EU Court rules on Cosmetics Labelling and importance of Product’s Function and Label Translation

EU Court rules on Cosmetics Labelling and importance of Product’s Function and Label Translation

In December 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of the requirements applicable to the labelling of cosmetic products: Judgementof 17 December 2020, A.M. v E.M., Case C‑667/19, EU:C:2020:554. More precisely, the two core aspects of the ruling concern the product’s function stated on the label and the relatedtranslation requirements.

The CJEU concluded that the information related to a cosmetic product’s function, to its precautions for use and to its ingredients must respect the language requirements of the Member State where the product is made available and cannot be listed in a separate catalogue referred to by inserting the relevant symbol on the product’s label or packaging.


How Did It All Start?

A.M., the owner of a beauty salon in Poland, purchased several cosmetic products, including their retail sales leaflets and catalogues, from E.M., the distributor of those products, which were produced by a company located in the United States.

A.M. lodged a complaint with a Polish court, lamenting the fact that the labelling of the products was provided only in English, making it difficult to identify the product and its function. The labels were displaying  a logo inviting the user the refer to the product’s accompanying catalogue, where all the information about the product and its function was provided in Polish.

In this context, the Polish court referred the issue to the CJEU, requesting a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of the provisions on labelling requirements stated in the Regulation on cosmetic products.


The applicable legal instrument in this case is Regulation No 1223/2009 on cosmetic products(further referred to as “the Regulation”).

To begin with, according to Article 2 of the Regulation (2009), ‘cosmetic product’ means ”any substance or preparation intended for placing in contact with the various external parts of the human body […] or with the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity with a view exclusively or principally to cleaning them, perfuming them or protecting them in order to keep them in good condition, change their appearance or correct body odours”.

Article 3 of the Regulation (2009) highlights that all cosmetic products that are made available on the EU market must be “safe for human health when used under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use”, taking into consideration, among other aspects, their presentation and their labelling.

According to Article 19 of the Regulation, the product’s function, the ingredients list and special precautions for use shall be listed on the product’s container and packaging among others. However, when listing the ingredients and the precautions is impossible, for example, due to limited space on the label, this information can be provided in an accompanying document, such as a leaflet. In this case, the label should contain a symbol inviting the user to refer to the attached or enclosed information. This information should be provided according to the language requirement of the Member State in which the product is made available.


The Preliminary Questions and the Court’s Answers

The Polish court addressed the following two preliminary questions to the CJEU:

1. When the Regulation instates the obligation to list on the label the cosmetic product’s function, does it refer to the essential functions as per the definition of a cosmetic product (namely cleaning, protecting, perfuming, nurturing and beautifying), or should the label contain a more detailed overview of these functions?

To answer this question, the CJEU clearly stated that the label should contain “information relating to characteristics more specific to the product” (Judgementof 17 December 2020, par.31). This information related to the product’s function should be listed in the product’s container and packaging in such a manner as to allow the users to clearly identify the product’s purpose and method of use, ensuring their safety.

2. Could the precautions, the ingredients list and the product’s function be listed in a separate catalogue (which may contain other products as well), by inserting the relevant symbol on the product’s packaging?

Producers or distributors of cosmetics may resort to this strategy, due to the organizational and financial implications determined by the obligation to translate certain information on the label, according to the national language requirements of the Member State in which those products will be made available.

The Court concluded that “the cost of labelling those products in a different language in order  to  market  them  in other  Member  States  cannot  in  any  case be  regarded  as  justifying incomplete labelling of the product on its container and its packaging” (Judgement of 17 December 2020, par.46).


Conclusion

This judgement highlights once again the importance of the consumers’ safety when using a cosmetic product. In this regard, the label of the product must contain information related to the product’s function, to the relevant precautions for use and to its ingredients. This information shall not be listed in a separate catalogue. Furthermore, this information must be easily accessible to the end-user, by being translated according to the language requirements of the EU Member State in which the product is marketed. Even if this may be an organizational and/or financial burden for the producers or distributors, they cannot prevail on this aspect in order not to fulfill their obligations.


Maria-Alexandra Enescu

Regulatory Affairs Department

07/01/2021


Obelis can help you comply with these EU requirements governing cosmetics, and, implicitly, their labels. If you are a non-EU cosmetics manufacturer who would like to place your products on the EU market, we can assist you throughout the compliance process, by taking into account the most recent and updated legal requirements.

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