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Cosmetic products advertising: harmonised rules in the EU

Cosmetic products are regulated at European level by a regulation that is applicable directly to all Member States.

Even if there can be cross requirements to be complied with, based on the specific type of the cosmetic product, in the last decade the EU has also worked for a harmonisation of the requirements of cosmetic advertising for a safe marketing of these products in the EU, and for appropriate information to users.

Cosmetic marketing does not require a preliminary authorisation, however any communication referred to this kind of products is clearly regulated. There are six common criteria that claims on cosmetic products should comply with:

  • legal compliance
  • truthfulness
  • evidential support
  • honesty
  • fairness
  • informed decision-making.

The responsible person

The responsible person placing a cosmetic product on the market, along with the other obligations (CPNP notification, PIF drafting, cosmetovigilance), should also ensure that the claims regarding the cosmetic product are compliant with the above common criteria and consistent with the evidence in the Product Information File (PIF).

Such declarations includes a series of information, indications and adjectivisations appearing on the labelling or advertising material of the products, required to define a cosmetic product and to inform final users on the characteristics, qualities, and effects attributed to the cosmetic product. The dissemination media that can be used are various and there is no limitation from this point of view.

The European Commission released a guideline on cosmetic claims describing with simple practical examples the applicability of the 6 criteria established in the European regulation. The main goal of the adoption of common criteria is to ensure a high level of protections for the final users, in particular by misleading claims on cosmetic products.

Non compliant advertising can be found especially on the internet; this attributes to the product properties that are excluded from the definition itself of cosmetic product.

Claims such as disinfectant, curative, healing, are not admitted for cosmetic products, which are only associated with a purpose of cleaning, perfuming, changing the appearance, protecting, maintaining in good condition the outer surfaces of the human body, teeth and mucosa, or correcting body smells.

Attention should be paid to the border that should be clearly delineated between cosmetics and other products such as no prescription drugs or other types of medicines, PMC (Presidi Medico-Chirurgici, medical surgical aids), MDs, etc. (for which specific norms on advertising are in place).

In order to correctly identify the field of application of a cosmetic product, in general, it is possible to refer to the cosmetic functions acknowledged at European level for each ingredient it contains. For instance, a hydrating function can be attributed to a cream if it contains at least one ingredient for which a “skin conditioning” function is acknowledged.

To confirm such claim, a dedicated study should be carried out on the cosmetic product. Any information on the efficacy of a product should in fact be scientifically demonstrated, and the control authority could, at any moment, request the documentation supporting the claims on the product.

Information on the market surveillance activities by the police task force (carabinieri N.A.S.) are published daily on the portal of the Italian Ministry of Health, and several non compliances are often detected for cosmetic products. In Italy, the decree on sanctions allows to apply money fines, established based on the article of the European regulation that is violated, as well as the one regarding the claims on the product (art. 20 of Regulation EC no. 1223/2020).

Cosmetic products have a relevant role in the life of their final users, therefore it is important to ensure that the information provided is useful, understandable and reliable, also allowing them to take informed decisions, so that they can choose the products that are more suitable to their own needs and expectations.

Written by: Giorgia Martini