Manufacturers have long been advised against labelling their products as ‘free from’ certain chemicals as this can be misleading to consumers as it implies safety concerns over the ingredients.
Speaking on the panel at the in-cosmetics summit in London about the various free from chemicals claims that are made, Dr Barbara Brockway, Special Advisor, IMCD, commented: “To me, the free-from route is the lazy route. Fear sells a product.”
The past president of the UK Society of Cosmetic Scientists was joined in this view by Noble Matthew an Independent Consultant who used to work at Johnson & Johnson, who added: “In my opinion, a free-from claim is not a scientific one – it is not science based.”
Dr Andrea Mitarotonda, Head of R&D at Neal’s Yard Remedies added: “As formulators, we usually highlight the positives of our formulations, but with the proliferation of ‘free-from’, we are under pressure from marketing – who highlight the negatives.”
Invest in proof?
Dr Barbara Olioso, Managing Director of Green Chemist Consultancy, also on the panel, did offer an alternative view on this, challenging that if these ingredients were safe, then the manufacturers should not find it hard to prove this and put the debate to bed.
“Free-from claims are based on fears, but the paraben manufacturers, for example, should invest in the science to back up the safety of parabens and prove it. This would avoid the free-from argument,” she said.
However, Liz Earle, founder of her own skin care company, challenged who would believe this if a manufacturer carried out its own study.
“It would seem biased if done by a manufacturer. An independent body should be encouraged to carry this out – it’s not on the manufacturers,” said Earle.
The problem the industry has with free-from claims is that it implies that there are safety concerns over the ingredient in question, and secondly that the other ingredients that have been added are safer and better.
The Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) in the UK advises that its members avoid using ‘free from’ statements in their marketing, for these reasons.
“We strongly suggest that safety shouldn’t be used as a route to commercial benefit, as it suggests other products are inherently unsafe. We are all required to provide safe products and this kind of practice undermines the industry as a whole,” says Chris Flower, CTPA Director General.
‘Free from’ claims, in principle, are allowed under the Cosmetics Regulation, providing they comply with the relevant legislation, and although they may come under close scrutiny if they exploit fears or denigrate the competition, are allowed if they comply with existing legislation.