Sort out which are myths or scares and put what you read into perspective

What's in my cosmetic? 

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What’s in my cosmetic product and what do all the terms mean?

Technical language can over-complicate and confuse those who are not using the terms daily. This is why the CTPA is working hard to provide explanations of cosmetic ingredients and terms used to explain how they work in easy-to-understand language.

If you have a suggestion for a topic that you would like to see included please contact us.

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Absorption of chemicals

Cosmetic products are carefully formulated to ensure ingredients are delivered to the appropriate site on the skin or hair. The skin is an effective barrier against penetration which is why even today most medicines have to be swallowed or injected and very few can be absorbed through the skin from topical patches.

Of course some substances do penetrate the skin or may be ingested (from oral care and lip products) but these are readily metabolised and harmlessly excreted. They do not accumulate within the body to reach unsafe levels. All of these elements will be addressed by the safety assessor and will be factored in to the safety assessment.

The ability of a substance to enter through the skin is a complex thing and is down to the characteristics of each individual substance, such as its ability to be soluble in lipids and its size (molecular weight). Just as our weight is measured by the unit 'kilograms', the 'weight' or 'size' of each individual unit of a substance (molecule) is estimated in the unit 'Daltons'. You may sometimes come across a reference to the 'Dalton rule'. This is a 'rule of thumb' and says that substances above about 500 Daltons in size will not easily pass through the skin; substances below about 500 Daltons will find it easier, but only if they have a low electrical charge and are neither very soluble in lipids nor water. This rule applies to undamaged skin; broken skin (cuts, grazes, inflamed areas) allows many substances to gain access to the body which would not normally be able to pass through the skin.

The safety assessment required for each cosmetic product before it is placed on the market takes into account any possibility of skin penetration, including as necessary any use on damaged skin, to ensure there can be no harm caused to the consumer.

Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

In the UK advertised claims are subject to close scrutiny by watchdog organisations; broadcast advertisements must be pre-cleared by Clearcast and both broadcast and print advertisements are scrutinised by the Advertising Standards Authority. These organisations require robust scientific evidence to substantiate claims being made.

The Advertising Standards Authority is the independent body set up by the advertising industry to police the rules laid down in the advertising codes. The ASA is committed to protecting consumers and creating a level playing field for advertisers.  To find out more visit:


Top tips for using aerosols safely

Below are some top tips for using aerosols safely. Further tips on using aerosols safely have been produced by the British Aerosol Manufacturers' Association (BAMA) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

  • Always read the instructions and precautions and make sure you understand them completely.
  • Always use aerosols in a well ventilated area. If using an aerosol in a confined space, open windows and doors to provide ventilation.
  • Aerosols are pressurised containers. Do not pierce or burn aerosols. Store them away from sunlight and heat.
  • Aerosols are extremely flammable. Avoid spraying aerosols near naked flames and potential sources of ignition (e.g. cigarettes, pilot lights).
  • Ensure aerosols are stored out of reach of children.
  • Aerosols should only be used in short bursts unless the instructions state otherwise.
    Deliberate inhalation of solvents found in everyday household products, including aerosols, can be harmful or fatal.
    Aerosols are labelled with the SACKI warning "Solvent Abuse Can Kill Instantly" as recommended by the British Aerosol Manufacturers' Association. This is designed to be a general warning about the risks of solvent abuse. Advice and resources on substance abuse are available from Re-Solv: the national charity dedicated to volatile substance abuse.


Alcohol-free claims

“Alcohol-free” is commonly understood as meaning “free from ethanol”.

In common language, alcohol is commonly understood to be ethanol or ethyl alcohol, often used as a solvent in cosmetics or carrier for perfume oils. Ethanol is also the alcohol in alcoholic drinks such as beers, wines and spirits and this is the common or popular understanding of the term.

However, if we look at the term ‘alcohol’ in scientific terms, this means any substance that contains a specific chemical group called a ‘hydroxyl group’ (sometimes written as an -OH group). A hydroxyl group is made up of oxygen and hydrogen. These chemicals will very often have the term ‘alcohol’ somewhere in their names. This can be confusing if these are present in cosmetic products that claim to be “Alcohol free”.

Alcohol-free claims are taken to mean "free from ethanol". Ethanol is an excellent solvent, meaning it dissolves things easily. Because of this, it will dissolve oils and fats from the skin and remove water; so it is termed as having a drying effect. Some consumers may find it mildly irritating.

Consumers looking for "alcohol free" products will be looking to avoid these effects of ethanol or because of other personal or cultural reasons.

All claims should be true and not misleading according to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

Found in fruit such as grapes and lemons, as well as in sugar cane and milk. Often known as fruit acids, they are used at low concentrations to gently speed up the skin’s normal exfoliation process. The result is a shedding of dry surface skin cells and an improved appearance and skin feel. At concentrations higher than used in cosmetic products, irritation and peeling can occur.

Aluminium in antiperspirants

Antiperspirants contain ingredients called aluminium salts (sometimes referred to as aluminium/zirconium salts) that dissolve in sweat and leave a thin coating of gel over the sweat glands. This coating reduces the amount of sweat on the skin for a number of hours after the antiperspirant is applied. Alum, a salt of aluminium, is the crystal widely used in “natural” deodorants/antiperspirants and works along similar lines.

Aluminium is the third most naturally abundant element in the environment, found in food, water and pharmaceuticals as well as a wide range of consumer products. There is no safety data that suggests that aluminium presents a health threat when included in antiperspirants.

Although there is no evidence to prove it, some have questioned whether antiperspirants could be linked in some way to breast cancer. Why? The answer is that several studies have demonstrated a negligible potential for aluminium salts to penetrate into (but not through) the skin. However, if a small amount were absorbed from antiperspirant, this would be tiny in comparison to the amounts we consume in the foods we eat daily. After all, antiperspirants are designed to work by staying on the surface of the skin, so the products would not work if a significant amount of the active ingredient was absorbed into the skin itself.

A number of leading cancer research organisations support this view, stating there is no plausible biological mechanism by which antiperspirants could cause breast cancer. Indeed, in the past, national cancer charities and other authorities (including Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Cancer Research UK) have seen false allegations as diverting attention away from taking action on those factors known to be associated with a risk of breast cancer, such as smoking and poor diet.

  • Breakthrough Breast Cancer has produced a helpful factsheet on this issue.
  • In 2008 a panel of leading clinical oncologists concluded that there is no scientific evidence that deodorants or antiperspirants cause cancer. Read more about this research.

It has also been suggested that aluminium may be able to mimic oestrogen. The strength of any such effect would be extremely low and only detectable under experimental conditions that cannot apply to real life, and there is no evidence that this can harm human health. Many substances have the ability to mimic oestrogen – and these are found at much higher concentrations in the foods we eat. In practice, just because something has the potential to mimic a hormone (in this case oestrogen), it does not mean that it can cause harm to human health. Remember, aluminium is the third most common element in the earth’s crust and most of what we absorb comes from food and drink.

Aluminium and Alzheimer's disease

Some researchers have speculated that there could be a link between aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease; however, there is no proof that such a relationship exists. There has been a lot of research into this area over the past 40 years. In 1997, the World Health Organisation said that it had found no evidence that aluminium was a health risk for healthy people who were in contact with aluminium because of their jobs, and there was no evidence that aluminium was a primary cause of Alzheimer's disease. Also, epidemiological studies show no unusual incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in persons working in aluminium mines or smelters where they could be expected to inhale the substance in large amounts.

The overwhelming medical and scientific opinion is that the current findings do not convincingly demonstrate a causal relationship between aluminium and Alzheimer's disease.

For more information please see the Alzheimer's Society website.

Animal testing

Cosmetic products used daily by consumers are NOT tested on animals

Animal testing of both cosmetic products and their ingredients has not taken place in the UK since 1997 (a voluntary industry initiative that led to all licences for such testing being withdrawn). In Europe a complete ban on the testing of cosmetic products was imposed by the European cosmetic laws in September 2004.




Anti-ageing is certainly to be taken seriously. As more is learned about the process of cell ageing, so this knowledge can be applied to products designed to minimise the consequences. Whilst we may not be able literally to turn the clock back (yet), we can minimise the impact of normal cellular ageing and to 'make the best of what you have'. The importance of slowing the signs of ageing is great - think back to the days when we did not know about the damage from UV rays, and now we can prevent this by taking care not to extend our time in the sun and by using appropriate sun protection products. Free radicals are another area of recent progress, anti-oxidants are beneficial here too, AHAs have been in use for many years in skincare products. The skill of the cosmetic company is in getting the science to work in a consumer-friendly product rather than in theory and making sure the claims made for the product can be supported and are clearly explained for the user.


Substances which can help the body eliminate or fight the effects of free radicals or which are used to prevent oxidation (i.e. degradation caused by exposure to oxygen in the atmosphere) of other ingredients within the formulation, especially lipids. Oxidation of lipids can lead to rancidity and unpleasant smells.


Do they provide useful information?

