Exporting Cosmetics

The Internet has changed the world. We communicate, shop and ‘cross borders’ with a mouse click. For consumers the Internet has made it very easy to source almost any product, from almost anywhere. However, is it as easy for companies that transport products across borders?

When it comes to transporting products to clients overseas a couple of tricky questions arise. For example, regulatory requirements may differ from country A to country B. Some products may be legally sold in country A while they require compliance with certain regulatory rules in others.

In the case of cosmetic products there is no single world standard for labelling, manufacturing or permitted ingredients.

The European Union has relatively recently undergone a profound change in its regulatory framework for cosmetics, aiming for increased safety levels and consumer protection. There are several important requirements anyone exporting cosmetics and skincare to the EU has to fulfil. Two notable requirements are the cosmetic product safety assessment for all products, and the EU import notification procedure.

Since July 2013 cosmetic products can only be put on the European common market if the manufacturer has had a compliant safety assessment prepared by a qualified person. In the report, the assessor has to assess the product following a prescribed format and to declare that the product is safe to use, as per the relevant EU standards. One element of the report is an assessment of the preservation system used in the product. Another aspect is an assessment of the materials used for the packaging. Failing to comply with the requirement to prepare the safety assessment can, in some cases, lead to consequences as severe as a mandatory recall of the product. While nobody may be physically harmed, would you like to explain to your distributors that unfortunately they have to take the product off the shelf?

Turning now to the EU import notification procedure. This has been set up as a centralised online notification procedure so the authorities are informed about what products are placed on the European common market. Importers have to file a declaration that summarizes key information on the imported products. For example, what are the ingredients contained in the respective products? How does the label look? Who is the local contact in the EU that the authorities and poison centres can contact on an urgent basis? This raises important questions as to how an exporter can actually protect its IP, for example the formulations of the product? The short answer is that there are ways around disclosing all information, but it’s a very fine line. Where does a trade secret end, where do health and consumer protection kick in? Given the procedure was only established last year, many uncertainties remain but any exporter is well advised to carefully look after these issues.

Other regulatory requirements exist under the EU framework and they will be examined in further short articles.

In the meantime, please keep in mind: ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’