Beauty Care Topics

We are the right experts for all questions about cosmetic products and ingredients as well as beauty care and wellbeing.


How safe are cosmetic products?

Media reports time and again insinuate that cosmetic products apparently include substances which are “harmful to health”: carcinogenic substances, substances which can influence the hormone system, substances which occlude the skin or – on the contrary – make it more permeable for any contaminants. Terms such as “chemicals cocktail” go around. New studies are quoted which allegedly have revealed alarming findings. Mineral oil derivatives, silicones, parabens, fragrances, aluminium, nanoparticles and more generally, “synthetic chemicals” are under fire. Many consumers respond understandably with uncertainty and sometimes anxiety.

IKW would like to clarify that whoever buys cosmetic products in Germany can use these products without any concerns. Cosmetic products are subject throughout the European Union to a large number of legal provisions which ensure the safety of the products for consumers. Since the products come directly into contact with humans, the demands on their harmlessness in terms of health is correspondingly high. They do not only relate to the cosmetic product and the type of application but also to all ingredients. After their launch, manufacturers continue to monitor the cosmetic products on an ongoing basis. Like foods, cosmetics are, in addition, subject to inspections by public authorities. In this way it is ensured at all times that the products which are available on the market are harmless in terms of health.

EU Regulation sets the legal framework

A European Regulation – Regulation (EC) No. 1223/2009 on cosmetic products – regulates through precise provisions the ingredients which may be contained in the products and those which are excluded. For some ingredients precise maximum amounts or restrictions of the field of application are, moreover, prescribed. The manufacturers are obliged to comprehensively document compliance with the statutory provisions for each individual product.

The legal provisions on ingredients in the European Cosmetics Regulation are based on assessments by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) of the EU. The independent members of this Committee prepare opinions on individual ingredients on the basis of their scientific expert knowledge. These opinions are used by the legislator as a basis for the corresponding approvals and/or restrictions.

Experts test and assess

For each cosmetic product the preparation of a safety assessment is prescribed. In this connection experts with a corresponding training assess and document the safety of the ingredients and the product before it is launched on the market. In this connection the conditions under which a product is to be applied are especially taken into account. These include, for instance, the concentration of use of the individual ingredients as well as the duration of application, the frequency of application as well as the place of application of the product. This means that ingredients which present a hazard potential in their pure form, e.g. inflammable, irritating or even “toxic” substances can be used in a certain dosage in a cosmetic product without these products constituting a health risk for consumers. Whether a product is safe or not always depends on the individual formulation and its application and less on whether a certain substance with a certain hazard feature is included – to put it in a nutshell: the dose makes the poison.

Public authorities are checking

The public authorities of the Federal States are in charge of surveillance of cosmetic products in Germany: the “Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Offices” of the Federal States conduct regular operational, product and documentation checks in order to review the safety of the products. The Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) co-ordinates essentially the activities within Germany and is networked on the European level with the other public authorities.

Intolerances cannot be completely excluded

Within the framework of the safety assessment the manufacturers also review the tolerance of the cosmetic products. By way of confirmation many different application and tolerance studies are conducted on test subjects. Nonetheless intolerances such as allergic reactions cannot be fully excluded in individual cases. With more than three billion cosmetic products sold in Germany every year there is on average only an intolerance in 1.3 cases for one million products sold.

An individual intolerance refers as a rule only to one ingredient of the product and not the entire cosmetic agent. After the ingredient which is problematic for the consumer has been identified by the medical specialist, this substance should be avoided. Based on the INCI labelling (INCI: International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) the consumer can easily check the ingredients in the product. In order to ensure optimum tolerance, he should only use those cosmetic products which are appropriate for his type of skin and/or hair and follow the instructions for use on the package.

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