Apps for smartphones and tablets are available for almost any subject you can imagine, including those that claim to help you identify safe cosmetics. Unfortunately, very many of these apps base their judgement on a scan of ingredients alone and this can only provide you with misleading information which would steer you away from products that are perfectly safe to use. These apps do this by assuming some cosmetic products are not safe and should not be used simply because they contain ingredients the app provider has decided are not safe. This, of course, is quite wrong.

How do cosmetic manufacturers ensure safety?

All cosmetic products placed on the market must, by law, be safe.  In the UK and EU, the law requires that before a cosmetic product can be marketed a qualified safety assessor must personally affirm the safety of the product based on a review of the way the product is made, all of the ingredients used and in what concentrations, as well as how the product is to be used and by whom and how often.  This includes considering use by a pregnant woman. Products intended for babies and children under three must have a further specific assessment.  Only when the assessor reports that the product is safe can it be made available to consumers.  Teams of scientists are involved in the creation and production of a cosmetic product and much research is conducted to better understand how the body works.  A look at the process that manufacturers go through before the product safety assessment begins can be found here.

Apps are not based on science

Of course, the promoters of these apps often talk about erring on the side of caution and avoiding ingredients where there are any rumours over their safety. However, such a view ignores the fact that the ingredients they refer to have been shown by science to be safe; the only remaining safety concerns are those repeated by people who have not followed the scientific debates.  Decisions over safety must be based on facts and data, on the evidence itself, and not on rumours or myths no matter how often reported.  In the EU, the same strict law is enforced in every EU country and any questions over the safety of specific ingredients would be referred to an independent scientific committee of experts which advises the European Commission.  The same scientific rigour and safety requirements will remain in place in the UK when we exit the EU.

It is true that some substances can have harmful effects when used to excess or when used in a different way from that used in cosmetics. For example, ethanol consumed to excess is clearly harmful, but a spritz of alcohol-based perfume on the skin presents no danger. We also know that drinking excess water can directly lead to a heart attack, but that does not mean we should not use water in making cosmetics. In truth, there are no completely safe substances, only safe ways of using them.  

An organisation called Sense About Science has a great publication called ‘Making Sense of Chemical Stories’ in which they explain how we are all made up of chemicals, including the food we eat.  You will be amazed at the long list of chemical ingredients in something as simple as an apple!  Apple seeds contain a small amount of amygdalin (we know it as cyanide), a lethal poison of course, but if you eat whole apple seeds with their hard seed covering, they pass through your digestive system relatively untouched.  If you chew the seeds thoroughly, you will be exposed to the chemicals inside the seeds, but the dose of toxins in an apple is small enough that your body can easily ‘detoxify’ it. You would need to eat many thousands of apple seeds at one time to be at risk of cyanide poisoning.

Confidence assured

The strict cosmetics laws, and indeed business sense, and the ethics of manufacturers ensures that ingredients are used only in ways that are safe. In the UK and EU, and increasingly across the world, a single system of labelling is applied to provide all consumers with the ability to check the ingredients in their product before they buy a product.  This list might look complicated but it is designed to ensure accuracy and avoid similar ingredients being confused. This harmonised naming system means that if you have been diagnosed as allergic to an ingredient and need to avoid it, you can look for the name on-pack whatever country you are in.  Expert, professional safety assessment plus clear ingredient labelling means you can have full confidence in the safety of any cosmetics you see on the market regardless of what your poorly informed app is suggesting.

Want to know more about allergy?  Read more

Confused by ‘detox’ claims?  Read more

Arsenic in make-up

Arsenic is specifically prohibited from being present in cosmetic products. It is not used as an ingredient in any cosmetic product.

Artificial nails

Artificial nails (also sometimes known as “fake” or “false” nails) are artificial extensions of the natural nail and have become popular among UK consumers over recent years.

There are many different types of artificial nails, but only some are classed as cosmetic products.



Asbestos is not allowed in cosmetic products.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of thin fibres. Exposure to asbestos is tightly controlled due to the health risks associated with it.

Sometimes negative attention is given to cosmetic talc because of confusion over the difference between talc and asbestos. It is true that they are both hydrated magnesium silicates but cosmetic talc does not have the same fibrous structure as asbestos. The potentially harmful effects of asbestos come from its characteristic fibrous structure. Talc used in cosmetics must be fibre-free to be considered cosmetic talc .

Read more about the safety of talc.




Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs)

Similar to AHAs and used for a similar purpose. The result is a shedding of dry surface cells and an improved appearance and feel to the skin.

BBP in lipstick

Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) is prohibited from use in all cosmetics throughout Europe. This includes both products made and sold in the EU and products imported into the EU to be sold. The ban came into effect in August 2006 after concerns were expressed over the safety of BBP. The cosmetics industry fully supported proposals for the ban.

Best before

Most products are made to last a long time, although it is not always clear just how long ‘a long time’ is. If a product has a limited shelf life (less than 30 months - two and a half years) it is required to be labelled with a ‘best before’ date.

“Best before” dating is not common as most cosmetic products are formulated to ensure they have a long shelf life.

See also 'storage of cosmetic products'.


When an organism absorbs a substance at a rate greater than that at which the substance is lost. Therefore it is not simply the 'presence' or 'detection' of a substance. It is also important to realise that neither the presence of a chemical nor its bioaccumulation necessarily means that any harm is being done.

Bisphenol A

Bisphenol A is banned from use as an ingredient in cosmetic products – and has been since November 2006.

Bisphenol A is used as the starting material of coatings for the inside of packaging cans, including aerosol cans, to prevent corrosion. Although most bisphenol A is used up in making the coating material, some usually remains in the final coating agent. The prevention of corrosion is essential to protect the contents from contamination and to ensure the integrity of the can, avoiding the risk of harm to human health. Bisphenol A is also used as a building block for some plastics.

Cosmetics legislation, however, acknowledges that unavoidable traces of some substances (including those that are banned as ingredients in cosmetic products) might be found to be present in products owing to their other possible uses, such as in packaging for example. The law requires that any such traces must be taken into account by the safety assessment, and that their presence must not constitute a risk of harm to human health.

The minute traces of bisphenol A that might be detected in some cosmetic products, after migration from packaging for example, do not constitute any risk of harm to human health.

Bleach/hydrogen peroxide in toothwhiteners

Toothwhitening products will either whiten teeth through abrasion, where tiny, rough particles help to rub off discoloration, or by using a bleaching agent such as hydrogen peroxide. Where bleaching agents are used, the level is restricted to 0.1% under European cosmetics legislation.

In the past some toothwhitening products have appeared on the UK market containing higher quantities of peroxide. These are illegal so it is advisable to purchase your product from a reputable retailer or your dentist.

Botox Treatments

Botox treatments and any treatment involving injection under the skin are not cosmetic products; Botox is a prescription-only licensed medicine. Cosmetic products themselves are covered by strict cosmetic safety laws.

Licensed medicines such as Botox are controlled through the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency which issues a marketing authorisation for each product. Patients requiring Botox must be seen by a doctor or a suitably qualified practitioner. We would advise anyone considering a treatment of this nature to only visit a reputable clinic displaying the appropriate professional qualifications.

So-called "off-label" uses of Botox for "cosmetic procedures" does not change its classification as a medicine and the requirement for the involvement of an appropriate practitioner. 

It is often wrongly claimed that Botox is a cosmetic product and any animal testing of it therefore contravenes the strict animal testing bans for cosmetic ingredients and products. This is just not the case. These testing bans are supported and adhered to by the cosmetics industry. Companies marketing treatments such as Botox must comply with the appropriate regulatory requirements for injectable medicines.





A type of fat molecule used as an emollient in skin and hair care products. Fats help to give a shine to the skin and hair.

CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons)

CFCs are substances no longer used in aerosols. They are man-made chemicals that were developed during the first half of the 20th century. Because of their excellent stability and non-flammable properties they were widely used as aerosol propellants. However, during the 1970s and 80s, scientists discovered a relationship between such substances and ozone depletion. By the end of 1989 the UK aerosol industry had phased out the use of CFCs in retail products and CFC use in Europe is now completely prohibited.

Find out more about deodorants and antiperspirants

Find out more about aerosols and using aerosols safely.

Chemical Bonds

Just like all substances, ingredients, both man-made and those found in nature, are made from individual atoms of chemicals which are held together through chemical bonds.  The chemical bonds are caused by forces of attraction between the atoms and the strength of these attractions determines the strength of the bond.

One of the strongest types of chemical bond is a covalent bond.  The other type of strong bond is an ionic bond. Covalent bonds and ionic bonds are the two types of chemical bond which hold the individual atoms of an ingredient together.


In recent years some cosmetic products have received a bad press owing to their “chemical content” – but all the ingredients used in cosmetics are chemicals, whether natural or man-made. Water is one of the most ‘natural’ substances on earth – but of course it is a chemical.

Everything and everyone is made up of chemicals – a chemical is any substance made up of atoms and molecules whether synthetic (man-made) or of natural origin.

