PARIS — On your marks, get set — go!
The race is now on for French beauty companies, and soon others, to enter China directly without the specter of having their products tested on animals. And they’re thrilled at the prospect.
On Jan. 11, China published its final cosmetics regulations framework, with an implementation date set for May 1.
Cruelty-free brands — indies especially — have long awaited this day, even though some hurdles remain on the horizon.
“It’s exciting news,” said Louis Marty, cofounder and chief executive officer of Merci Handy, a six-year-old French cosmetics brand with a cruelty-free and vegan positioning that had not yet entered China.
The French beauty federation, the Fédération des Entreprises de la Beauté, or FEBEA, on the evening of Jan. 14 revealed that France is the first country in the European Union to have the possibility to export is “ordinary” cosmetics — such as shampoo, blush, mascara and fragrance — to China without having them tested on animals.
To be considered, companies worldwide must present a certificate conforming to “good manufacturing practices,” which are issued by authorities in their home countries, as well as a product safety assessment.
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Those that fulfill the criteria no longer have to have their products tested on animals for eye and skin irritation in Chinese laboratories.
“The U.K. government is working closely with industry to create a certification system that will satisfy new Chinese regulations on cosmetics, following the removal of the requirement for animal testing on imported cosmetics,” said a U.K. Department of International Trade spokesperson.
Ordinary cosmetics make up the bulk of personal care products imported into China, versus special cosmetics, such as those used for hair and skin coloring, perming, sun protection, anti-hair loss and children’s products.
China is among the world’s largest and fastest-developing beauty markets, representing a huge potential revenue stream for brands not yet selling products or that are underrepresented there.
China’s e-commerce prestige beauty market alone in the 12 months to November 2020 reached $10 billion, making it the largest for skin care worldwide, ahead of the U.S. total market and second for makeup, according to The NPD Group.
Merci Handy plans to file the necessary paperwork to export to China.
In France, the Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament, or National Agency for Medicines Safety, will be able to issue the certificate to cosmetics manufacturers. Since Jan. 12, the ANSM has posted on a dedicated platform the necessary documents for obtaining the document.
“You have a lot of different opportunities for going into China,” continued Marty. “You can go through a Tmall partner, a distributor, go direct and open a subsidiary. We need to make the right choice.”
L:a Bruket is currently checking with the FEBEA if exporting and invoicing from a company like itself registered and based in Paris can apply, even if its beauty products are wholly manufactured in Sweden and the group has logistics platforms in Germany and Sweden, explained Stanislas Le Bert, the group’s deputy general manager.
“L:a Bruket will strictly consider exporting to the China domestic market only if animal testing is not an obligation — otherwise through cross-border [channels],” said Le Bert, who sees massive opportunity in China “with consumers looking for slow and clean cosmetics with a strong DNA and [giving] new experiences.”
He said although L:a Bruket isn’t sold in China at present, its visibility is already high on social media there.
Outside of France, executives on Friday also expressed enthusiasm about the shifting policy.
“We were delighted when China announced this important step toward cruelty-free cosmetics regulation. Removing the requirement for animal tests on imported cosmetics is a game-changer for cruelty-free beauty and animals,” said Michelle Thew, CEO of Cruelty Free International, or CFI, a U.K.-based animal protection and advocacy group.
CFI has been working in China for the past few years on a cruelty-free cosmetics pilot project with the brands that carry its Leaping Bunny Logo.
Thew said the news that French authorities have agreed to a system to manage the steps for the animal-testing waver is “very welcome. We hope other countries will follow swiftly.”
“Clarins welcomes the evolution of the acceptance of alternative methods in China on certain product categories and continues to work hand-in-hand with the authorities to see them generalized to all products,” said Nathalie Issachar, research and development director at Groupe Clarins.
“There are a few factors that we need to consider beyond the latest regulatory changes,” added Millie Kendall, CEO of the British Beauty Council, an industry trade body. “Protection of IP is very important in China; copycat products can really damage a brand’s equity.
“Whilst Chinese shoppers aren’t coming to the U.K., the British brands are covetable. It is a huge market opportunity for us,” she continued. “But it is incredibly easy to get it wrong. DIT [the U.K. Department for International Trade] are working on a China Ready package, offering British brands insight and support in preparation. These might include webinars, which we will announce in due course to support our patrons, partners, members and SMEs.”
In July 2020, the Humane Society International in China flagged that a change of policy could go into effect in China on Jan. 1, 2021.
French cosmetics companies and health authorities have long been mobilized to pave the way for that by introducing alternative methods of testing, encouraging Chinese authorities to abandon testing on animals, which has been banned in the European Union since 2009.
Many other options for testing exist, including on reconstructed skin.
Since June 2014, certain cosmetics products, such as shampoos, shower gels and makeup, manufactured and marketed in China have no longer had to be tested on animals, although domestic special-use products and all imported cosmetics products were.
For many beauty companies, especially those operating domestic factories, China has been the motor of growth in the swiftly developing Asia-Pacific region. Asia-Pacific in 2019 for the first time became the largest geographic zone at the world’s largest beauty maker L’Oréal, for instance.
Often cruelty-free companies have opted to sell products to Chinese consumers via e-commerce websites. That’s because pre- and post-marketing testing requirements in China have not applied to beauty products ordered by people through an e-commerce website if it and the site’s fulfillment were located outside mainland China and the products were sent directly to a customer in China.
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