It is more than 2 years since the new EU cosmetic directive came into being, and trying to grasp the legislation for cosmetic product claims is still hard for many companies, especially outside the EU. At times, I am often asked how would I describe our claims directive and its criteria, and as a Tolkien fan I would say it brings to mind the quote “….one ring to rule them all (rings)….one ring to find them…one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”.
The rings are (in this case) the 6 criteria bound in the (ring of) legislation, and the ring them rules them all is of course the consumer. The darkness itself perhaps stands for the fact that the legislation is far from crystal clear – not surprising since our EU is made up of nearly 30 member countries each with its own language, culture, understanding and approaches to life – perhaps the consumer could also be included here as well?
The cosmetic consumer of course is an enigma and an ever changing chameleon – we are after all individual and human, so like the blowing wind we frequently change our minds, yet at the same time try hard to resist change – neither are we totally “honest”. In parallel to this phenomenon we are also ageing, influenced by our biological processes and environment, as well as those brain buzzing social processes of our hectic modern age. Is it any wonder that consumer research is often regarded with scepticism?
Cosmetic claims legislation is here to stay – that is the reality. The criteria of this legislation cannot be viewed nor taken in isolation – like Tolkien’s rings they are inextricably linked together, and one without the other, the process forward cannot operate or function. Claims cannot be considered ‘Legal” unless they are “Truthful”. Truthfulness requires “Evidence”. Evidence is also linked to (and needs to be) “Honesty”. Honesty requires “Fairness” which itself provides for “Informed decision making”, and ultimately a satisfied consumer. What these mean and how they are linked together will be explained with a common sense approach.
Underlying these criteria is of course Integrity or Credibility, and this is the key to the legislation for the consumer – without integrity, cosmetic products have no place on the EU market – this is what the legislation saying. The industry as regards product claims, has after all behaved similarly to quarrelling petulant teenagers, and the relationship between marketing and R&D is a classic example of this. Is it any wonder therefore that consumers have become cynical and legislators threaten with tighter controls, just like “parents”.
Of all these criteria, most companies seem to have unwisely focused on just one i.e. “Evidence”. Why is this? It seems of course because in the past (hence the reason for the legislation) companies chose not to justify claims, or made claims just because everyone else did or does. In fact if you read through older versions of the EU cosmetic directives you will find that all of them had requested that claims be justified. Generating evidence is not just about data – even credible raw material suppliers will ask their customers not to take their “data” at face value – it needs to be analysed under the principles of these exact same criteria as for a finished consumer product. Furthermore clinical (human) data will not give you the actual claims you may wish to make – they only provide evidence of how a product performs under certain defined conditions, and must be taken into account when “creating” claims. That is why the ‘totality” of evidence is so important in order to create the ‘claim(s)’.
Claims and the supporting evidence also need to be “sustainable” – a fashionable word not just in the cosmetics industry. But, what does this actually mean? In a nutshell – think global even if you are just acting (selling) locally. Have you ever wondered why your test data is inconsistent or does not meet the expectation of a claim? It is easy and quick to blame the testing company or laboratory. Could it be though, that the so called active ingredients are of a poor quality because you chose to go “cheap” to save costs (which can be saved elsewhere), and the reason for the poor quality is that slave labour is being used to harvest your exotic product in an inconsistent manner, resulting in poor quality material with poor levels of “active”, and thus “cheap quality” inconsistent claims “Evidence”? Evidence must also be responsible!
The same applies of course to actually how data is generated since according to the theorists and philosophers, evidence is not always proof, and those cosmetic companies who have gone through legal processes to defend product claims will understand that everything centres on the “average consumer”.
And what of communicating to the consumer? It is blatantly obvious that information given to the consumer either directly via marketing media or through beauty journalists, and even bloggers, is clearly “lost in translation”. At what point has this gone wrong? In this age of chronic insatiable appetites for “information” across every conceivable digital and social media at an instant, we have forgotten how to “communicate” as “humans”. We need to find the right way to avoid being “bound in darkness”.
Dr. Theresa Callaghan is speaking at the workshop The claims development process: More than just evidence at in-cosmetics on Wednesday 15 April 2015, 09:00 – 13:00 Workshop Room CC5.3