In fact, nature is the biggest producer of chemicals, and one of the most successful producers of natural poisons. So, whether a cosmetic is made up of natural or man-made ingredients, it is still subject to the same strict safety assessments, as required by cosmetics legislation, to make sure it is safe to use.

See our section on chemicals in cosmetics for further information.

Chromium colours

Chromium is found in different forms, just as carbon may be in different forms such as graphite or diamonds or charcoal, and these different forms have very different properties. Chromium VI is associated with cancer and is expressly forbidden from cosmetics in the EU whereas chromium III is actually essential for life – without it we cannot metabolise glucose, the fuel that provides energy for every cell in the body. The colours based on chromium that are specifically permitted for use in cosmetics in the EU must not contain the toxic form chromium VI but only forms approved as safe for this use.


The science behind innovative cosmetics, such as anti-ageing moisturisers, is carried out by highly qualified scientists from many different specialist fields. To put just one new product on the shelves can take up to five years or more, with a dozen senior scientists working on it, each supported by their own team of scientists.

The rules surrounding cosmetic products are very stringent and cover the manufacture, labelling, claims and safety assessment of all cosmetic products supplied to the EU market.  It is a legal requirement that all claims made on-pack must be substantiated. This information is open to review by the regulating authorities, in the UK this is Trading Standards.

While a product is being developed, many trials will be carried out on an appropriate number of people to make sure the product does exactly what it says on the pack – but you don’t just have to take the industry’s word for it. All advertised claims made about products on the television must be pre-approved by Clearcast, who ask for a robust body of scientific evidence before they’ll give the green light. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) can also challenge any advertisement (broadcast, print or online) and will respond to consumer complaints by reviewing the scientific evidence before passing judgment on whether further advertising is permitted.

Find out more about the science behind cosmetics.

When reviewing products and their claims, it has been alleged that some journalists may feel under pressure to be complimentary about products that advertise in their publications. Journalists are able to say exactly which products they believe work for them and which ones do not and why – that’s how they add value for readers. With many products to review, only those which are being recommended to the readers are likely to reach the pages of the magazine.


In the UK advertised claims are subject to close scrutiny by watchdog organisations; broadcast advertisements must be pre-cleared by Clearcast and both broadcast and print advertisements are scrutinised by the Advertising Standards Authority. These organisations require robust scientific evidence to substantiate claims being made.

Clearcast is the company responsible for the pre-transmission examination and clearance of television advertisements. As part of their licensing agreements with Ofcom, broadcasters are required to clear advertising before it is broadcast and advertisements transmitted on UK terrestrial and satellite channels should be submitted to Clearcast for approval.  To find out more visit:

CMR Substances

CMR substances are chemicals that have been officially classified as Carcinogenic, Mutagenic or Toxic to Reproduction (reprotoxic), under the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation. Official classification follows a review by European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

The classification is based on the hazardous properties a substance might have under a “worst case” situation and does not take account of whether there is any risk associated with specific uses or exposures.

CMR substances are classified as Category 1A, 1B or 2. The different categories may be simply defined as:

  • Category 1A: The substance is known to be carcinogenic/mutagenic/reprotoxic to humans;
  • Category 1B: The substance is presumed to be carcinogenic/mutagenic/reprotoxic to humans;
  • Category 2: Substances, which cause concern for humans owing to possible carcinogenic/mutagenic/reprotoxic effects.

Category 1A and 1B substances are banned from use in cosmetic products unless they can meet all four of the following criteria:

  • They comply with specific food safety requirements;
  • There are no suitable alternative substances available;
  • The application is made for a particular use of the products category with a known exposure;
  • They have been evaluated by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) and found safe.

Substances classified as CMR category 2 are banned in general but may be used in cosmetic products where the substance has been evaluated by the SCCS and found safe for use in cosmetic products.

This is not as strange as it may seem, and should not cause alarm. The CMR properties may only be seen under specific circumstances or exposure conditions and so it is possible to define conditions of use and exposure that do not constitute a risk of harm to human health. It must be emphasised that the classification system does not assess risk and neither does it take account of potency.

There are stringent EU rules that cover the manufacture of cosmetic products. These require that all cosmetic products must be safe.


Cocamide DEA

Cocamide DEA is a surfactant which is used in a variety of cosmetic products such as shampoos, bath products and lotions.

Cocamide DEA is safe to use in cosmetic products. All cosmetic ingredients must be safe to use, according to strict European cosmetic safety laws. The safety of cocamide DEA has not been questioned by the European Commission or its independent expert advisory committee, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS).

The letters ‘DEA’ in cocamide DEA stand for diethanolamide. This should not be confused with a completely different substance with very different properties called diethanolamine, which is also sometimes known as ‘DEA’. Diethanolamine is banned from use in cosmetic products under the Cosmetics legislation.

Cocamidopropyl Betaine

Cocamidopropyl betaine is a mild surfactant which is used in cosmetic cleaning products such as shampoos and skin cleansers.

Cocamidopropyl betaine is safe for use in cosmetic products. All cosmetic ingredients must be safe to use, according to strict European cosmetic safety laws. The safety of cocamidopropyl betaine has not been questioned by the European Commission or its independent expert advisory committee, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS).

‘Cocktail effect’

A common misconception is the so-called ‘cocktail effect’ – the idea that when different chemicals combine, their total effect is greater than might be expected. It’s called the cocktail effect because of the belief that mixing alcoholic drinks can be more potent than drinking just one type of drink on its own (actually, it isn't true). The reality is that when we are exposed to a variety of chemicals at the same time, the result can be simply additive, or it may indeed be enhanced, but it might even be diminished with one substance cancelling out the effects of another. Scientists can and do investigate whether substances will have additive effects or synergistic effects or even cancel one another out when devising their formulations. These findings are taken into account when assessing the safety of a product.

Remember that even a simple cup of tea is in fact a cocktail of more than 200 chemicals, plus milk and sugar.


Might be thought of as a strong network of fibres that give skin its underlying structure and ensures the skin stays in place! A protein in the skin which provides structure; in effect, the scaffolding. Helps to make the skin feel smoother.


The term “Cosmeceutical” is not an official, legal category of product.

However “cosmeceutical” is a marketing term often used within the industry and in the press to describe cosmetic products that are intended to have actions and effects that go beyond the purely decorative, e.g. ‘performance’ cosmetics.

A product is either a cosmetic or a medicine and cannot be both at the same time. There are very clear legal definitions for a cosmetic and for a medicine – and that’s it, there is no ‘third’ category.

The manufacture of cosmetic products is highly regulated, and the EU rules clearly state the definition of a cosmetic (and medicines legislation defines what a medicine is).

As with many areas of life, there is a ‘borderline’ between cosmetics and medicines. However, a company marketing a product near the borderline between these two categories has to decide whether the product is one or the other and then comply with the appropriate legislation.

The claims made for a cosmetic product are legislated for by at least three means:

  • in the UK there is the Trades Descriptions Act covering all descriptions made regarding a product or its attributes. This Act does not allow it to be implied, directly or indirectly, that a product has characteristics that it does not have;
  • specific EU cosmetics legislation requires that claims made on the pack must be capable of substantiation;
  • there is the control of print and broadcast advertising administered by the Advertising Standards Authority and Clearcast (see

No one cosmetic product can be suitable for everybody, but all cosmetic products should deliver the effect claimed. Personal preference, and the fact that our bodies are all different, makes it important to have a wide choice.

The European legal regime for cosmetics and medicines is a modern, flexible system that provides a high level of consumer safety and meets the demands of a modern economy, including a competitive marketplace. The EU model of regulation for cosmetics is highly regarded internationally and has been used as a model by other countries and trading blocks when introducing their own cosmetics legislation. We expect this situation to carry on in the future.




Dermatologically tested

There is no legal definition of the term "Dermatologically tested" when applied to a cosmetic product. In general terms "Dermatologically tested" means tested on the skin. A variety of techniques are available for skin compatibility. The involvement of a doctor or dermatologist is not essential, although the protocols used may have been reviewed by a medically qualified person.

Detecting traces

Scientists have long understood that our bodies absorb substances, whether natural or man-made, from our environment. Today’s technology allows us to be able to detect and measure extraordinarily low levels of many substances in human samples.

Substances may enter our bodies through eating, breathing, drinking and direct contact. After the substance enters the body and is distributed and metabolised, the body usually gets rid of it (‘excretion’). The chemicals we are exposed to in our daily lives, including in cosmetics and foods, are so well-studied and measured that their combined effects are largely predictable and the cosmetic industry’s assertions of the safety of its products are based on robust scientific data that adheres to strict safety guidelines.

In some cases, substances remain in the body in trace amounts. However, just because something can be detected in the urine or blood, doesn’t mean it is going to cause us any harm. It is possible that all chemicals in our environment may be found in our blood, urine or tissues at some point in time.

In a similar fashion, analytical chemistry can now detect very small traces of many substances in products too. The safety assessment carried out for each cosmetic takes into account any traces to ensure they are not at a level that could possibly cause any harm.

