Cosmetic advertising, labelling and ingredients
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Advertising may be a statement that promotes the sale of a product. The advertisement should clearly communicate the intended use of the cosmetic in a manner that is consistent with the definition under the Food and Drugs Act.
Claims and ads by manufacturers
Claims on a label or in an ad for what a cosmetic can do must be accurate so they do not mislead people.
Certain claims, like increased attractiveness or improvements to the look, are subjective. Some are tolerated because they do not mislead the public.
Therapeutic claims are those that indicate or suggest to modify body functions or prevent or treat a disease or condition. You should doubt any therapeutic claims on a product label that does not carry a drug identification number (DIN) or natural product number (NPN). These types of claims are only allowed on drugs or natural health products, not on cosmetic products.
Advertising Standards Canada previews and clears radio and television ads before they're broadcast. Health Canada may take action if a print ad poses a significant safety concern.
Marketing terms may be used on cosmetic product labels, packaging or in radio, television or print ads.
Health Canada doesn't regulate these as they aren't related to health or safety. However, the Competition Bureau regulates marketing terms and can take action on those that are false or misleading.
Common marketing terms
Here are some commonly used marketing terms you may come across.
Fragrance-free or unscented
If the cosmetic product is advertised as "fragrance-free" or "unscented", it means that either:
- fragrances have not been added or
- scents in the product have been hidden by a masking agent
- masking agents may be listed individually or under the term "fragrance" or "parfum" on the list of ingredients
If "parfum" or "fragrance" appears in the list of ingredients, the product contains a fragrance or a masking agent.
"Hypoallergenic" is not a legal or a scientific term. It means the manufacturer has chosen ingredients that have the least chance of causing an allergy. This doesn't mean the product won't cause an allergic reaction in some people, as there are no non-allergenic cosmetics.
Health Canada recommends reviewing the list of ingredients to avoid any ingredients you know or think you may be allergic to and follow the directions of use. If you have an allergic reaction to a cosmetic, consult your health care provider or try a different brand.
"Preservative-free" means that preservatives have not been added to the product. Natural or synthetic preservatives are essential for all cosmetics.
People often use and store their cosmetic products in the bathroom, which is warm and damp. This can be an ideal environment for microorganisms to grow in your cosmetics. Microorganisms can also find their way into cosmetics when a cosmetic or its applicator touches your skin or hair and then touches the cosmetic again.
Most cosmetics contain preservatives to keep harmful bacteria, mold and yeast from growing in and on your cosmetics.
These terms mean:
- a test was conducted to make sure that the product is not (or is less) irritating to eyes or skin and
- a skin or eye doctor was involved in the test at some point during the study
The safety of the product was tested, not how effective the product is.
There are no regulations that standardize the type or number of tests needed to use this claim on labels.
Not tested on animals
The cosmetic animal testing ban is coming into force on December 22, 2023. At this time, the cosmetics industry will be required to retain proof that their cosmetic is not tested on animals if their labels or advertisements make such claims. A claim could be made through words (such as "cruelty-free") or images (such as bunny logos, animal symbols).
If the Minister of Health suspects a claim is false, the Minister could ask for proof to substantiate the claim.
You can file a complaint if you believe that a claim on a cosmetic label or in an advertisement about the product not being tested on animals is false.
Learn more about the cosmetic animal testing ban.
"Organic" means that a plant or other natural material is certified to be produced without pesticides.
Organic standards and certification vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, usually a product that's labelled "organic" means it's made almost entirely from organic ingredients (more than 95%). Individual ingredients can also be labelled "organic" if they meet the standards.
The label of a cosmetic product should be easily read and understandable. It provides consumers with important information about the product.
Mandatory information on cosmetics labels
Labelling is regulated by the:
- Food and Drugs Act
- Cosmetic Regulations
- Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and its regulations
To meet these regulatory requirements, cosmetic labels must show:
- the ingredient list
- the common name or identity of the product
- for example, hairspray, moisturizer
- the amount of product in metric units or count
- for example, 2 bars or 55 mL
- the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor
- warnings or cautions
- directions for safely using the product
All this information must be in English and French, except for the list of ingredients. The ingredients must be identified using the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI).
There are also specific labelling requirements for the safe use of special products, like hair dyes and tooth whiteners. Also, the law does not allow false and misleading statements or deceptive packaging.
Additional information may also be required by other applicable legislation, such as the:
Labelling ingredients is important
Labelling helps consumers make more informed decisions about the cosmetics they use, since they can easily identify ingredients they may be sensitive to.
Mandatory ingredient labelling using the INCI system also lets doctors refer to 1 common name. This is useful for treatments and incident reporting purposes.
Many other countries also use the INCI system. This means that people from Canada who travel abroad will be able to recognize, and avoid ingredients, without needing to know other terminology.
The Cosmetic Regulations mandate that the labels of cosmetic products must list all ingredients.
Understanding INCI terms
Most of the names for cosmetic product ingredients are technical chemical names, which might be hard to understand. However, the INCI system is recognized around the world.
The INCI names act as recognized symbols. Each represents a substance that may have many different trade names.
Using only INCI names makes it easier for Canadian consumers. You only need to know 1 name for an ingredient instead of several different technical or trade names.
For more information about a specific ingredient in a product, contact the business whose address is on the product label.
Ingredients allowed in cosmetics
Only ingredients that do not present an unreasonable health and safety risk to people in Canada, when used according to the directions, are allowed in cosmetic products. This is mandated under the Food and Drugs Act.
Check out the Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist for ingredients that are described as prohibited or restricted in cosmetic products.
Ingredients to avoid
Contact your healthcare provider. They will be able to advise you, based on your medical history, about the ingredients to avoid and their corresponding INCI name.
Natural versus synthetic
Many consumers believe that "natural" products or ingredients are better or healthier than those that use synthetic ingredients.
These "natural" ingredients are often no different in chemical composition than their synthetic counterparts. In fact, a synthetic substance that mimics a natural one can sometimes provide a purer, more stable ingredient that extends the product's usable life.
Health Canada considers both natural and synthetic ingredients to be equally suitable for use in cosmetics.
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