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Does the law deal with nano in cosmetics and toiletries?

As in many other product sectors, the law on cosmetics and toiletries comes from the European Union (EU). The EU has passed a number of laws relating to cosmetics and personal care products, which have been adopted in the UK as the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008. The Regulations work to protect consumer safety by ensuring that cosmetic products meet certain requirements before becoming available on the market.

Who’s in charge in the UK?

Local authorities’ trading standards departments are responsible for enforcing these laws.

What sorts of products are covered?

The Regulations cover all cosmetic products.

What’s a ‘cosmetic product’?

The definition of ‘cosmetic products’ is wider than you might expect. It includes things like face and body cream, sun tan lotion, hair gel, nail varnish, deodorant, toothpaste and mouthwash. Basically, any products we use to clean, protect, perfume, or change the appearance of our skin, hair nails or mouth will be covered by the Regulations.

How do they work?

The Regulations make it illegal for anyone to supply a cosmetic product which may damage human health. Before a cosmetic product can be placed on the UK market, the manufacturer or supplier must conduct a risk assessment to make sure it is safe to use and notify the government Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

To protect consumers, the Regulations ban the use of certain ingredients in cosmetic products, and restrict the use of others.

The Regulations also require that cosmetic products are labelled with information such as the manufacturer’s name and address, a ‘best before’ date, conditions of use and appropriate warnings (e.g. ‘not to be used for children under 3 years of age’).

What about nano?

Although the Cosmetic Product (Safety) Regulations do not mention nano, they still apply to cosmetic products containing nano ingredients. The Regulations treat nano and non-nano products in the same way.

Some people think that this could be a problem, and have expressed concern that the Regulations may not offer consumers enough protection.

What's the problem exactly?

One problem is that conventional risk assessment methods may not be suitable for testing the safety of certain nanomaterials in cosmetic products. Click here for more information

Another problem may arise where the Regulations limit the use of particular cosmetic ingredients. UV filters, for example, can only be used if their concentration does not exceed a specified level. Some people are concerned that these concentration limits might be set too high for nano ingredients and should be lowered to reflect the fact that nanomaterials could be more hazardous.

A third problem is that, under the current law, manufacturers are under no obligation to label cosmetic products as containing nano ingredients. Consumers might want to know whether the products they buy contain nanomaterials.

Is anything being done about this?

There has been lots of activity at EU-level recently to change the law on cosmetics so that it deals specifically with nano. A new EU law on cosmetics has just been passed, and will take effect in all EU Member States (including the UK).

The new Regulation says that whoever places cosmetics containing nano on the market must notify the European Commission, and provide detailed information on its particle size, properties, and safety.

The new Regulation also requires that nanomaterials are clearly indicated in the list of ingredients and marked as ‘nano’ on product labels.

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