See also: Absorption of chemicals


UK and European safety regulations for cosmetics forbid the use of 1,4-dioxane as an ingredient in cosmetics; it must not be deliberately or knowingly added. However, unavoidable traces, even of banned substances, that cannot reasonably be removed during the manufacture of ingredients or the cosmetic product itself, are allowed as long as there is no risk to health. All cosmetic products must undergo a safety assessment by a qualified safety professional. Any such traces will be covered by the safety assessment to ensure the levels do not present any health risk to consumers.

DHA (dihydroxyacetone)

DHA (dihydroxyacetone) is the most commonly used self-tanning ingredient. It works by chemically reacting with the amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) in the dead layer of the skin’s surface and causes a colour change, which results in the ‘tan’ effect.

DHA has recently been reviewed by the European Commission’s independent expert scientific committee (the SCCS), which advises the Commission on scientific matters and the safety of cosmetic ingredients. The SCCS looked at data to support the use of DHA in cosmetic formulations, and also specifically its use in spray cabins, and confirmed the safe use of DHA in cosmetic products.

Occasionally media reports, originating in the US, circulate which question the safety of DHA when used in cosmetic products, and in particular in spray tans. Some even wrongly suggest a link between DHA and cancer. There are no links between the use of DHA and cancer.

It is worth noting that these articles often refer to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and ask why non-FDA approved salons are allowed to operate. All cosmetic products available in the UK and Europe are subject to strict cosmetic safety laws and the FDA does not have any jurisdiction in the UK and EU, so this question is only relevant to America.

It is important to remember though that self-tanning products don’t normally contain any sunscreens – so do not forget to also use sun protection when going out in the sun.






The material that makes up the elastic connective fibres underneath the top layer of skin that give resilience and elasticity to the skin.


An ingredient which softens and smooths the skin.  Many emollients are oils that have an occlusive (air tight) action that provide a barrier against water loss from the skin.

Endocrine 'disruptors'

‘Endocrine disruptor’ is the term given to certain chemicals which allegedly act as, or interfere with, human hormones in the body and lead to harmful effects. These include chemicals that are alleged to interfere with sex hormones (specifically oestrogen), and are sometimes known as ‘gender-bender’chemicals. This is a broad group that includes some substances classified as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as PCBs, dioxins, DDT and chlorinated pesticides.



Epidemiology is the study of how often diseases occur in different groups of people and why. A key feature is the measurement of the incidence of disease in relation to the population at risk. The population at risk is the group of people, healthy or sick, who would be counted as cases if they had the disease being studied. In concluding the 'risk', researchers calculate the level of increased risk according to their findings. Because many factors cannot be controlled in epidemiology studies, a risk level of 2.0 or lower is usually rejected as background noise and not a true increase in risk.

Read more about making sense of mixed messages in the media.


The outer or uppermost layer of the skin.


See best before.






Some people may look for ‘fragrance-free’, ‘unscented’ or ‘unperfumed’ cosmetic products for a number of reasons. They may want to avoid fragrance altogether or they may just be trying to ensure that a skin cream or antiperspirant will not clash with their preferred eau de toilette or perfume.

If someone buys a fragranced product, he or she can reasonably expect that fragrance to be noticeable after the product has been used. In contrast, they should not be able to notice any smell after using a fragrance-free, unscented or unperfumed product. However, unscented or unperfumed products may well contain a small amount of fragrance to cover-up, or mask, the natural smell of the ingredients in the product.

If you want to avoid fragrance altogether, you must look at the ingredients list, which is usually on the outer packaging or close by at the point of sale. Any added fragrance is always identified by the word ‘parfum’ in the ingredients list. You must also avoid any essential oils because, as well as having a strong smell, they often have the same natural constituents that are used in fragrances.

'Free from chemicals'

Since everything, whether natural or man-made, is 100% chemical, no product can be chemical free. The Royal Society of Chemistry has a prize on offer of £1million for the first person to provide them with a chemical-free product. No one has ever claimed it.

Free radicals

Very reactive and potentially destructive molecules that have been shown to contribute to the ageing process of the skin and other tissues in the body. Free radicals can be neutralised by antioxidants.

'For sensitive skin'

Similar to hypo-allergenic but related to simple irritation not allergic reactions. This claim would typically be supported either by careful selection of ingredients to minimise the risk of any irritation or be tested on people who have sensitive skin to ensure little or no reaction.





GBL (Gamma-butyrolactone)

GBL has recently (23rd December 2009) been classified as a Class C drug by the Home Office in order to control the illegal and abusive use of GBL.

However the Home Office recognises the safe use of GBL in cosmetic products. The cosmetics industry worked with the Home Office during the proposal stages of the new legislation to ensure the objectives of the new drug classification were met, i.e. legitimate uses of GBL are not affected while legislating against the illegal use and supply of the substance. GBL may be legally and legitimately used in cosmetic products.

As part of a responsible cosmetics industry, manufacturers of products containing GBL have recognised that, even though it is highly unlikely that the level of the substance present in the products would cause a drug-like effect, there may be the potential for possible product abuse. Consequently, such products also contain high levels of the ingredient denatonium benzoate which is commonly used as an alcohol denaturant to make it unsuitable for ingestion. Denatonium benzoate has been added to products containing GBL to ensure the intensely bitter taste renders the product unconsumable.


A gene is part of the DNA in the cells of our bodies that controls our appearance, our growth and bodily functions, all of the information that makes each one of us unique. For example, how tall we are, the colour of our eyes, how good we are at fighting germs and even how many fingers and toes we have.






There is no specific legal requirement for a cosmetic product to be declared as Halal. Halal is generally used in reference with food, but there is a growing market for cosmetic products to be “Halal”. All claims should be true and not misleading according to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

A Halal product is free from certain specified foods, including any human parts or ingredients derived from animals which are forbidden to Muslims; or to use and consume from animals which are not slaughtered according to Shariah. Preparation, processing, storage, equipment use and possible cross-contamination must all be considered.

There are make-up and personal care brands available that are certified as Halal and these should be free of alcohol and animal-derived ingredients. Such brands and products will be labelled as Halal and are usually easily identified by searching 'Halal cosmetics' on the internet. Some organisations offer certification for Halal cosmetic products.


Hormones are substances produced by the body as part of the endocrine system, and they act like a ‘communication system’ for the body. There are lots of different types of hormones, and each one has its own particular function within the body. Hormones affect our growth, how we react to situations, how we metabolise sugar and how we develop sexually.

Hormones are present in the body at different concentrations – some of which are really low levels, such as in the order of ‘parts per billion’ or ‘ppb’ (1 ppb is the same as 1 second in 30 years); but you also have to consider how ‘strong’ the effect of the hormone is.

Hormones travel around the body and when they get to where they need to work, they do their job.

An example of a natural hormone present in the body is oestrogen.

Hormones (for example, progestogens, oestrogens and anti-androgens of steroidal structure) are prohibited from being present in cosmetic products, so any cosmetic product containing hormones would be illegal in the EU.


An ingredient which holds and retains moisture.

Hydrogen peroxide in toothwhiteners

See Bleach/hydrogen peroxide in toothwhiteners

Hydrogen Peroxide – safe use in hair products

Hydrogen Peroxide is a pale blue liquid that has many uses including bleaching agent, disinfectant and antiseptic. It has been safely used in the hairdressing industry to lighten hair for decades in products such as permanent oxidative colorants, hair lighteners, lightening (bleach) products, permanent waves or straighteners and colorant remover.

The use of hydrogen peroxide in cosmetic products is covered by strict safety laws. Home-use products that contain hydrogen peroxide, such as hair colorants, typically contain low concentrations of around 3% and professional (salon) products tend to contain higher levels – up to a maximum of 12%.

Since hydrogen peroxide has the ability to cause skin and eye irritations it must be handled carefully. It also readily reacts with the air and other materials which can result in explosions, so it is important to keep it in an airtight container and out of the light. At all times keep away from naked flames, from any sources.

It is extremely important for all salons, and those hair professionals with mobile businesses, to follow any instructions issued with all products and to take account of the handling, storage and reactivity information for hydrogen peroxide. It is also important to follow the manufacturers’ Health and Safety instructions, including that for suitable storage, transport and spillages.

Are you a hair professional? Read more…


‘Hypo-‘ means ‘less than’ or ‘decreased’ so, when used to describe cosmetics, the term hypoallergenic means ‘reduced potential to cause allergic reactions‘. Manufacturers will have made special efforts in the selection of ingredients and by product testing to reduce further the already low incidence of adverse reactions to cosmetic products. These products may still contain fragrance, identified in the ingredients list as ‘parfum’.





Immune system

The immune system protects your body from diseases, infections and foreign substances.   It identifies and destroys harmful bacteria and viruses and tries to break down or eliminate harmful substances.

In vitro

The technique of performing experiments in a controlled environment outside of a living organism, e.g. in a test tube.

In vivo

The technique of performing experiments in a controlled environment using a living being, e.g. human volunteer testing.










A structural protein found primarily in skin, hair and nails.


