The ingredients used in cosmetics come from various natural sources (including plants, minerals and animals) and those that are synthetic.
Most countries have legislation that either restrict or prohibit certain ingredients that can be used in cosmetics. In the UK, there are two main pieces of legislation for cosmetic safety:
"Cosmetics Directive" 76/768/EEC
The Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008
All cosmetic products sold in the European Union (EU) must display a complete ingredients list (though there are some exceptions to this - see "Labelling").
The ingredient names used must, by law, comply with European requirements and use the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI). Therefore, in whatever European country you buy your cosmetic product, the ingredient names will be the same. The INCI names are also used in many countries worldwide, including Australia, Japan and USA.
The names are mainly based on scientific names, with other Latin and English words.
Currently, the inventory of INCI-registered ingredients comprises more than 17,000 names - and the list is continuously growing.
"COSMETICS DIRECTIVE" 76/768/EEC
This is the overall piece of European legislation that regulates the manufacture and placing on the market of cosmetic products. Its main aim is to ensure that cosmetics are not harmful under normal or foreseeable conditions of use.
The Directive also sets out a list of substances which cannot be included in the composition of cosmetic products and a list of substances which cosmetic products may contain only under specified restrictions and conditions.
Adopted by the European Union in 1976, it has since been substantially revised many times.
THE COSMETIC PRODUCTS (SAFETY) REGULATIONS
All cosmetic products supplied in the UK, whether for consumer or professional use, must comply with the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008 (plus amendments).
The Regulations state:
all finished cosmetic products must undergo a safety assessment by a suitably qualified person before they can be placed on the market;
what substances can and cannot be used as ingredients in a product;
what information must be included on the product's label and packaging.
USEFUL LINKS AND CONTACTS
The Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008 in all its glory:
ALL ABOUT INGREDIENTS
If you would like to know more about the ingredients used in cosmetics, there are various dictionaries and other books that discuss and list ingredients, including:
"A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients", Ruth Winter
"Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me", Paula Begoun and Bryan Barron
USING COSMETIC PRODUCTS SAFELY
While legislation is designed to ensure standards in manufacture, ingredients and the final product, there is also an onus on us in the way we use and treat our cosmetics to keep them safe and free of contamination.