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Importing Cosmetics from China is NOT as Easy As It Seems!

February 3, 2017 by Andrew Minalto - 23 Comments
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Welcome back!

I recently received an email from a blog reader, Arron, who’s looking to invest his £5,000 starting budget into creating a new brand of male cosmetics.

Is that a feasible budget or do you need more money? Or is the cosmetics niche simply too difficult, with too many rules and regulations?

That’s what we’re going to find out in today’s post!

To start, he’s the email I received:

Hi Andrew,

I have become interested in creating a brand around male cosmetics and wanted a bit of advice.

I am looking at importing products from China however, I am aware that the UK/EU have a number of requirements/restrictions in place.

Have you ever worked within the sector before? Do you have any advice on best practice i.e. ensuring the supplier has all the certificates, and that they’re real!

As my buying power is rather small. £5,000 should I look at something “less risky”?


Hi Arron,

In terms of legal requirements and responsibilities, you’ve chosen one of the hardest niches possible – cosmetics.

Anyone selling cosmetic products in the UK has to comply with EU wide safety regulations – this includes manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, and retailers (whether you’re a large limited company or a small sole trader). However, if you yourself manufacture the product or you’re the first person to import them from outside the EU, then you’re deemed to be a responsible person under UK law and greater requirements and responsibilities apply to you.

The EU Regulation (EC) No. 1223/2009 of the European Parliament is enforced in the UK by the Cosmetic Products Enforcement Regulations 2013 which came into force in July 2013.

The main legal requirements as set out by the Regulations, are that:

  • It is a criminal offence to supply cosmetic products that may cause damage to human health when applied under normal or under reasonably foreseeable means of use.
  • The use of certain substances in cosmetic products is prohibited.
  • The use of certain substances in cosmetic products is restricted.
  • Cosmetic products must comply with detailed labelling requirements.
  • Certain information and records must be maintained by the “responsible person” and available for inspection.

But before we go into these rules in more detail, I want to quickly cover what qualifies as a cosmetic product, as that’s obviously very important. And there is a specific definition as set out by the EC Regulation, so you can’t just say it’s not a cosmetic product and by-pass all the requirements!

According to the EC regulation, a cosmetic product is:

“any substance or mixture intended to be placed in contact with the external parts of the human body (epidermis, hair system, nails, lips and external genital organs) or with the teeth and the mucous membranes of the oral cavity with a view exclusively or mainly to cleaning them, perfuming them, changing their appearance, protecting them, keeping them in good condition or correcting body odours”.

Just so that there’s no confusion, here’s a list of common cosmetic products:

  • creams, emulsions, lotions, gels and oils for the skin
  • face masks
  • tinted bases (liquids, pastes, powders)
  • make-up powders
  • after-bath powders
  • hygienic powders
  • toilet soaps
  • deodorant soaps
  • perfumes
  • toilet waters and eau de Cologne
  • bath and shower preparations (salts, foams, oils, gels)
  • depilatories
  • deodorants and antiperspirants
  • hair colorants
  • products for waving, straightening and fixing hair
  • hair-setting products
  • hair-cleansing products(lotions, powders, shampoos)
  • hair-conditioning products (lotions, creams, oils)
  • hairdressing products(lotions, lacquers, brilliantines)
  • shaving products (creams, foams, lotions)
  • make-up and products removing make-up
  • products intended for application to the lips
  • products for care of the teeth and the mouth
  • products for nail care and make-up
  • products for external intimate hygiene
  • sunbathing products
  • products for tanning without sun
  • skin-whitening products
  • anti-wrinkle products

Now that we’ve clarified what is classified as a cosmetic product, let’s get back to the rules and regulations.

1. Prohibited Substances/Ingredients

More than 1,300 different substances are completely prohibited from use in cosmetic products – so unfortunately it would be impossible for me to list them all in this blog post. Instead you will have to refer to the Cosmetic Products Enforcement Regulations for a full list.

2. Restricted Substances/Ingredients

Once again, there are far too many substances that are restricted for use in cosmetics for me to list them all here (more than 250 in total). These restrictions vary depending on the specific substance. For example, it could be restrictions on the maximum amount allowed to be used as part of the ingredients or it could be additional warning/labelling requirements for certain substances.

For example, hair dyes intended only for professional use may legally contain hydrogen peroxide, however the maximum amount allowed is 12% and the following instructions have to be included on the product and its packaging:

“Wear suitable gloves. Contains hydrogen peroxide. Avoid contact with eyes. Rinse eyes immediately if product comes into contact with them.”

