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Is your hand wash safe to use?

22 January 2014

Six months on since a new regulation was introduced to ensure the safety of cosmetic products – including those for hand washing – Valerie Fotheringham, chief microbiologist at Evans Vanodine, looks at whether businesses and consumers are yet fully aware of its implications

Hand washing is a simple procedure carried out by everyone several times a day, but how do you know whether the hand wash product you are using is safe? The Cosmetic Regulation No. 1223/2009/EC, which came into full effect on 11th July 2013, has caused a great deal of confusion over the last six months and attracted a huge amount of industry debate. However, the fact is that it is a very important piece of legislation which aims to answer the question of product safety and ensure that misleading claims are a thing of the past.

The Cosmetic Regulation 76/769/EEC has been in place for a number of years but 1223/2009/EC adds and extends the requirements for manufacturers, importers and suppliers. The main changes include the addition of new criteria for advertising claims, the extension of Product Information File (PIF) requirements and the addition of more detailed responsibilities for placing a product on the market.

European Portal

The Regulation also makes provision for public access to certain product information via electronic means on a European Portal (CPNP). However, due to the very large number of notifications, the portal has not been working as effectively as expected and even now many products are still not listed. The scope of the regulation is to establish "rules to be complied with by any cosmetic product made available on the market, in order to ensure the functioning of the internal market and a high level of protection of human health".

The Regulation was originally published in December 2009 and therefore there has been ample time for manufacturers to ensure that they comply. However, it is clear from discussions within the industry and from examination of labels in the marketplace that many products are still not being manufactured and sold in compliance with the requirements.

The regulation covers all cosmetic products sold in the retail and professional markets, defined in the regulation as any substance or mixture "intended to be placed in contact with the external parts of the human body with a view to exclusively or mainly cleaning, perfuming, changing appearance, protecting, keeping in good condition or correcting body odours”. 

The regulation is binding in its entirety and is directly applicable in all member states of the European Union. Products manufactured outside the EU but sold in the EU must also comply with the Regulation. Failure to comply can result in penalties. The manufacturer of a cosmetic product is considered to be the ‘Responsible Person’ (RP), who will ensure compliance with the relevant obligations set out in the Regulation. A manufacturer, however, may designate another company as the ‘RP’. The name and address of the ‘RP’ will be highlighted on the product label, whether this is the manufacturer or a designated ‘RP’.

Misleading claims

Product claims are also covered in the Regulation; Article 20 states that text, names, trademarks, pictures and figurative or other signs shall not be used to imply that the product has characteristics or functions which they do not have. Label or advertising claims will be examined as part of the safety assessment of the product. In the case of bactericidal claims, evidence must be produced to demonstrate the effectiveness of the hand wash in use. There are suitable European Test Methods available for this purpose, such as EN 1276, EN 13727 and EN 1499 which tests hygienic hand washes on volunteers’ hands.

Member States appoint a Competent Authority to be responsible for the implementation of the Regulation; in the UK this is the Trading Standards Institute. It is their responsibility not only to check that all companies are compliant with the new Regulation, but also to take action when they find examples that are not. If your product complies with the regulation, your customers, consumers and the general public can be sure that all measures have been taken to ensure the safety of the product. A safety assessment of each product is carried out by a qualified person and includes assessment of quality and suitability of raw materials, the manufacturing and filling process, quality control testing, microbiological quality testing, product claims, label and exposure.

The future

We believe the market, as well as the Trading Standards Institute, will take responsibility for policing the industry, especially if a company has spent a considerable amount of time and money making their products compliant, only to find out that their competitors have not even bothered. It will be interesting to see if after another six months of 1223/2009/EC whether all manufacturers are compliant with the regulation and all products are listed on the portal.