Cosmetics: why the mention “paraben free” will disappear from your shelves

Have you ever bought a shower gel? Like millions of French people, you will answer yes to this question. Yes, you have found yourself in the cosmetics section of a supermarket. You stood there a few minutes. Long minutes. You did not know which product to choose. Almond or passion fruit scent? Then you read the packaging of the products you were interested in. Your choice fell on the product which bears the mention “paraben free” because you imagine that it does not contain toxic substances, that it is “good for health”. You bought it. And you keep doing it.

Like many other French consumers, you let yourself be seduced by the marketing of “without” (eg: “without silicones”, “without sulphates”). These mentions represented 20% of the claims on cosmetics, according to a 2016 report from the Commission of the European Parliament and the Council. And cosmetic products are not the only ones concerned, food products have also long since succumbed to this trend (“without additives, without colorings”, “fed without GMOs” or “without palm oil”) which reassures consumers and rush their buying decisions.

In 2017, sales of “paraben-free” products increased by 2.3% compared to 2016, while sales of cosmetics fell by 0.9%, recalls the study The future of beauty carried out in 2018 by Nielsen. These mentions are not always justified and may even appear absurd, if one dwells on them. Reading the packaging of a “preservative-free” perfume does not make sense, because the perfume is not a product that contains preservatives given its alcohol content.

In order to put an end to marketing techniques intended to mislead consumers, the regulations have changed since Monday, July 1.

Promote products

Two texts – the European Technical Document on Cosmetic Claims and the 8th French ARPP cosmetic product recommendation – now prohibit the use of a large majority of “free” claims. Mention which will be replaced by “with such ingredient” to “contribute to a positive image of cosmetic products”, we read on the ARPP website.

s millions of French people, you will answer yes to this question. Yes, you have found yourself in the cosmetics section of a supermarket. You stood there a few minutes. Long minutes. You did not know which product to choose. Almond or passion fruit scent? Then you read the packaging of the products you were interested in. Your choice fell on the product which bears the mention “paraben free” because you imagine that it does not contain toxic substances, that it is “good for health”. You bought it. And you keep doing it.

Like many other French consumers, you let yourself be seduced by the marketing of “without” (eg: “without silicones”, “without sulphates”). These mentions represented 20% of the claims on cosmetics, according to a 2016 report from the Commission of the European Parliament and the Council. And cosmetic products are not the only ones concerned, food products have also long since succumbed to this trend (“without additives, without colorings”, “fed without GMOs” or “without palm oil”) which reassures consumers and rush their buying decisions.

In 2017, sales of “paraben-free” products increased by 2.3% compared to 2016, while sales of cosmetics fell by 0.9%, recalls the study The future of beauty carried out in 2018 by Nielsen. These mentions are not always justified and may even appear absurd, if one dwells on them. Reading the packaging of a “preservative-free” perfume does not make sense, because the perfume is not a product that contains preservatives given its alcohol content.

In order to put an end to marketing techniques intended to mislead consumers, the regulations have changed since Monday, July 1.

Promote products

Two texts – the European Technical Document on Cosmetic Claims and the 8th French ARPP cosmetic product recommendation – now prohibit the use of a large majority of “free” claims. Mention which will be replaced by “with such ingredient” to “contribute to a positive image of cosmetic products”, we read on the ARPP website.

Only “without” useful because allowing an informed choice will remain authorized on cosmetic products. The “alcohol-free” claims will therefore be maintained for a shower bath intended for a whole family or “without essential oils” for products intended for pregnant women. The “hypoallergenic” claim will also be checked and will be authorized if the product does not contain any known allergens or allergen precursors.

UFC-Que Choisir welcomes the initiative

“This is a development that is going in the right direction, comments Gaëlle Landry, spokesperson for the consumer association UFC-Que Choisir. We have always denounced this type of allegation, because in most cases, we consider that they are not informative. That they are falsely reassuring, “she explains.

Like Yuka, the QuelCosmetic application developed by UFC-Que Choisir evaluates the ingredients of a product after analyzing the barcode. The rating assigned to the product depends on the ingredients but also on the number of mentions displayed on the packaging. “The more allegations there are, the lower the score,” said the spokesperson. According to her, the reform should not stop there: “green washing also deserves to be sanctioned because some brands show the terms” vegetable “or” natural. “Marketing, once again, misleading, because the composition is not in sync with communication. “

Candice Colin, CEO of the Officinea laboratory (at the origin of a range of “transparent” products) and co-founder of the CleanBeauty application has always campaigned for healthier products, whose ingredients are clearly communicated. According to her, consumers are demanding more transparency, “they are more active, more responsible and have a role to play in this development,” she says. To know the composition of the products and to be better informed, the French also turn to the applications. Because consumers pay particular attention to ingredients, “which in 2017 became the second purchasing criterion behind price, according to a study by Statista,” she says.

Image battle

The Federation of Beauty Companies (FEBEA) – which brings together more than 350 beauty companies – supports the implementation of this European directive. “It is awareness that is necessary for the cosmetics industry. Companies must engage in positive communication”, reacts Anne Dux, director of scientific and regulatory affairs of the FEBEA.

Chance of the calendar or not, this July 1, the federation launched a national information campaign, by making available to consumers, a database listing more than 25,000 ingredients. This database makes it possible “to decipher the composition of a product, to have access to the right information and put an end to received ideas on the dangerousness of certain products”, informs Anne Dux. Would this tool seek to replace cosmetic applications such as Yuka or QuelCosmetic?

According to its director of scientific and regulatory affairs, the FEBEA “simply seeks to give the right information to the consumer. Because cosmetic applications are not reliable”. Already in October 2018, the FEBEA challenged the scientific expertise of the applications. In her press release, she underlined that “a lot of information appearing in the applications is to date erroneous, obsolete, partial or even inappropriate, or rests on bases without solid scientific foundation and / or on inappropriate algorithms”. However, the database seems to be based on the one posted on the European Commission website, which served as the basis for the QuelCosmetic application. On your next visit to the cosmetics department, you will still read the “free” claims. They will disappear when the products already marketed are sold. Patience, therefore.