Paraben-free, hypoallergenic, alcohol-free… What are these claims really hiding?

Like more and more French people, you certainly take the time to check the composition of a beauty product. For many, the words "Paraben free", "Hypoallergenic" or "made from natural ingredients" are enough to dictate their choice. For a long time, they have also enabled brands to differentiate themselves from the competition. But in November 2018, the ARPP - the Professional Advertising Regulatory Authority - issued new guidelines for cosmetic product claims.


New rules for cosmetic product claims

With the 8th version published at the end of 2018, the cosmetic products recommendation of the ARPP is getting a new look. This publication follows the publication of the European Technical Document on cosmetic claims. From now on, in order to be able to be used, certain claims will have to meet new common criteria. This regulation will be applicable from July 1, 2019.

The 6 common criteria

The new version of the ARPP Cosmetic Products recommendation provides 6 common criteria that professionals must refer to in order to be able to use certain claims. It aims in particular to refocus and regulate the use of the words "Hypoallergenic" and "Without..." on cosmetic products. We offer you an overview of the new guidelines to better understand the future changes to come to the packaging of your cosmetic products.

Compliance with legislation

No one can claim to respect the law and, in our case, the Cosmetic Regulations. Indeed, the latter provides for a list of substances prohibited in cosmetic products: Deanol aceglumate, Benzene, Colbate, Diethylaminoethyl… According to the criterion of conformity with the legislation, it is forbidden to use claims which indicate the absence of an ingredient when it is prohibited by the Cosmetic Regulations. For example, a cosmetic cannot claim to be "without Diethylaminoethyl" since this ingredient is already on the list of substances prohibited by the European Cosmetic Regulation.


Although it may be surprising to remember it, an allegation must not be false! Advertising must be truthful and cannot be misleading. However, the new ARPP regulations go even further by integrating the notions of properties and concentration of an active ingredient in the formulation. Let's say a claim claims to "contain moisturizing shea butter." For the finished product to be deemed to comply with European Regulation, this ingredient must appear in the INCI list at a sufficiently high concentration. Indeed, it is only on this condition that the finished product will have truly moisturizing properties.


To complete the criterion of veracity, the ARPP also regulates claims attributing the properties of one of its ingredients to the finished product. Thus, the words “moisturizing”, “soothing”, “regenerating” or even “reducing wrinkles” are all cosmetic properties that the manufacturer must be able to prove. Otherwise, he will not have the right to claim them and to include them on the packaging of his beauty products.


The criterion of sincerity is one of the essential criteria aimed at protecting the consumer. Indeed, in order to avoid misleading it, the European Regulation prohibits manufacturers from exaggerating the effects of their products and from promising more than they can actually deliver. In short: the alleged effects cannot go beyond the demonstrated effects. Hence the importance of having to first prove the properties of the finished product.


The 6th and last common criterion of the Cosmetic Products recommendation focuses on the notion of fairness and unfair competition. This is certainly one of the criteria that will undergo the most significant changes. Thus, from July 2019, “Without” claims will be more strictly regulated. Let's take an example to better understand: for the formulation of its cosmetic product, the X brand uses a paraben authorized by the regulations. On the other hand, the T brand, a competitor of the X brand, does not use parabens and wants to be labeled "paraben free". However, from July 2019, the T mark will no longer be able to use the “paraben-free” claim because the European Regulation considers that it denigrates products which contain them and therefore those of the X mark. In the eyes of the regulations, it is unfair competition.

With the new version of the Cosmetic Products recommendation, certain claims may therefore disappear completely from packaging. But, if the words “paraben-free” or even “preservative-free” disappear, how will consumers find their way around?

Composition of cosmetic products: new ways of obtaining information

Even if these 6 common criteria aim to strengthen consumer protection, the disappearance of certain mentions on packaging may complicate their task a little. From now on, how can we distinguish brands that use parabens (phenoxyethanol, preservatives or any other controversial substances ...) from those that do not?

Of course, the consumer will always have access to the INCI list (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) which presents the compounds contained in a cosmetic in descending order. Also rest assured: although some "Without" statements will disappear, others will remain permitted as they are considered understood, clear and concise. This is particularly the case with "alcohol-free", "fragrance-free" or "free from animal derivatives" claims.
The use of mobile applications that analyze the makeup of cosmetics is also increasingly common. It will certainly be all the more so from July 2019, when the new regulations come into force. But beware: the results given by these applications should not replace an informed choice.

Cosmetic product analysis applications: a double-edged sword

Like more than 8 million users, you may be using beauty apps like QuelCosmetic, INCI Beauty or Yuka to decipher the makeup of a cosmetic product. The latter analyzes all the ingredients present in the product and assigns them a level of risk. This type of application thus provides some answers to all the ingredients and in particular to the ingredients criticized such as parabens, phenoxyethanol, titanium dioxide, silicones, aluminum, mineral oils... A downside, however, on the rigor of their judgment especially on allergens for which it is advisable to keep a critical mind.
Indeed, on this point, the analysis applications are not making in the lace. As soon as allergens appear at the end of the list, the overall product rating is automatically downgraded. In the end, the result is absolutely irrelevant since the allergens are mentioned at the end of the INCI ingredients list precisely to protect people with allergies. So people without allergies don't have to worry.
Allergy problems do not only come from chemicals, they can be caused by natural materials such as essential oils, not to be confused with vegetable oils. As a reminder, an essential oil is the scent of the plant stored in the secretory organs: flower, leaf, stem, bark, root, etc. It is a set of very powerful substances because they are extremely concentrated. Used for centuries, essential oils contain natural allergens: linalool, limonene, etc. These are therefore among the ingredients analyzed by the mobile application and will degrade the overall rating of the product.
But, in reality, everything is a question of dosage which is the specialty and the profession of the formulator. It should also be remembered that the cosmetic regulations regulate the dosage of essential oils by providing for standards and limits for rinsed and non-rinsed products.

Applications can therefore be a good tool now that you have this insight into allergens, the list of which should not be too long. So take a good look at the rating of the other ingredients without forgetting to take a look at the ethics and history of the brand.