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EU plans could restrict the amount of information on product labels, dealing a blow to consumers looking to distinguish between different skincare products

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TAKE ACTION to protect 'free from' labelling on skincare products

Mark Briggs

10th April, 2012

Knowing what isn't in a beauty product can be as important as knowing what is. New EU legislation threatens to restrict the 'free from' term on skincare labels but Neal's Yard Remedies say this penalises those that go out of their way to ensure products are safe

New legislation going through the European Commission is seeking to ban cosmetics producers from using terms such as 'Free from,' or 'No' from their advertising and packaging. Supporters of the proposed changes say it will stop companies from misleading customers by advertising their products to be free from certain ingredients which they are legally prevented from using anyway.

However, Neal's Yard Remedies, who are helping lead the campaign to stop the proposals becoming law, argue that in their current form the changes would disproportionately favour those companies who comply with regulation but do little beyond this. The result, say the company, will be to create the illusion of a level playing field in which all cosmetics appear to be of equal quality based on a shared set of basic rules.

Neal's Yard Remedies say that companies which go out of their way to ensure their products are safe and beneficial for their customers should be applauded, not penalised.

The current list of prohibited products was original drawn up in the late 1970s and includes many substances that are not common place ingredients in many cosmetics. However, one product not included on the list are parabens.

Parabens are used as a preservative in cosmetics, toiletries and even food. Parabens can mimic the human hormone estrogen, which some studies have linked to cancer development. While this link has not been confirmed, Denmark (an EU country) has already banned their use in products for children under the age of 3.

There are safety concerns over the estrogenic properties of all parabens but especially two specific compounds, butylparaben and propylparaben. The EU's Scientific Committee acknowledges safety studies are not available for all parabens. The variability in estrogenic activity among the compounds makes setting acceptable safety standards much harder and as a result a more drawn out process.

In Denmark 58 brands aimed at both children and adults have stopped using parabens in their products. An individual company can react to new scientific advances quicker than policy makers, banning companies from advertising this and other additional measures they have taken it will remove some of the opportunity for companies to benefit from increased self-regulation.

Dr. Philippa Darbre, an Oncologist at the University of Reading, says, 'If multiple scientific studies have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and have been made available to the general public because of genuine concerns over specific compounds, then it seems to me that the consumer should be able to know which products do not contain these chemicals. Although there may be no definitive evidence for proof of harm, if a body of data exist to suggest adverse properties and progressive companies are able to implement precautionary measures by removing them, then it seems rather sinister to me that labeling as "free from" should be disallowed. What is so wrong with allowing the consumer to know if a cosmetic product is "free from paraben" or "'free from aluminium"'?

Members will be meeting over the next two months to decide on which terms will be allowed and which banned. Neal's Yard Remedies is hoping to lobby the Cosmetics Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) as they look for help to get their message to EU lawmakers.

TAKE ACTION: You can help NYR's campaign by writing to the CTPA expressing your views. You can also write to your local MEP at www.theyworkforyou.com telling them you oppose the amendment to EU regulation EC no.1223/2009

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