure to the cosmetic product (including where the product is to be used, how much product is to be applied and the duration and frequency of use)

  • exposure to the cosmetic product’s ingredients

  • toxicological profile of the cosmetic product’s ingredients

  • undesirable and serious undesirable effects of the cosmetic product

  • other relevant information on the cosmetic product (eg data on existing studies on human volunteers)

The CPSR must also include a conclusion to the safety assessment, with the assessors reasoning, any labelling and/or warnings required, and the safety assessor's credentials (ie their name, address and signature; proof of qualification; and the date of the assessment).

What about animal testing?

Cosmetic products sold in the UK (and Europe) are not tested on animals. This is the case regardless of whether the cosmetic makes an ‘animal friendly’ claim. Instead, a safety assessment is carried out. For more information, see the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association Ltd (CTPA) on Animal testing facts.

While there is no list of claims that can be made in relation to cosmetic products, the responsible person must ensure that all claims made about the cosmetic are accurate and do not imply characteristics that the cometic does not have. Claims about cosmetic products must not be misleading or misinform customers and must comply with the common criteria for cosmetic claims. Generally, claims made in relation to cosmetic products must have evidence to support them.

For more information, see the CTPA on Confidence in cosmetic claims.

Generally, all cosmetic products must be labelled with the following information:

  • name and address of the UK responsible person 

  • country of origin where the product is imported 

  • nominal quantity of content at the time of packaging, provided either by weight or volume

  • a best before date where the products lasts for under 30 months or, where the product’s minimum shelf life is more than 30 months, a period after opening symbol (the latter indicates that the product is safe and can be used without causing harm once opened)

  • warning statements and precautionary information regarding the ingredients - these are specified in the annexes of the Regulations (Annex 3 details chemical substances, Annex 4 details colours, Annex 5 details preservatives and Annex 6 details UV filters)

  • batch number (ie a code which enables the manufacturer or supplier to identify the batch in which the product was manufactured)

  • product function, when this is not obvious from its packaging and/or presentation (eg the function of a lipstick is obvious and does not need to be labelled; however, the function of a depilatory cream is not obvious and should therefore not only be labelled as a ‘cream’, but also include a description of the product’s function)

  • list of all ingredients (ingredients should be listed using the names given in the glossary of Common Ingredient names which the Secretary of State will publish - where a common ingredient name doesn’t exist, an different, accepted name as set out in Appendix 1 of the government’s guidance may be used)

Where cosmetic products are packaged (eg in a carton) the label should be attached to the packaging. If the products aren’t packaged, the label should be attached to the product container. 

Where products are small and difficult to label, the ingredients may be listed on a leaflet - this needs to be indicated on the outer packaging (by the use of a hand pointing to an open book logo). Alternatively, the ingredients should be displayed close to where the product is sold.

There is no requirement to register cosmetic products. Instead, the OPSS operates a cosmetic notification portal (the Submit Cosmetic Products Notifications (SCPN) portal). All cosmetic products must be notified to the SCPN before being placed in the GB market - this is the responsibility of the responsible person. Such notice must include the responsible person’s details and specific information about the cosmetic product (eg its ingredients). For more information, see the government’s guidance.

For more guidance on making, supplying and selling cosmetics see the CTPA website.

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