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Markets & trends

Natural and organic cosmetics: A booming market and a legal fight about "free from claims"

As sales are booming (+18.7% in 2018 compared to 2017), natural and organic cosmetics represent, by far, the most dynamic segment of the personal care market in France. In Europe, sales of natural and organic cosmetics have grown at an average of +7% per year over the past five years and are expected to reach 5 billion euros by 2023. In this context, Cosmébio, the association that brings together around 420 French companies operating in the natural and organic cosmetics industry, want the so-called “free from” claims to be maintained. The association considers their prohibition as an over-interpretation of the law.

With a double-digit growth in 2018, sales of natural and organic cosmetics are the driving force behind the French market. With sales reaching a record 757 million euros in 2018, a leap of +18.7% compared to 2017, France is ranks second in Europe and third in the world, behind the United States, the world’s largest market with a turnover of 4.32 billion euros, and Germany, the world’s second market and the first European one, with 1.34 billion euros in 2018, according to figures published by Ecovia Intelligence. In France, natural and organic cosmetic products represent 6.4% of the total cosmetics market value.

At the European level, sales of natural and organic cosmetics grew by +7.2% in 2018 compared to the previous year, and recorded an annual growth of +7% over the last five years, much more than the overall market. Sales of natural and organic cosmetics in Europe reached 3.82 billion euros in 2018 and are expected to reach 5 billion euros by 2023, an annual rate of about 6.3% per year, according to Ecovia Intelligence.

In Europe, specialty stores dominate the natural and organic cosmetics market. Although their importance is decreasing, they still account for 38% of sales, ahead of pharmacies, parapharmacies and drugstores (33%). Mass general retailers account for 7% of sales of natural and organic cosmetic products, while other retail channels (perfumery shops, hairdressing salons, beauty salons, online sales, etc.) account for 23% of sales.

In this context, Cosmébio, a trade association created in 2002 to speak on behalf the organic and natural cosmetics industry in France, demand that so-called “free from claims” be maintained to better inform consumers. Such claims have been prohibited by France’s Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité (ARPP), the French advertising self-regulatory organization.

"Today, consumers no longer want certain ingredients to be in their daily beauty routines and the ‘free from claims’ help them to immediately spot the products that meet their expectations," the association said in a statement.

Cosmébio criticizes ARPP, for having over-interpreted European law in a sense considered much too narrow. Indeed, according to the ARPP, claiming that a product is “free from” an ingredient that is authorised by the cosmetic regulation implies a denigrating message and such claims should therefore be prohibited. In particular, claims such as "free from parabens" or "free from phenoxyethanol" are under fire.

According to Cosmébio, the ARPP’s guidelines [1] do not have any binding value and rely on a technical document that is just an interpretation of the European law [2].

"We cannot accept the way we promote our products to be imposed by a text that is not legally binding. Within Cosmebio, we remain convinced that ‘free from claims’ are a useful information for consumers. Consumers have the right to be able to quickly spot the products that do not contain unwanted ingredients, even when such ingredients are allowed by the regulations," said Romain Ruth, President of Cosmébio.

On the other hand, those defending the prohibition of “free from claims” say that cosmetic products need a more "positive communication" that would "contribute to a promote the image of the cosmetic products".

In practice, the market context could eventually work in favour of Cosmébio and of the other labels whose specifications prohibit controversial substances. Boosted by the consumer demand, the rise of the so-called clean cosmetics and the success of cosmetics apps are based on the implementation of black lists intended to reassure consumers. That is to say: “Free from claims" without explicitly writing them.

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