Education, not regulation: More cosmetic rules not the way to battle ‘free from’ claims – HSA

By Amanda Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

HSA says no plans implement ‘free from’ regulation. ©GettyImages
HSA says no plans implement ‘free from’ regulation. ©GettyImages

Related tags: Regulation, Free From, Cosmetics

The Health Science Authority of Singapore has no plans to follow the lead of the European regulators and prevent cosmetic companies from making ‘free from’ claims, preferring to place emphasis on consumer education.

Pang Tit Keong, deputy director of HSA’s cosmetics control unit was at a workshop held by Cosmetics, Toiletries & Fragrance Association of Singapore (CTFAS) this week to discuss the rampant misinformation of cosmetic ingredients and its detrimental effects to the industry.

Pang said that implementing more regulations was not a practical solution as it would not be feasible for HSA to assess every single cosmetic claim.

“We have 200,000 products notified with HSA. It will be overwhelming enough if half of them made natural claims.”

He added HSA was careful not to “over-regulate”​ the cosmetics industry. “We want to be fair to the industry. If the product does not contain certain things, I think it’s fine to want to say so. But that should not be your main emphasis on how to sell the product.”

Instead, HSA prefers to focus on education. However, he admitted that consumer education can be a very challenging task, especially when it is up against information found on the Internet.

“It’s not easy to engage with consumers nowadays because we cannot control what they have access to on the Internet. For example… if a person is against a certain ingredient and keeps searching for it, Google will keep feeding that information. That’s how Google works, it tries to facilitate your searches but it may lead to biased views.”

Objective third-party help

However, Pang admitted that HSA’s education attempts may be limited to a certain extent because Singaporean consumers can be sceptical of government agencies.

“It can be difficult sometimes because even though you show them the science, consumers cannot be convinced. We will definitely try to correct any [misinformed] views as we can. For example, if there is a grey issue, we will read both sides and determine the science behind it. However, it depends on what consumers read. Sometimes they will still prefer to listen to the other side.”

To combat this, Pang suggested that the industry should work with objective third-parties such as medical professionals and academics to educate consumers.

“One of the lesson that I have learnt as a regulator is that if we cannot convince consumers, we have to get professionals such as dermatologists and professors to help. Maybe the industry can establish a link with them and collaborate on certain topics.”

Self-regulation crucial

Pang emphasised that it was the industry’s responsibility to communicate and educate its consumers.

He commended the beauty and personal care industry on its efforts to self-regulate and said that it was a vital step in consumer education.

“A good thing is that the industry is working towards self-regulation in determining how to make certain claims. I think it’s good that ISO has come up with some standards for natural and organic… it’s a good start.”

He added: “The industry should communicate more with consumers and develop more standards so you can shout out to the consumer that because we follow certain standards, we can make these sort of claims. That will be very good for the industry.”

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