There is no specific legal requirement for a cosmetic product to be declared as Kosher. Kosher is generally used in reference with food, but there is a growing market for cosmetic products to be “Kosher”. Central to Kosher food is the separation of meat from milk. The prohibitions against mixing them are very strict. Foods that are neither meat nor dairy are called pareve. The Kosher food labelling system identifies whether it contains dairy or meat ingredients. It would be expected that cosmetic products claiming to be ‘Kosher’ are prepared according to these values. Some organisations offer certification for Kosher products.

All claims should be true and not misleading according to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

It is likely that such brands and products will be labelled as Kosher and are usually easily identified by searching 'Kosher cosmetics' on the internet.




Lead in lipstick

In the past, stories have circulated in the media and on the internet that lipsticks contain lead and are harmful to health. The use of lead in cosmetic products is specifically banned in the European Union by the cosmetics legislation. It must however be recognised that lead is a naturally occurring element that is found everywhere in the environment and it is possible that minute traces are carried into cosmetic products from the environment or during manufacture. These extremely low levels are taken into account as part of the safety assessment to ensure their presence does not pose a risk to human health. Given the ability of today's analytical technology to detect extremely low levels, it is to be expected that some studies claim to have found traces of lead in some products. Such reports resurface periodically often with claims that the products are dangerous.

In response the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed and validated a new method for the analysis of lead in lipsticks and has applied the method to the same selection of lipsticks evaluated in one of the reports. Contrary to the original report, the FDA does not believe that the lead content found is a safety concern. See the FDA website for further details.

E-mail hoax: An old internet rumour is routinely re-circulated via e-mail alleging that lipsticks contain lead and may therefore cause cancer. The message goes on to name various brands and even suggests you can test for the presence of lead by using a gold ring. Finally, the message asks you to pass the information on to friends. The allegations in the e-mail are false and the gold ring test simply does not work.


Limonene is the substance that makes lemons smell of lemon. Limonene is a common fragrance ingredient used widely in many cosmetic and homecare products. It has been claimed that limonene is a carcinogen - this is not the case.  It has not been classified as being carcinogenic either by IARC, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer or by the European legalisation on carcinogenic substances.  If any substance is classified as a known carcinogen then it is simply not allowed to be used as an ingredient in a cosmetic product.  Limonene is perfectly safe as used in cosmetic products.


Another name for fats, oils and other substances that are not miscible, or do not mix, with water. The main constituents of fats.


Microscopic hollow fat bubbles used to transport ingredients to the layers of the epidermis.






The name macrophage means 'big eater' and aptly describes these, the largest of the white blood cells which form an important part of the body's defences. Their job is to wander through the bloodstream and tissues of the body engulfing and removing unwanted debris. The debris might be dust, such as house dust, from DIY activities or even talc, pollen etc. we have breathed in to the lungs, it might be bacteria or parasites that have invaded the tissues or it might be damaged and dead cells of the body itself. Once engulfed, the macrophages kill any bacteria and break down the particles of debris and ensure the remnants are removed from the body via the faeces. They are the dustbinmen of the body, are essential for health and can even remember past encounters to help the body respond more efficiently to the same foreign material next time.


A statistical technique for combining the findings from independent studies. 

Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT or MI) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT or CMI) are two preservatives from the family of substances called isothiazolinones, used in some cosmetic products and other household products.  MIT can be used alone to help preserve the product or it may be used together with CMIT as a blend.  Preservatives are an essential element in cosmetic products, protecting products, and so the consumer, against contamination by microorganisms during storage and continued use.

MIT and CMIT are two of the very limited number of ‘broad spectrum’ preservatives, which means they are effective against a variety of bacteria, yeasts and moulds, across a wide range of product types.  MIT and CMIT have been positively approved for use as preservatives for many years under the strict European cosmetics legislation. The primary purpose of these laws is to protect human safety. One of the ways it does this is by banning certain ingredients and controlling others by limiting their concentration or restricting them to particular product types. Preservatives may only be used if they are specifically listed in the legislation.


Mica is the name given to a series of minerals based on silicates (substances made out of the elements silica and oxygen). Mica has unique physical properties because of its structure – it is formed, in nature, as layers that can be split into thin sheets. It can also be ground into a powder.

Mica is used by many industries, but in cosmetic products it is added to powdered cosmetics, such as eyeshadows, as a filler because it has excellent smoothness and so makes the eyeshadow easy to apply and also gives sparkle.

It is added to other cosmetic products - such as mascaras, lipsticks, body lotions, shampoos and bath oils - because it provides a beautiful lustre and sheen. Mica can also provide further ‘depth’ to certain pigments, and it gives a highly pearlised effect.

The cosmetics industry is committed to sourcing mica sustainably.  Developing nations are confronted with many difficulties and individual companies have codes of conduct in place that take into account the communities with which they work.  Cosmetic manufacturers also work with their suppliers to create local sustainable sources wherever possible.  This helps to avoid practices where people of all ages could be exploited and seeks to introduce labour standards which preclude the employment of children.

Companies often work with organisations, such as NGOs and charities, on specific initiatives in the countries affected in order to avoid exploitation and improve the circumstances of the local communities to raise awareness of the role of education, healthcare and childcare. 

One such example is a cross-sector association called the ‘'Responsible Mica Initiative  - towards a responsible Indian mica supply chain”.  This is a close collaboration between private, public and non-profit sectors, launched with the aim of achieving a 100% responsible mica supply chain in India over 5 years. 

We look forward to this initiative making a difference.  It is though widely recognised that changing illegal practice requires a concerted effort by all concerned acting with the relevant authorities to help provide responsible working conditions.

The cosmetics industry is committed to making positive contributions to the communities where products are manufactured and sourced in full respect of local and international legislation, while of course producing safe and effective products which meet the needs of consumers.


See plastic microbeads.

Mineral Oil

Mineral Oil is a liquid mixture of hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum.

Hydrocarbons are the group of compounds containing only the elements carbon and hydrogen. Hydrocarbons are generally derived from petrochemicals by a refining process, but some of them are found in the plant and animal kingdom.

Mineral oil is widely used as an emollient and vehicle in cosmetics because of its oily feel and movement on the skin. It provides products with the ability to enhance suppleness and gloss in hair-care products and, by its ability to remain on the skin surface, it can act as a lubricant to reduce flaking and to improve the skin's appearance.

Rumours frequently circulate regarding the safety of mineral oil because it is sourced from petrochemicals. But petrochemicals are the source of a whole range of substances, some of which would never be used in cosmetics and some of which are used in the food industry. In fact, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has set values for the Acceptable Daily Intake* of those hydrocarbons likely to be ingested. It all comes down to knowing which substances are safe to use.

Only the purest grades of mineral oil will be used to make cosmetic products, and where the products are likely to come into contact with the lips (e.g. lipsticks and lipsalves) then the JECFA Acceptable Daily Intake values will be adhered to.

In the US, some products containing mineral oil require child resistant closures. In Europe, personal care products containing mineral oil have been used safely for decades and, when stored properly, are safe in the home. As an added precaution and to facilitate normal use, UK baby oils are packed with a cap which limits the amount of oil dispensed. To avoid accidental swallowing, care should be taken to ensure that all products are stored out of the reach of young children.

* Acceptable Daily Intake or ADI is that amount that you can safely consume each day for life without appreciable risk of harm.


A means of increasing the water content of the skin which helps keep it soft and smooth; a key function of face and body moisturisers for example.


Monomers are single units that are bonded together to form a chainlike structure, called a polymer


Musk odours have always been very important for the fragrance industry. Musks were once only obtained from a gland in a particular species of deer which was in danger of extinction. Synthetic musks were developed by the fragrance industry as an alternative to the natural musk derived from animal sources. In fact, musk ingredients were one of the first synthetic materials used in perfumery. Musks are now synthesised in a sustainable way. Scientists have been able to identify the molecules that make the essence of the natural smell and replicate these exactly.

Due to their widespread use, synthetic musk ingredients have been the subject of extensive testing, examining both human and environmental safety. Minute traces of musks have sometimes been detected in human breast milk and this led to a full review of their safety in cosmetic products by the European Commission’s independent committee of scientific experts. This committee concluded on the basis of a full package of safety data that the synthetic musks which are used in cosmetic and personal care products are safe for use. In particular, the opinions of the committee take into account the studies relating to traces found in breast milk. Those musks typically used in cosmetics are the synthetic polycyclic musks - HHCB and AHTN, and the nitromusks - musk xylene and musk ketone.

Musks have also undergone comprehensive environmental assessments by the Commission’s experts. The polycyclic musks have been shown to have no environmental impact. However, despite many years of study and assessments no final decision has yet been made on the impact of musk xylene. It is still allowed to be used in consumer products.





Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials

Nanotechnology is an exciting and dynamic area of science that offers potential benefits for the future in many revolutionary ways.

The word “nano” derives from the Greek word “nanos”, which means dwarf or extremely small. Today, in science, the term “nano” is used to indicate an extremely small scale of measurement, the nano-scale, which is around a billion times smaller than a metre. 

