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Is Brexit a Catastrophe for UK Cosmetics?

Brexit and Cosmetics

With the current chaos created by Brexit everything is up in the air for many businesses and many areas of law that have given us protection with EU membership are hanging in the balance. Just one of the many areas of law facing uncertainty is cosmetics regulation. This will be yet another unanticipated consequence of Brexit for many consumers to add to the growing list of effects.  

As a member of the EU the UK is currently linked with EU regulatory systems and legislation. Over the years there has been so much debate about these regulations which are often perceived as bureaucratic. However, it often goes unnoticed that these regulations afford EU consumers, workers and the environment valuable protection that is lacking in many other countries around the world.

According to John Chave, Director General, Cosmetics Europe “the UK has chosen to give up its vote on the cosmetics regulation, and all other rules. That is a pity for the UK, but also a pity for the EU.” (1)

EU Cosmetics Regulation is seen as gold standard around the world and consumers in many countries with ‘relaxed’ cosmetics laws are envious of the protections that these laws afford. For example, while the European Union have banned upward of 1,300 ingredients from use in cosmetics, the U.S. have only banned 11. A significant difference!

A recent article in The Guardian titled “Carcinogens in your cosmetics? Welcome to Brexit Britain,” caused quite a stir in the cosmetics world and the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) which is the UK’s cosmetics trade association, reassured consumers that cosmetics will continue to be safe after Brexit.

What is the purpose of cosmetics regulation anyway? Is it just another load of bureaucracy? And should we be worried about the impact of Brexit? The main objective of cosmetic products safety legislation is consumer safety which is at the core of the legislation. The ingredients used in cosmetics are strictly regulated. There are lists of substances that can and cannot be used and some ingredients must not exceed a certain level. These laws require cosmetic products to be safe for the purpose for which they are intended. For example, you would expect a bar of soap to be safe to use for washing your hands.  

So what does Brexit mean for the cosmetics industry? Leaving the EU will mean that EU legislation is no longer in force in the UK. That throws up many questions and many uncertainties:

  • Could it lead to a less regulated UK cosmetics market?

  • Will safety standards for beauty slip once the UK leaves the EU?

  • Will UK manufacturers add previously banned ingredients to their products?

  • Will a ban on the sale of cosmetics tested on animals be maintained?

Ultimately the EU cosmetics regulation may be transferred into UK law. However, there are around 19,000 EU regulations in total so it will be quite a hefty task to transfer every regulation into UK law. Therefore, it could be many years before a UK version of the Cosmetics Regulation is written and approved. In the meantime, the UK will continue to comply with EU Cosmetics Regulation and as the CTPA states on their website ‘the current legal structure will stay unchanged for the time being.’ This doesn’t offer much reassurance because it’s not a guarantee that things won’t change in the future. There is no definitive answer about what will happen going forward and it’s a frustrating situation because only time will tell.