On 25 September 2023, the EU Commission adopted the EU REACH restriction on intentionally added microplastics.

REACH: The European Union bans microplastics

With the adoption of Regulation 2023/2055, published by the European Commission on 25 September 2023, the European regulatory framework for cosmetic products has recently undergone a significant change. This text, which is part of the REACH regulations, introduces critical new restrictions on synthetic polymer microparticles. It also imposes strict limits on intentionally added microplastics in products such as those used in the cosmetics industry. Let's take a look at the implications of this regulation - commonly referred to as the "microplastics restriction" - for cosmetics professionals.  
Microplastics regulations in europe

Why a microplastics restriction?

Plastics have many benefits. They are often more economical than other materials. However, if they are not properly disposed of or recycled, they persist in the environment for centuries. They break down into microplastics, small pieces less than 5 mm in size, which pose a real threat to flora and fauna. Due to their non-biodegradable nature, these small pieces of plastic accumulate in various environments and find their way into the food chain and the human body. Particles can have negative (eco)toxic and physical effects on living organisms.

Most microplastic pollution comes from the degradation of larger plastics, such as used tyres, artificial sports surfaces or the washing of synthetic clothing. These emissions are estimated at about 176,000 tonnes per year. But these emissions can also come from products that are intentionally manufactured and added to consumer products for specific purposes, such as in cosmetics items.

Commission Regulation (EU) 2023/2055 

As requested by the European Parliament, the Commission worked to find solutions to reduce plastic waste in the marine environment. In 2017, the Commission gave a mandate to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) for an assessment of the risks of synthetic polymers added to products. Following the assessment carried out by the ECHA, which showed that 42,000 tonnes of intentionally added synthetic polymers are found in the environment in an uncontrolled manner, the Agency recommended restricting them in January 2019.

On 25 September 2023, the European Commission adopted regulation 2023/2055. This bans the sale of microplastics themselves and products to which they have been intentionally added. Over a period of 20 years, this regulation will prevent the release of 500,000 tonnes of synthetic polymer microparticles. This initiative is part of the zero pollution plan, which aims to reduce plastic pollution by 30 % by 2030. This is in line with the objectives of the green pact for europe and the circular economy plan.
Microplastics in cosmetics ban

What are the microplastics in cosmetics?

In the cosmetics industry, microplastics play a crucial role as major abrasives and are often referred to as microbeads. But their function doesn't stop there. These particles are remarkably versatile, contributing to various aspects such as thickness control, appearance enhancement and product stabilization. Plastic glitter, on the other hand, is used for aesthetic purposes. In particular, it is incorporated into make-up products.

Although these undesirable particles added to personal care products represent only 2 % of the total emissions of synthetic polymer microparticles covered by the restriction, they are an integral part of it. Many Member States have already adopted national bans on the use of microbeads in personal care products. The aim of this European legislation is therefore the standardization of rules at European level.

Which micro particles exactly does the ban apply to?

Regulation 2023/2055 prohibits microparticles of synthetic polymers, alone or mixed, if they reach or exceed 0.01 % by weight. These microparticles must meet certain criteria in order to be subject to the ban :

1. They must be incorporated into larger particles. They must constitute at least 1 % by weight of these host particles or form a continuous surface layer covering these particles.
2. 1 % of the particles must have dimensions of 5 mm or less, or a length not exceeding 15 mm, with a length/diameter ratio greater than 3.

The ban does not apply to the following polymers :
  • Substances which are the result of natural polymerisation processes
  • Materials with degradability characteristics
  • Compounds with high solubility
  • Polymers that do not contain any atoms of carbon
Polymers that are confined by technical means, those that are permanently incorporated into solid matrices or those that are modified during their intended end-use are excluded.

What are the timelines for compliance for cosmetic products containing synthetic polymer microparticles?

The first measure of the new law, the ban on loose glitter and microbeads, came into effect on 17 october 2023. It's worth noting that non-compliant products already on the EU market before this date can be sold until existing stocks are exhausted.

The other products with synthetic polymers may be on the market until :
  • 17 october 2027 : for rinse-off products
  • 17 october 2028 : for waxes, polishes
  • 17 october 2029 : for leave-on cosmetics, encapsulated perfumes
  • 17 october 2035 : for make-up, lip and nail cosmetics. Note that these products will have to carry a label stating that they contain microplastics from 17 October 2031 to 16 October 2035 in order to continue to be sold.
This ban on microplastics is an obligation to switch to plastic-free formulas and so implies the development of biodegradable and natural alternatives to synthetic materials. These changes involve significant R&D phases for many companies.