  • A typical bacteria cell is around 1000 nanometres in size
  • The diameter of a human hair is 80,000 nanometres
  • An ant is millions of nanometres long

In general, a nanomaterial is a material with individual parts or dimensions on the nano-scale. Certain ingredients used in cosmetics can now be defined as nanomaterials. These ingredients have been safely used for many years.



Nitrosamines are a group of substances (made from nitrogen and oxygen, and sometimes carbon) most of which are potentially harmful and may cause cancer. Nitrosamines are widespread in the environment, but at very low levels. They can form in the digestive tract from normal food, but the greatest exposure is likely to be in tobacco smoking. Nitrosamines may also form in certain circumstances, for example when some foods are cooked, or especially burnt.

Nitrosamines are banned from being present in cosmetic products, whether as ingredients or formed later in the product itself. There is strict cosmetics legislation that forbids the potential for nitrosamines to form in a cosmetic product.

As well as the legal requirement ensuring safe cosmetic products, industry has directions on how to avoid nitrosamines in cosmetic products throughout their anticipated shelf life. Guidelines cover choice and screening of raw materials, the use of manufacturing methods that avoid the conditions in which nitrosamines may be formed in cosmetic products and selection of ingredient combinations that minimise the potential for nitrosamines to be formed or actively inhibit their formation. 


A product that does not clog pores. Sometimes comedomes (blackheads and whiteheads) may form following physical blockage of pores but more often the reason is related to other factors including a person’s sebum production.

Created when pores become clogged and blocked with oil secretions and dead skin.

These are clogged pores that remain open and trap dirt.


Consumers with a known allergy to certain nuts may wish to avoid products that contain nut derived ingredients. It is a legal requirement for cosmetic products to declare their ingredients on the label. The name of each ingredient has been agreed throughout Europe to help people with allergies identify and avoid problem ingredients without the necessity to learn a number of different names for each ingredient. A list is available to download of the agreed names for some specific nuts.






Oestrogen is a potent hormone occurring naturally in the body, that has a wide range of effects in the body. For this reason both natural and synthetic oestrogens are prohibited from being present in cosmetic products, so any cosmetic product containing oestrogens would be illegal in the EU. This ban is one of many strict regulations placed on cosmetic products by the European Cosmetics Regulation to ensure only safe cosmetics are available on the market.

Orders of magnitude:

  • Hormones are present in the body at different concentrations – some of which are really low levels, such as in the order of ‘parts per billion’ or ‘ppb’ (1 ppb is the same as 1 second in 30 years); but you also have to consider how ‘strong’ the effect of the hormone is.
  • Oestrogen for example is a natural hormone present in the body and is responsible for controlling sexual development in females. The “oestrogenic effect” of oestrogen itself is millions of times greater than substances often accused of being endocrine disruptors.
  • Probably the most common true artificial endocrine disruptors are the contraceptive pill and hormonal therapies, both of which are readily ingested as a lifestyle choice or for their therapeutic benefits. Even these substances are actually much less potent than naturally occurring oestrogens to which the human body is continually exposed, so they generally need to be given in high doses in order to achieve their intended effects.
  • As an example of relative strength, or potency, the UV filter benzophenone-3, which has been accused of being an endocrine disruptor, is 1.5 million times less potent in its oestrogenic effect than ethinyloestradiol which is used in oral contraceptives. Looking at this in another way, if aspirin were 1.5 million times lower in potency, you would need to consume more than thirteen times your body weight of pure aspirin at one time just to cure a headache. Clearly, that is not possible. In exactly the same way, it is not possible to be exposed to sufficient of these so-called endocrine disruptors to have any disrupting effect; they are simply too weak.
  • Many so-called ‘endocrine disruptors’ (actually endocrine mimics) are abundant in nature. We ingest them in the food we eat in concentrations many million times greater than in cosmetics and personal care products. Endocrine mimics include phytoestrogens – oestrogen-like compounds found in plants. We eat these in foods such as cabbage, soya beans and sprouts. No adverse health effects have been associated with these dietary exposures.

Organic Chemistry

We sometimes use the term organic structure or organic substance.  In this context the term ‘organic’ refers to the fact that the substance is based on the element carbon.  This field of chemistry is called organic chemistry.  Carbon is the fourteenth most-abundant element in the Earth’s crust and is found in a vast range of products, from diamonds to pencils, and all known forms of life.





Palm oil

Palm oil and palm kernel oil are natural oils extracted from the fruit of the Elaeis Guineensis (palm) plant.

In 2018, the world market for palm oil and palm kernel oil was estimated to be approximately 72.4 million metric tons.  Palm oil has been viewed as essential in many industries including the cosmetics industry for many years now, though, in terms of global production volumes of palm oil, our industry use is very small.

However, in recent years the concern over the global environmental impact of the use of palm oil as a raw material has seen a shift in attitude towards sustainable palm oil and in 2019, palm oil demand is expected to drop for the first time since 1998.  The cosmetics industry recognises its responsibility to foster sustainable business practices throughout the supply chain and welcomes the fact that such a complex topic is being discussed with all interested parties in an international dialogue among experts.

There are several organisations dedicated to the sustainable production and use of palm oil, most prominently Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the non-profit who unites stakeholders across the palm oil industry to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil.  RSPO, which was founded in 2004, has created a certification which must be met which leads to the best management practices for palm oil production and results in a 34% higher profitability.  The work of RSPO has led to certification of around one fifth of all palm oil production.  RSPO stresses that boycotting palm oil is not the solution to the issues surrounding the material and can take away the incentive to produce palm oil sustainably.  If every small link in the palm oil supply chain requests change, it will all add up to make the difference needed.  The issues of palm oil are complicated and far reaching, so there is a need to act sustainably when using it but there also needs to be more education and understanding around why it is still necessary.

The other groups of note are the Palm Oil Transparency Coalition (POTC), a coalition of companies working together at a non-competitive level.  POTC has much influence over the palm oil industry as they use third parties to engage with the traders and importers who then in-turn influence the growers themselves to work towards the Transparency Coalition Model.  The Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) is a multi-stakeholder initiative which seeks to build on the RSPO model and achieve the adoption of responsible palm oil production practices by key players in the supply chain through developing and sharing a credible and verifiable benchmark, and creating and promoting innovations.  Their goals also include educating consumers wherever possible about the need for and issues behind global palm oil production.


Parabens are a class of substances widely used as preservatives in cosmetics, foods, pharmaceuticals and other household products. They keep products free from bacteria, moulds and fungi that would otherwise spoil the product and could cause real harm to the user.

The family of parabens, which are found naturally in plants and animals as well as being man-made, are approved for use as preservatives in the European Cosmetics Regulation, and have been endorsed by the competent authorities of all member states. They are among the most widely used of preservatives, having been in use for more than fifty years with an excellent safety record.


Paraffin-containing emollients

You may have read reports in the media and from fire services warning about the possible risk of fire after excessive use of topical products containing paraffin following some tragic and fatal accidents.

The extremely sad events reported have occurred following the long use of emollients containing paraffin to treat various skin conditions.  In some rare cases topical products, many of which are classed as Over The Counter (OTC) medicines, have been used to help improve the skin condition in the elderly and bed-bound patients.  The heavy use of these types of creams and ointments in the treatment of poor skin conditions means that clothing and bedding may become impregnated with the products, increasing the risk of clothing or bedding being ignited. 

As such products are classed as OTC medicines, they are subject to strict licensing conditions overseen by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), including any labelling requirements.  For more information, the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), the organisation that covers OTC products, has issued a Press Release on this.

This does not reflect normal use of topical cosmetic creams and we would like to allay any concerns that users of topical cosmetic products may have after reading these reports.


Parts per billion (ppb) and parts per million (ppm)

Many substances that are considered potentially hazardous when consumed in large quantities are perfectly safe when used in the tiny amounts found within cosmetic products. What it all boils down to is dose. Scientists use units, such as parts per billion and parts per million, when measuring tiny amounts. 1,000 parts per billion is the same as one part per million and both equate to approximately one bucketful in 80,000 baths; or a part per billion is equivalent to one second in 30 years.

'pH balanced'

This claim must be read in the context of the product but in general it would be seen on skin-care products whose pH (not PH or Ph) is close to that of healthy skin (i.e. slightly acidic at around pH4.5 to 5.0)


Phenoxyethanol is a preservative used in a wide range of cosmetic products – from shampoos, to cosmetic wipes, to body lotions.  It is one of the preservatives of choice for some private natural and organic certification bodies.  It has been used safely in lots of consumer products, including cosmetics, for many years, and can be found in green tea.

Preservatives play an essential role in keeping cosmetics safe against spoilage and contamination by micro-organisms during storage and continued use.  This is important for consumer safety.

Phenoxyethanol has a maximum permitted use level in cosmetics (1%), but generally preservatives are used at the lowest level to achieve the intended aim of protecting cosmetic products from contamination.  Only those preservatives specifically allowed by the authorities can be used in cosmetic products in the EU.

