‘Be wary’: China issues warning to consumers against stem cells, acid peels, eyelash growth and ‘edible’ cosmetics

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

China series of alerts cautioning consumers against several cosmetic claims. [Getty Images]
China series of alerts cautioning consumers against several cosmetic claims. [Getty Images]

Related tags Regulation China Stem cells safety

China’s food and drug regulator has published a series of alerts cautioning consumers against claims relating to stem cells, acid peels, eyelash growth and ‘edible’ cosmetics.

The National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) published four separate documents that sought to clarify the aforementioned claims while simultaneously warning consumers against products that promote them.

They also emphasised the regulations placed on these claims and highlighted the implications for cosmetic companies should they violate the rules.

Hedy He, a cosmetic regulatory analyst with Chemlinked told CosmeticsDesign-Asia​ that in light of these alerts, cosmetic companies were advised not to use such claims on their products.

Stems cells in cosmetics

In the document on stem cell cosmetics, the NMPA explicitly stated that it was a “false concept”, ​citing the lack of research on stem cells from a cosmetics perspective.

“At present, most of the stem cell technology in the medical field is still in the clinical research stage. In the clinical research on stem cells filed by the health department, there is no research on stem cells in beauty and anti-ageing.”

The NMPA went on to warn against cosmetics with plant stem cells which it believes are likely to mislead consumers.

“These plant-derived raw materials are added to cosmetics, mainly through their phytochemical components, and have no inevitable relationship with whether they are meristems of plants. Some businesses claim that cosmetics contain ‘plant stem cells’, which can easily lead consumers to misunderstand that plant meristems can differentiate human cells.”

At present, stem cells are not included in the Inventory of Existing Cosmetic Ingredients 2021 (IECIC 2021). NMPA has not approved any registration or notification of cosmetic ingredients related to stem cells.

Acid peels

The NMPA clarified that acid peels – or chemical peels – can only be applied by a medically qualified professional in a hospital or clinic setting.

“Cosmetics are forbidden to express or imply that they have medical effects and should avoid inappropriate claims such as ‘resurfacing’ to prevent misleading consumers,”​ the NMPA stated.

It also highlighted that some acids such as tretinoin and trichloroacetic acid are expressly prohibited in cosmetics.

However, acids such as beta hydroxy acids (BHA) and alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) can be used as long as they comply with the current regulations.

“Although cosmetics can’t claim acid peel, some acids such as fruit acid and salicylic acid are permitted to be used in cosmetics. Cosmetic companies just need to comply with the use conditions regulated in the Safety and Technical Standards for Cosmetics 2015,”​ He clarified.

For instance, the use of AHAs and BHAs must not exceed 6% and the pH value must not be lower than 3.5. The use of salicylic acid is restricted to 3% and cannot be used by children under the age of three.

Eyelash growth products

The next document encouraged consumers to “be wary” of mascaras and eyelash products that claim to promote the growth of eyelashes.

According to the regulator, it has yet to approve any cosmetics that claim to promote eyelash growth.

In fact, the Cosmetic Classification Rules and Catalogue does not recognise any category that promotes this function.

The NMPA stated that while there is clinical proof that prostaglandins such as bimatoprost and travoprost can enhance eyelash growth, they are considered drugs and must be used in accordingly.

At the moment, prostaglandins are not included in IECIC 2021 and have not been notified or registered as new cosmetic ingredients.

To avoid confusion, He advised that manufacturers should not make eyelash growth claims on mascaras.

“As for some mascaras on the market that claim to make eyelashes thick and long, those achieve the claimed effect just by physical methods of attaching film-forming agents or colourants to the eyelashes, but not by enhancing eyelash growth. Therefore, cosmetic companies should not use the claim ‘enhance eyelash growth’ in case of any violation of the regulations or disapproval of cosmetic registration.”

‘Edible’ cosmetics

The latest article published by the NMPA warned consumers, especially parents, against allegedly ‘edible’ or ‘food-grade’ cosmetics.

“Some cosmetics manufacturers use certain raw materials that can be used to produce food. Some businesses take the opportunity to call such cosmetics ‘food-grade’ to indicate that the cosmetics they sell are safer, especially to suggest that parents can safely use such cosmetics for children, as even if they eat them, there is no risk.”

The NMPA emphasised: “The safety of cosmetics has nothing to do with whether it is edible.”

The latest regulations on children’s cosmetics state that products meant for children are not allowed to make any claims to do with food.

“According to the Cosmetics Supervision and Administration Regulation, cosmetics labels are prohibited from labelling ‘false or misleading content’. Labels with claims such as ‘food-grade’, ‘edible’… violates the regulations of cosmetics label management and are prohibited.”

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