Furthermore, only specific substances are permitted for use in cosmetic products as colourants, preservatives and UV filters.

All of this information is specified within the regulations itself, so please refer to that for full details.

3. Labelling Requirements

This is another extensive part of the Regulations and one that a lot of EU cosmetic sellers fail to fully comply with.

The following information needs to be stated on the product container as well as the outer packaging (that means BOTH, not one or the other) in English and clearly and legibly:

Name and Address of the Responsible Person

As stated earlier, the responsible person is the one who made the product or who the product was made for or who first imported it into the UK. It is NOT enough to simply put the manufacturer’s details if they’re not based within the EU as the responsible person needs to be established within the EU.

A PO Box is accepted as a postal address, so I would suggest setting up one if you’re operating from a residential address, as you don’t want that information displayed everywhere.

The Country of Origin

If the product is manufactured outside the EEA (European Economic Area) then the country of origin needs to be specified.

The Function of the Product

If it’s not obvious from the presentation, a description of the product’s function needs to be given – e.g. hair shampoo.

Reference for Identification

The product has to be able to be identified and traced, if needed, and therefore you need to display the manufacture batch number or another specific reference number.

Product Life Expectancy

If the life expectancy of the product is less than 30 months (i.e. if it will become unsafe to use within that time or if it will no longer fulfil its intended purpose within that time from the date of manufacture), then it needs to be labelled with the words “best used before” along with the relevant date (showing the month and year or day, month and year).

If the life expectancy of the product is more than 30 months from the date of manufacture then it must be labelled in months or years using the period-after-opening symbol, as specified in the EC Regulation:

Lastly, any necessary precautions that need to be taken to ensure the product fulfils its life expectancy and is maintained in a satisfactory condition for use need to be stated. For example, “store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight”.

Precautions in Use

I mentioned this briefly when talking about potential requirements for restricted substances – and these are also part of the labelling requirements. What exactly you need to state depends on if and what restricted substances have been used but these warnings for safe use are normally only applicable to professional use products.


Unlike the other labelling requirements, the ingredients list only needs to be on the packaging and not necessarily the product itself. A full list of ingredients needs to be given, in descending order of weight. This means that whatever ingredient makes up the most of your product will have to be listed first.

Also, every ingredient has to be listed using its “common name”, as set out in the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI). You can download a full cosmetic ingredient list here.

4. Record Keeping and Additional Requirements for the Responsible Person

If you thought the requirements so far have been difficult, here’s where the real work is!

When it comes to cosmetic products, the responsible person is required to create, update and keep a product information file at the registered office/address detailed on the product packaging. This information file has to be kept for 10 years from the date of the last sale for that product and has to be in a readily accessible format in case it’s requested by enforcement authorities or in the case of a medical emergency.

The product information file needs to be written in English and is required to contain all of the following information:

  • A description of the cosmetic product/details of the reference number so that the correct product information file can be traced to the correct product.
  • The qualitative and quantitative composition of the product (the full ingredients basically).
  • The physico-chemical and microbiological specifications of the raw materials and the finished product, and the purity and microbiological control criteria of the cosmetic product.
  • A description of the method of manufacturing and a statement on compliance with good manufacturing practice.
  • Proof to justify any claims made in relation to the product and its effects.
  • Data on any animal testing performed by the manufacturer, his agents or suppliers, relating to the development or safety assessment of the cosmetic product or its ingredients, including any animal testing performed to meet the legislative or regulatory requirements of third countries.
  • The cosmetic product safety report – an assessment of safety for human health of the finished product, including the criteria as stipulated in the Regulation – there are additional criteria where the product is intended for use on children under three years old or exclusively for use in external intimate hygiene.
  • The name and address of the person(s) who carried out the safety assessment (they must have suitable formal qualifications to carry out such an assessment).

Yep, now you can see just how extensive and difficult these requirements are when it comes to cosmetic products!

And sadly, we’re not quite done:

5. Notification Requirements

As part of this EC Regulation, if you are the responsible person, then you need to register with the European Commission Authentication Service (ECAS) to obtain a unique login for your business and then you must provide detailed information for all the cosmetic products you offer for sale via the Cosmetic Products Notification Portal (CPNP) BEFORE you start selling them.