Consumer well-being is the number one priority and the safety of all cosmetic products and their ingredients is governed by strict European laws, which require a safety assessment be carried out on each product before it is made available for use by the consumer.

In addition, a more detailed assessment is required for any cosmetic product which is intended to be used on children under three years of age.  The assessment takes into account the finished product and all of the ingredients as well as how and where the product is to be used, by whom and how often.

As well as this, there are robust processes in place so that cosmetic ingredients and their safety are kept under constant review by the European Commission and EU countries, assisted by the Commission’s independent scientific expert committee (the Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety, SCCS).  It is the SCCS which establishes the scientific justification for allowing any particular preservative to be used in cosmetics.

SCCS Scientific Opinion October 2016

Following a request by the French authorities, the SCCS was asked to review the safety information on phenoxyethanol.  The SCCS has re-confirmed the safety of phenoxyethanol when used as a preservative in cosmetic products, including baby wipes and other children's products up to 1% (October 2016).


The phthalates make up a family of substances each with its own, unique, spectrum of properties, united only because they each have a similar chemical group somewhere in the molecular structure. Some phthalates will possess useful properties: some phthalates possess undesirable properties. (In the same way, fungi as a family include both nutritious mushrooms and poisonous toadstools.) It is therefore quite wrong to consider all phthalates as the same: they are not.

Some, but by no means all, members of the phthalate family have been found to be reprotoxic when tested at high doses in laboratory animals. These phthalates have been banned from cosmetic products even though there was no conceivable risk to human health from the low levels used.

Some phthalates are still allowed to be used in cosmetics and it must be emphasised that these substances have no reprotoxic properties. The safety of these specific ingredients is not in dispute amongst the scientific community.

The main phthalate which may be used in cosmetics and personal care products, which includes hairsprays, in Europe is diethyl phthalate (DEP). All scientific reviews to date around the world by key scientific experts and governmental agencies have concluded that DEP is safe for use in cosmetics and personal care products under the current conditions of use. DEP has been reviewed by the European Commission’s independent scientific expert committee (the Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, SCCP), most recently in March 2007. The SCCP has positively approved the safe use of DEP in cosmetic products, and has not deemed it necessary to impose any specific warnings or restrictions for its use. In fact the SCCP, as well as confirming the safety of DEP, has acknowledged that traces of other phthalates (including those that are banned as ingredients in cosmetic products) might be found to be present in products due to their other possible uses, such as in packaging for example. The SCCP states that traces of up to 100 ppm (parts per million) total or per substance do not indicate a risk to the health of the consumer.

Claims that phthalates are ‘hidden’ in fragrances

Fragrances are usually composed of many individual substances that are blended together to achieve the desired smell. If a cosmetic product contains a fragrance this is labelled using the word ‘parfum’ in the ingredients list rather than having to list out all of the individual components. This is legally allowed by the strict European cosmetic safety laws and is common practice.

It is however not a way of ‘hiding’ ingredients as is sometimes, wrongly, claimed. All of the ingredients that make up the fragrance are still assessed very carefully as part of the safety assessment. Diethyl phthalate may sometimes, legally and safely, be used as part of the fragrance mix.

No substances banned from use as cosmetic ingredients are allowed to be used in fragrances for cosmetic products.


Plastic microbeads

Plastic microbeads are defined as any intentionally added, water insoluble, solid plastic particles (5 mm or less in size) used to exfoliate or cleanse in rinse-off personal care products.



A polymer is made up of a sequence of one or more types of units, or monomers, which are bonded together to form a chainlike structure.

Polymer example

Polymers made up of one type of monomer unit are called homopolymers e.g. A-A-A-... and polymers made up of more than one type of monomer unit are called co-polymers e.g. A-B-A-B-....

Polymers can have different properties depending upon the type of monomer unit, the number of monomers in the polymer, how the monomers fit together and whether the monomers have any additional chemical groups.  They can be elastic, durable, flexible, hard, soft, solid or liquid.

Therefore, it is impossible to determine from the name of a polymer on the ingredients list whether it is natural, synthetic, liquid, solid, soft, hard etc.

Owing to the range of properties a polymer can bring to a product, polymers have a wide use in cosmetic products.


PPD (paraphenylenediamine) is the most widely used permanent hair dye as it is one of the few dyes that can successfully colour light or grey hair back to a dark colour. Permanent or oxidative hair colorant products involve the mixing of the ‘hair dye’ substance (e.g. PPD) with another substance called a ‘coupler’ immediately before applying to the hair. The two then react to form the required colour inside the hair itself and, because the new coloured molecules are too big to get out of the hair, the colour is ‘trapped’ or permanent until the hair grows or is naturally shed. These products tend to come in two separate containers inside the packet.

PPD is the hair dye most often associated with allergic reactions to hair colorant products. Sensitivity or allergy to PPD may develop over time, which is why an allergy alert test must be carried out each time the hair is to be coloured.

The safety of PPD has been extensively investigated over decades. The European Commission scientists’ opinion is that PPD is safe for use as a hair dye, and its use is strictly regulated. At this time, PPD cannot be replaced in hair colorants: nothing else is as effective and it is safe when used as directed.

It is often mis-reported that PPD is banned in some European countries. This is not the case.  PPD is allowed for use throughout the European Union according to the requirements of the EU legislation.

PPD is sometimes illegally found in temporary skin tattoos. The use of PPD for this purpose is not authorised by European cosmetics regulations and European Commission scientists have recommended that PPD should not be used in temporary tattoos.

View more about temporary 'black henna' tattoos.

Download a factsheet about safe use of PPD in hair colorants.


Preservatives are ingredients designed to protect products, and so the consumer, against contamination by microorganisms during storage and continued use.

Product safety is the number one priority for the cosmetics industry and we therefore provide products that have been formulated to prevent contamination by microorganisms. Bacteria, yeasts and moulds are always present on our skin, in the air around us and even in the water we drink. These can get into products during normal use. Contamination of products, especially those used around the eyes and on skin, can cause significant problems if the level of contamination is high. Preservatives can prevent these problems by stopping micro-organisms from multiplying in the product.


Propylene glycol

Propylene glycol has a long history of safe use. It is used as a humectant and skin conditioning agent in a very wide range of cosmetic, and pharmaceutical, products. Its use in such products is without risk of harm to human health [1]. It is often quoted that this is an ingredient used in antifreeze. This may or may not be true, but water too is a component of antifreeze. Neither fact is relevant to cosmetic safety, just as the corrosive nature of acetic acid is not relevant in its use as the food ‘vinegar’. In fact this claim about propylene glycol is often confused with ethylene glycol, which is the main constituent of common anti-freeze mixtures for motor cars.









Retinol is the alcohol form of vitamin A used in some skin care products to boost cell renewal.  It is related to vitamin A.


Retinoids is the general term covering all forms of vitamin A.  The acid (retinoic acid or vitamin A acid) is prohibited from cosmetic products under the EU rules.  Other forms of vitamin A (retinol and retinyl esters such as retinyl palmitate and retinyl acetate) are safely used in skin care products to boost skin cell renewal.

Retinyl esters

Retinyl esters such as retinyl palmatate and retinyl acetate are used in some skin care products to boost skin renewal.  They are related to vitamin A.





The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) is one of the independent expert scientific committees established to advise the European Commission on scientific matters.  The SCCS addresses questions concerning the safety (i.e. impact on human health) of non-food consumer products such as cosmetics, toys, clothing and textiles, personal care products etc. and consumer services such as tattooing.

Members are scientific and medical experts from the member states and are subject to periodic election.

It's output is in the form of opinions in response to specific questions or mandates but it may also issue guidelines on matters related to its area of competence.

Further information on the SCCS can be found on the European Commission website.

The SCCS was formerly known as the SCCP (Scientific Committee on Consumer Products).

Shelf life

See 'storage of cosmetic products'.


Siloxanes, also known as silicones, are synthetic materials with many uses and are found in a variety of consumer products.

The basic structure is common to all siloxanes: a backbone of silicon and oxygen with molecules of carbon and hydrogen attached, all very common elements found in nature.

Siloxanes have been extensively studied and safely used for decades, and are commonly found in cosmetics and personal care products because of the excellent conditioning they impart to both skin and hair. They may be found in antiperspirants, sunscreens, shampoos, conditioners, moisturisers and lotions. They provide important product performance benefits such as facilitating a smooth texture and an even application. Studies have also shown siloxanes to be non-comedogenic.


Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) are surfactants (“surface – active agent”: a substance, like a detergent, which enables a liquid to foam), which are used in many  cosmetic products for its cleansing and emulsifying properties.

An old internet rumour is routinely re-circulated, and is often perpetuated in media articles, alleging that SLS can cause irritation and may even cause cancer.

Safety is the number one priority for our industry. All cosmetic products are subject to a rigorous safety assessment before being sold.

The safety of SLS has not been questioned by the European Commission, nor its expert advisory committee (the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, or SCCS), nor by any of the member states.

