Cosmetic Scientist Colin of Colin’s Beauty Pages has just posted a very interesting blog about an Australian brand’s particular product label. In it, he wonders about their marketing claims and imprecise use of the word chemical, but what interested us more was his point that the ingredients list seems needlessly overwritten — particularly with repeated use of the word PLANT in brackets after certain ingredients — especially fragrance allergens. This, he points out, can make it more difficult for those who need to avoid certain ingredients, to spot them in a (longer) list.
It’s easy to forget that ingredients lists haven’t always been compulsory on skincare products, and that their introduction was a huge help to those with allergies to cosmetic ingredients. Later introduction of law compelling certain fragrance allergens to be listed further helped those with known fragrance allergies.
Obviously allergy is a chief interest of ours — right across our various Awards and indeed our ‘Matter’ sites — but we have come to realise increasingly as time goes on that free from living is about so much more these days than just reactions and sensitivities — it’s about ethics, about environmentalism, about personal choice, about non-allergic health considerations, about lifestyle, about religious sensibilities — so much so that labelling has become incredibly helpful to people other than those who react to ingredients, as important as these consumers naturally are.
Labelling should be in INCI format in the EU — but in our experience it isn’t always, especially on products by the smaller or newer brands — and although we support it it we acknowledge it isn’t always the most user-friendly. All that Latin! We like that some brands —such as Odylique and Tropic — also list ‘plain English’ versions of their ingredients on their packaging, as this can be very helpful, especially to non-sensitive consumers, who simply — and quite reasonably — want to know what is in the products they use on their bodies.
Those of you who have food allergies or intolerances may be aware that the way food allergens are conveyed on prepackaged foods has recently changed. Now, the 14 food allergens — which include milk, peanuts, nuts and cereals containing gluten — must be highlighted in some way on ingredients lists. This highlighting is usually bold, but it can also be underlining or using capital letters, or indeed a combination of various styles. Despite some early concern and reticence from the food sensitive community, it seems many are now warming to the new style — although it will take some months to ‘bed in’.
I wonder whether something similar is or will eventually be needed in skincare and cosmetic labelling? This would, in theory, help highlight the ingredients those who react need to avoid. The problem is that, in food, there are only 14 key allergens, but in skincare, there are 26 fragrance allergens — with recommendations that these should be increased substantially — and other ingredients which arguably should be added to any future list of highlightable allergens — not least, the isothiazolinones.
I think where we draw the line between too much information and not enough information is a tough one. The more information you add to labelling — not necessarily to the list of ingredients, but anywhere on the packaging — the trickier and slightly more time consuming you make any single piece of information to find. Legislating all this is difficult, and — as we know from running the FreeFrom Skincare Awards — judging who has the balance just right is a very difficult one too. Anyone have any great suggestions?