This information must include:

  • the category of cosmetic product and its name
  • the name and address of the responsible person, including contact details for a specific individual
  • the presence of any substances in the form of nanomaterials
  • the frame formulation, allowing safe medical treatment (this is actually the main reason for the notification requirements, so that poison centres throughout Europe are able to access data on all cosmetic products sold within the EU)
  • pictures of the product, its packaging and the labelling

And there you have it!

I think 4 & 5 are enough to put just about anybody off from importing cosmetics from outside the EU to sell within the UK!

But just in case – let me add one final question:

What happens if you fail to comply with the Cosmetic Products Enforcement Regulations?

Well, your goods will be seized and destroyed (and you won’t be compensated) and you can face prosecution. If convicted you’ll be fined up to £20,000 and face up to 12 months imprisonment.

So it’s not just about losing your eBay account here… this is much more serious than that.

But I know what you’re now thinking and this is actually something I wanted to talk about specifically.

What about all the sellers out there who AREN’T following these regulations?

I think it goes without saying that there are countless sellers offering cosmetic products for sale on eBay who are not complying with many, if any, of these regulations.

In fact, if I go now and order something from an eBay seller, I’d be very, very confident that they won’t even meet the packaging and labelling requirements – never mind all the product testing and safety reports and the record keeping.

But my answer to this is – who cares?

There are countless eBay and Amazon sellers who don’t play by the rules and do things illegally, that doesn’t mean that you have to as well!

  • Many sellers don’t pay import duty…
  • Many sellers don’t pay tax on their profits…
  • Many sellers sell fakes…

All of this is irrelevant to you and I would never advise any of my blog readers to do business like this. Focus on doing things properly and creating a REAL business that you can rely on and that will provide for you for years to come.

Okay good, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get back to Arron and his dilemma.

Well, what I would really suggest you do is contact UK/EU manufacturers. The UK itself, as well as Germany and Poland, are great options for such products and not only will you be sure everything is 100% compliant (you also remove many of your legal responsibilities as you’re no longer the responsible person) you’ll find that pricing is often as good as China anyway!

In fact, what I would really suggest is attending TRADE SHOWS. This is one of my favourite sourcing methods and in my opinion one of the most under-utilised (I wrote an article about trade shows on this very blog a few years back).

So head to some trade shows, make a trip out of it and meet some real, genuine suppliers. You can speak to them about OEM orders or even custom formulations as I don’t suggest going down the branded route when it comes to cosmetics…

As is often the case when it comes to branded items, the margins are razor thin. Really the only exception to this is if it’s a Chinese or Korean brand (for example, Konad for nail art and BlueSky for gel polishes) and you deal with them directly, as there are a lot of fakes for these brands as well. But overall, you’ll see a lot more success creating your own brand of products, exactly as Arron plans to do.

But in order to really be successful with this, you need to look the part. Appearance is EVERYTHING when it comes to cosmetics!

You need to have an amazing brand, with a logo and packaging design that scream quality.

And I would always suggest using a professional photographer for your product pictures, otherwise you simply won’t be able to compete.

To add extra value in what is an incredibly competitive marketplace, ensure you also have real life images that show your product in use and ideally create some step by step tutorials, guides and videos on how to use your products to their full effect!

If you do that and create a brand that people love, you can create a hugely successful and profitable business in this niche.

BUT you need to do things right and play by the book, sticking with reputable and genuine EU suppliers.

Otherwise you may find your £5k disappears very quickly.

All the best Arron and I hope you’ve found this post useful. As always, if you have any questions or comments then don’t hesitate to post below in the comments sections and I’ll personally get back to you within 24 hours, Monday to Friday.

Otherwise, have a great weekend everyone and I’ll see you on Monday 😉


PS – Please be aware that these rules apply due to the fact that the UK is a part of the EU… so this can all change with Brexit! But don’t fear, if and when that happens – I’ll be here to update and guide you.

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  1. hi there, thankyou for your help, i really appreiciated the article.
    i have recently imported some wholesale cosmetic prouducts from china to the uk, to re package and re sell, they have a safety report attached and are mostly natural ingedients , which have not been tested on animals. They was made in a registered wholesale factory.

    is there any advice you can give me now we have left the EU in regards to the above and moving forward to sell these in the UK online?

    kind regards

  2. Hey Andrew,

    Great read.
    We currently have a shipment that is being held in customs coming into the UK for this exact reason.