The safety and toxicity of this ingredient was reviewed in 1983 by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel of the USA. They concluded that SLS was safe for use in cosmetic products. This conclusion was re-confirmed by the CIR in 2002, after an additional 250 scientific research studies were considered.

Although prolonged contact with high concentrations may cause irritation, this is not seen at the low concentrations of SLS used in cosmetics and personal care products, such as shampoos and toothpastes; which have a long history of in-use safety.

SLS has an excellent safety record and has never been found to be carcinogenic even though it has been investigated many times around the world. It is widely used because of its good cleansing properties and because it combines safety with efficacy. Consumers may continue to use and enjoy their cosmetic and personal care products with confidence.

Sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) is also is used in many cosmetic products for its surfactant properties. This widely used cleansing agent is perfectly safe for use on the skin; it is therefore not surprising that other industries would choose to use this safe, effective and biodegradable cleanser too.

Skin Lightening Products

The colour of the skin is determined by a person’s genetic make-up, and it involves the pigment melanin. Melanin is made by special cells called melanocytes which can be found in certain layers of the skin. Melanin production is a complex process. There are two main types of melanin; that which is brown and black in colour and that which is yellow and red. The amount of melanin produced, the type of melanin formed and how it is distributed throughout the skin determines the skin’s colour. Melanin is also the pigment responsible for the colour of hair.

Some people like to lighten their natural complexion for aesthetic preferences.

Topical skin lightening or whitening products are legally classed as cosmetic products in Europe.



Usually a liquid used to dissolve another substance. Water is a common solvent.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

Sunlight is made up of visible light, infra-red light and UV (ultra violet) rays.

The Sun Protection Factor given as a number on the front of a sunscreen product is an indication of the amount of protection a product provides against sunburn, which is mainly caused by UVB rays. The SPF number is an industry initiative that has standardised the way a product’s UVB protection is indicated throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world.

The higher the SPF factor the higher the protection and SPF 15 is a recommended minimum.

Sun protection products

It is recommended that you use sun protection products as part of a package of protective measures when you are in the sun and that these products should have both UVB (indicated by the SPF number and a minimum SPF 15 is recommended) and UVA protection (the UVA protection that a sunscreen provides will be evident on the label). Never use sun protection products in order to spend longer in the sun.

Further information about damage from UV light and ways to protect yourself in the sun can be found on these websites:



'Surface active agents' are used in cosmetic products to allow incompatible substances, such as oil and water, to mix together within a product or to dissolve one another.

Surfactants have many functions including: cleaning agents to dissolve dirt; suspending agents to keep solid particles from separating out of a liquid product; boosting foam; and as emulsifiers, enabling oil and water to mix.





Talc, or talcum, is a naturally occurring mineral; it is one of the hydrated magnesium silicates. Cosmetic talc, which has been safely used for over 120 years, is not the same as industrial talc. Cosmetic talc is prepared by milling talc from mines specifically selected for the high quality and purity of the talc seams. In addition, the mined talc is repeatedly checked for purity before being classified as cosmetic grade.

Read more... 


The laws covering the manufacture of cosmetic products do allow for the presence of unavoidable traces, even of banned substances, that cannot reasonably be removed during the manufacture of ingredients or the cosmetic product itself, provided they do not cause any harm to the consumer. All products are thoroughly assessed by a qualified safety professional. These assessments take into account any traces of substances, however tiny, so that the products pose no risk to the health of adults or children.

See also: detecting traces.


Triclosan is an ingredient used in cosmetic and toiletry products because of its excellent antibacterial qualities. It is proven to help enhance oral hygiene through its use in toothpastes and mouthwashes and personal hygiene through its use in soaps, hand washing liquids and deodorants. It effectively inhibits the growth of bacteria. This helps to prevent the spread of germs, reduces the risk of infections, maintains the oral cavity in good condition and controls body odour. Triclosan is currently approved for use as a preservative in cosmetics (including toothpastes and mouthwashes) by the laws which control the safety of cosmetics.


A full safety file has been assessed by the independent expert committee of the European Commission (the Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety, SCCS).  The SCCS has issued two separate opinions (2009 and 2011) supporting the use of Triclosan as a safe and effective ingredient in cosmetic products as follows: up to 0.3% in toothpastes, hand and body soaps, shower gels, deodorants, face powders, blemish concealers and nail cleansers; and up to 0.2% in mouthwashes.

Triclosan has been studied more extensively than many other substances, natural or man-made, in use today. Those studies cover the safety of Triclosan to man (including any possible risk of harm to babies and infants both before, i.e. during pregnancy, and after, i.e. when breastfeeding, birth), animals and the environment, including questions about the risk of antimicrobial resistance.

In the past, however, scientific research into Triclosan has been taken out of context, which has put its safe use into question. One such experiment artificially created a situation (not replicated in normal consumer use) where large quantities of Triclosan and chlorine were combined and found to react together to create small amounts of chloroform. From this it was suggested that the chlorine in tap water might react with Triclosan to produce chloroform. However chemical experts have commented this type of scenario can be ruled out, and there is no risk to human health.


You may have read about action by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in September 2016.  The FDA issued a final rule stating that over-the-counter (OTC) consumer antiseptic wash products containing certain active ingredients, including Triclosan, could no longer be marketed in the US.  The FDA claims that manufacturers did not demonstrate these ingredients as safe for long-term daily use or as more effective than plain soap and water.  Companies will no longer be able to market antibacterial washes containing the newly banned ingredients.

It is important to remember that the regulations in the US are very different from the EU for antibacterial soaps, as in the US they are classed as OTC (Over the Counter) medicines.  The standard of proof in support of efficacy is also different.  For an OTC medicinal soap containing antibacterial agents the company must demonstrate that the product with the relevant antibacterial agent is significantly more effective than soap and water alone.  According to the FDA, the manufacturers have not done this to their satisfaction which has resulted in the proposal to ban their sale in the US.
Within the EU, a product containing an antibacterial agent must be proven to be effective against bacteria to make an antibacterial claim.  In order to do this, manufacturers of these types of product substantiate their claims by using European Standard test methods that look at microbial contamination and the ‘kill rate’ by the antibacterial hand wash being tested.  Therefore robust, standardised methods are used to support their claims.





UV absorber

A substance that protects the cosmetic product from the effects of UV-light.

UV filter

A substance that filters certain UV rays in order to protect the skin or the hair from harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays. All UV filters allowed for use in cosmetic products in the EU are listed on the positive list of UV filters (Annex VI of the Cosmetics Regulation).

UV rays

Most of the damage from the sun comes from UV (ultra violet) rays . UV light is split into UVA, UVB and UVC rays. UVC rays do not normally affect the skin as they are completely filtered out by the atmosphere before they reach us. UVB penetrates into the outer layer of the skin and damages the cells causing the skin to become inflamed or sunburnt. UVA rays penetrate more deeply causing direct damage to supporting tissues leading to ageing effects. Both types of rays are attributed to causing skin cancers of various types.





Vegetarian products

There is no legal definition of a vegan or vegetarian cosmetic product.

The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as: "Someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter."

Other definitions may vary, for instance the Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation defines a vegetarian as a person who avoids eating red and white meats, fish and all other water creatures such as prawns and lobsters; and who also avoids slaughter by-products such as gelatine (made from horns, hooves, bones etc), lard and cochineal (crushed insects). A vegetarian may or may not eat dairy products, free range eggs or honey.

Product manufacturers may include claims that the product contains a certain animal-derived ingredient, that the product does not contain any animal-derived ingredients at all or is “suitable for vegetarians”. Such claims are acceptable, but it is a legal requirement that all claims can be substantiated and are not misleading to the consumer.

Manufacturers of cosmetic products will respond to a consumer on suitability of a product range (company contact details are required to be labelled on pack) and there are also companies who specialise in products without animal-derived ingredients.

Societies representing vegan, vegetarian, Jewish or Muslim groups may have reference sources of such companies on their websites and in their literature.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is available in several forms and one, the acid, is specifically prohibited from use in cosmetics under the EU rules because of its side-effects at high doses.  Other forms of vitamin A (retinol and retinyl esters such as retinyl palmitate and retinyl acetate) are safely used in skin care products to boost skin cell renewal.

Vitamin D

Sunlight acts on the skin to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for good health, in particular to maintain healthy bones.

The issue of vitamin D in health is complicated. However, most people are likely to have sufficient levels of vitamin D, some of which will have come from normal exposure to the sun in their everyday lives. It is possible to get all the vitamin D you need by eating a balanced diet and acting sensibly in the sun whilst using sunscreens.

When exposed to the sun it is still important to behave sensibly, and protect the skin from the harmful effects of UV rays, including the appropriate use of sunscreens. Cancer Research UK has a site called SunSmart which gives lots of helpful information.

Certain foods are a source of vitamin D (it is found in eggs, oily fish, fish liver oils and some fortified cereals) - but this might not suit everyone's diet. Vitamin D can also be obtained from dietary supplements.

Vitamin D exists in different forms. In Europe vitamin D is not used as an ingredient in cosmetic products as the main forms are not permitted under EU rules.