Consumers are in daily contact with a variety of products such as cosmetics, kitchenware or textiles. The safety of these is of primary concern for producers and legislators. The European Commission aims at the highest possible level of consumer protection without hampering innovation.
Consumer products are countless, they are everywhere and they are very often made up of chemicals. Therefore, consumer protection has to address questions like: can the product release chemical substances? If yes, under which circumstances? Is it harmless, or can it carry potential risks for humans and the environment?
The JRC addresses these questions and supports the EU legislation process with EU-wide harmonised methods and tools for risk assessment.
Safety of tattoos and permanent make-up
The popularity of tattoos has been increasing steadily and not only among the younger population. At the same time tattoo inks are becoming more and more available for online purchase. Not only chemicals that are used in such inks are deserving attention, but also possible health risks associated with tattoos and permanent make-up need to be addressed as well as hygiene and purity requirements.
The JRC looks into the chemical, physical and biological health risks from tattoo and permanent make-up inks and the related practices and processes. Together with experts from the EU Member States, JRC scientists work on potentially needed updates to the list of prohibited substances and on criteria for the safety assessment of chemicals used.
The Council of Europe Resolution ResAP (2008)1 sets out stringent requirements and criteria for the safety of tattoos and permanent make-up. It includes a negative list of substances that should not be present in tattoos and permanent make-up, as well as the maximum allowed concentrations of impurities. In addition, the recommendation provides criteria for the safety assessment of the used chemicals.
Although some Member States used the non-binding ResAP (2008)1 as the model for their national legislation, there is an increasing request from Member States for an EU harmonised action on tattoos and permanent make-up for better consumer health protection.
The JRC supports other European Commission Directorates General in the development of possible EU regulatory action in this field.
Cosmetics come into closer and more frequent contact with our bodies than perhaps any other product. To ensure an adequate level of consumer protection, EU legislation on cosmetics requires that every cosmetic product placed on the European market is safe to use.
The JRC underpins the safety of cosmetic products and their ingredients through scientific assessments and testing. It contributes to a better understanding of potential health risks posed by harmful contaminants in cosmetics. While EU legislation prohibits the intently use of harmful substances, such as lead, small impurities may be found in raw materials. Although good manufacturing practices in the cosmetic industry normally ensure that such impurities are kept at levels which are safe, reliable analytical methods are needed to promptly detect any product with higher levels.
Nanotechnology and cosmetics
Nanomaterials are finding their way into everyday cosmetic products, in particular sunscreens. The JRC develops methods to determine the chemical composition, morphology, particle size and concentration of nanomaterials used in the cosmetics industry.
More information: Nanotechnology
Cosmetics safety without tests on animals
With its Cosmetics Directive, the EU has introduced a ban on animal tests to evaluate the human safety of cosmetic products and their ingredients. Since March 2013, no cosmetic product containing a new ingredient tested on animals for the purposes of the Directive can be marketed in Europe, irrespective of the availability of alternative, non-animal tests.
The JRC supports the resulting scientific challenge and promotes the development, validation, regulatory acceptance and use of non-animal test methods through the European Union Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing (EURL-ECVAM).
More information: Alternatives to animal testing and safety assessment of chemicals
Safety testing of kitchenware
Ensuring that what we eat is safe does not stop at testing the food itself. Everything that comes into contact with food - as it is produced, packed, transported, stored, prepared and consumed - also needs to be safe. No harmful chemicals should be released from frying pans when they are heated up or from bottles used to feed children.
The European Union Reference Laboratory for Food Contact Materials develops guidelines and harmonised methods for testing the release of chemicals from food contact materials.
Endocrine disrupters are substances, man-made or natural, which can interfere with the hormone systems of humans and wildlife, with potentially adverse effects, for example, on fertility or neural development.
The endocrine system is a network of glands in the body, each of which secretes a type of hormone into the bloodstream to regulate the body. Certain substances – termed endocrine disrupters - interfere with the functioning of the endocrine system, in at least one of three possible ways:
• by mimicking the action of a naturally-produced hormone, such as oestrogen or testosterone, and thereby setting off similar responses in the body;
• by blocking the receptors in cells receiving the hormones (hormone receptors), thereby preventing the action of normal hormones;
• by affecting the synthesis, transport, metabolism and/or excretion of hormones, thus altering the concentrations of natural hormones in the organism.
It is important to have effective methods for testing if a chemical has endocrine disrupting properties.
Assessing the risks posed by chemicals is a long and complex process. Our scientists work on a combination of computer methods and automated laboratory in vitro tests to help predict the toxicity of chemicals. Potentially hazardous substances could thus be identified and prioritised for further testing, thereby speeding up the application of protection measures for the most hazardous substances.
This activity supports the European Commission's work on the implementation of the Community Strategy for Endocrine Disrupters, as well as the development of criteria and methods for the assessment of the endocrine disrupting properties of chemicals.
More information: Endocrine disruptors
All textile products, including our clothes and textiles used at home, are composed of natural and/or man-made fibres, or their combination. Consumer information, through accurate labelling of textiles is a key requirement of EU consumer protection.
Since the names used for different fibre types, such as silk, pure wool etc., are well defined by EU legislation, every time a novel fibre is launched on the European market, the producers are required to apply for a new name, which can only be granted if the new fibre is clearly distinguishable and quantifiable when in mixture with other fibres.
The JRC has provided for many years the validated methods needed for the characterisation of new textile fibres presented by industry, coordinating the work of the European Network of National Experts on Textile Labelling and the textile laboratories in the EU Member States. In collaboration with their partners, JRC scientists significantly contributed to the development of international standards in this area, playing an active role within the European Normalization Committee (CEN) and in the International Standards Organisation (ISO).
Consumers are also naturally concerned about the level of chemical substances that may be present in textiles, e.g. colorant ingredients (regulated by the EU legislation on chemicals, REACH). The JRC provides scientific and technical support to EU policies protecting consumers from the release of potentially hazardous chemicals from textiles.
More information: European Commission's Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs – Textiles and clothing