    They are waiting for us to get a beauty product uploaded into the CPNP.
    Do you know of any companies that can help with this?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Allan,

      No, sorry, I don’t have any recommendations for this….

      I’m sure you can find such companies on Google.


  3. Hi mate, now brexit has happened, where do we stand with regulations now selling imported cosmetics in the U.K. , from Taipei for example


    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Gary,

      Brexit has not happened yet. We still trade under the EU law until the end of this year, at least. I don’t have any information on what will happen after that, I don’ think there’s such information available yet.


  4. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your article, it’s very informative!
    We are thinking of importing cosmetics from Russia, but the cosmetics are originally from China. Would there be any differences in this case?

    Many thanks!

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Phoebe,

      I’m really not qualified to answer that question as I have no experience with importing anything from Russia.

      In theory, IF the goods are made in China, it should be the same, yes. But then I don’t know if there are any specific rules in place when dealing with Russia, especially nowadays when there are all kinds of TRADE limitations between the EU and Russia. You should probably ask for advice at Customs about this.


  5. Hi Andrew,
    What is your opinion re: third party compliance organizations such as Intertek? Can they be relied upon to complete all of the steps in the process (incl testing, labeling, etc)? And would they be willing to work with a small independent company?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Kate,

      Yes, I think it is a good option and they will most likely work with you as long as you can pay the bill.

      The problem usually is that these companies are very expensive and small-time traders can’t afford them.


  6. Hi Andrew, I thinking to sell one lipstick brand of China, this product has the USA SGS certificate,
    food grade ingredients accord with the top test standard of The U.S.FDA, Germany, Singapore, Brunei, and Taiwan SGS. Can i am start my lipsticks business in the UK,
    So what would i do for now, ?
    Thank you so much

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Yoke,

      You will be the importer of the product into the EU, right?

      If so, you will still have to follow the procedure explained in this post.


  7. Justyna Olszewska

    How does it work, if I would like to brand cosmetics in the UK that comes from Poland. I found a manufacture in Poland who mets all of the EU standards etc and has a right to import their cosmetics over the EU. What do I do? Please help

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Justyne,

      Thanks for your comment.

      It’s very hard to tell now how it will all work after the Brexit so I would recommend you wait out at least few months and see what regulations come in place after the Brexit.


  8. Hi Andrew
    Do you have detail of companies that can do the safety check?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Amie,

      You need to contact testing houses about this – SGS, Intertek and others.


  9. Ellis Joseph

    Hi Andrew

    Your blog is great ! thanks for answering our questions.

    We are thinking of importing some cosmetics from China, our manufacturer has already carried out all the required testing, if we can get testing done to a UK- EU standard do we still need to do this as the importer?

    Also we have checked about duties and tax it seems for many cosmetics the duty is 0% just wanted to see if you could confirm this ?

    We are thinking of starting a brand and doing things properly here.

    Kindest regards


    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Ellis,

      I think it should be fine, yes, but you should confirm this with the Trading Standards as I personally don’t deal with cosmetics and don’t know all ins and outs on this.

      The VAT & import duty rates you can easily find and confirm on HMRC website:



  10. Mariya Delyaeva

    Hi Andrew,
    Im a small sole trader and thinking to import cosmetics from Asia.
    And in the beginning i don’t mind to bring some products which are already in the UK market. Just because i don’t wanna be a responsible person under UK law as the process is likely to be lengthy and costly.

    So my question is do i still need to pass safety assessment for each product if the products are already has been presented on UK market or how does it work? Or how  can i find out which product already has been imported legally into the UK and who are the responsible person?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Maria,

      If you buy from a UK company, you won’t have to do it, no, as the company you buy from is the importer.

      But I’m sure that even many importers are not doing this and breaking the law so you will simply have to ask the supplier you’re buying from whatever they have done all the procedures and products comply with regulations.


  11. Hi Andrew
    Appreciate your swift response with the email it was a fantastic read
    And very good advice.
    Do you have any suggestions for suppliers of cosmetics in the EU.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Mike,

      You just need to do Google searches on this using terms like:

      “product + manufacturer + Poland” or “product + manufacturer + Germany” or “product + manufacturer + Italy”.

      and various other versions.

      Ideally, you should find a good trade show in Europe and attend it – it’s the best/quickest way to find these manufacturers.


  12. Hi Andrew
    If someone was importing cosmetics from China would they need to carry out their own testing? For safety and to back up any claims of what the product is said to do?
    Many thanks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Paula,

      Yes, exactly.


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