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Myth No. 10 - If it’s on the market, it’s legally approved for sale.

Let's take a step back with this article and take a look at the regulatory protocols for the cosmetics industry in Canada. Sounds boring? Yeah, it may be, but wouldn't you like to know what checks and balances our government has in place to help you decide which products are safe to buy and consume?

Let's tell the story from the view of a budding skincare entrepreneur, Sally. Sally's stoked, she has the perfect formulation in her hands and can't wait to launch it onto the market and put it into the hands of her customers, but there are a few questions and procedures she must address first.

1. Labelling

What's the fuss? Isn't it just about slapping a sticker with the product name and her business logo and calling it a day? Certainly, Sally may get away with doing this, but all it takes is for one complaint to Health Canada for all of her products to be removed off the shelf. There is a whole regulatory statute dedicated to labelling, known as the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, and it's specifically there to ensure transparency on key product information for the consumer to rely upon when they make their purchase, such as the manufacturer's name and address, net quantity and full ingredients list. 

2. Cosmetic, Drug, or Natural Health Product?

Along with labelling comes the question of product classification. Sally needs to determine this based on:

(a) The formula in her hand, what is it composed of and in what concentration is each ingredient? It's interesting to note while some ingredients may automatically classify a product as a drug, others may be deemed to be a cosmetic ingredient until the concentration reaches a certain threshold.

(b) What claims or representations does she intend to make about her product? This could be a word, a picture, or even an implication that creates a perception about the use and function of the product. If it represents a therapeutic function, then it will be considered a drug.

Because of the rise in popularity and use of natural products containing health effects, a new classification, known as "Natural Health Products" or "NHPs", was created in 2008. If Sally's product is deemed to be an NHP, then she must undergo a rigorous and costly process to obtain a product and site license from Health Canada before she's able to put it up for sale.

 3. Notification to Health Canada

Sally determines that her product will be classified as a cosmetic, and has taken the care to properly create and affix her product label. Now, can she sell? Yes, she can! But there's a catch...

Within 10 days after Sally puts her product up for sale, she must notify Health Canada by submitting a Cosmetic Notification Form that outlines the details of her product, including its function, ingredients, form, and manufacturer information. She doesn't need to wait for an approval back from Health Canada, as the submission is simply a notification and doesn't constitute an approval to sell.

Key Takeaway for Consumers

As you may have learned from Sally's experience above, much of the Canadian regulatory requirements are performed on a voluntary basis by the manufacturer or seller. It puts the onus on the cosmetic manufacturer or seller to have the knowledge and awareness to follow the appropriate protocols. With the rise of e-commerce and social media, it is now more easy than ever to push a new cosmetic product out onto the market, and it simply isn't realistic to expect Health Canada to be a watchdog for catching every non-compliant product. The penalty to non-compliance (i.e., the product must be pulled from the market) also isn't of a severe enough nature to deter manufacturers or sellers from recklessly disregarding the protocols. It really is in many ways up to the good faith of the manufacturer or seller to abide by the rules.

As the result, the key takeaway for consumers is to not assume just because a product is sold on the market, that it's passed rigorous safety checks administered by the government. It is critical that buyers beware, and as I always say, for the health and safety of you and your loved ones...educate yourself and scrutinize, scrutinize and scrutinize!

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