Cosmetics Giant Unilever Pledges More Transparency Over Ingredients

Scoring major points for consumers everywhere, beauty giant Unilever announced a new initiative on Tuesday that will provide the public with a detailed ingredients breakdown — something that, as basic as it sounds, is unprecedented in an industry that’s held to very low standards regarding safety and transparency.

“We believe this initiative will help consumers know more about the products they use every day and build further trust for their favorite Unilever personal care brands,” Tamara Rogers, executive vice president of personal care for Unilever United States, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Unilever, a multibillion-dollar collection of brands, includes Dove, Noxzema, Lever 2000, Nexxus, Pond’s, TRESemmé, and Vaseline. Its initiative includes a pledge to provide detailed information on fragrance ingredients for all products in its portfolio of personal care brands (to be completed by the end of 2018), as well as the launching of a new webpage that will offer a range of product information — such as the company’s approach to developing safe products, explanations of ingredient types, answers to common questions, and access to the national SmartLabel ingredients database.

Unilever will also label fragrance allergens to European Union standards across its full range of personal care products here, though it’s not currently a government requirement.

“This is an enormous win for consumers’ right to know,” Ken Cook, president and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, which worked with Unilever ahead of its Tuesday announcement, said in a statement. “With this impressive display of leadership, Unilever has broken open the black box of fragrance chemicals and raised the bar for transparency across the entire personal care products industry — and beyond. It may not happen overnight, but Unilever’s watershed actions will place enormous pressure on the rest of the market to respond and make it very difficult for other companies to continue to shield their fragrance ingredients from consumers.”

Many of those ingredients, EWG pointed out, have been linked to allergies or other negative health effects.

“Fragrances are formulations in themselves, so including the breakdown can cause the ingredients list to grow longer with strange ‘chemically’ names,” Ni’Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist and ingredients expert, tells Yahoo Beauty. “What companies who sell to the EU already do is list allergens. Unilever is taking exposure a step further by revealing the ingredients within the fragrances at 0.01 percent.”

Brands don’t usually do this, Wilson explains, “because at the end of the day, it’s fragrance. It’s much easier to just list the fragrance and allergens.” She adds that although listing details is “not a new concept” because some companies, including Strivectin, already do so, “I think that other brands will follow suit if they see that it’s important to consumers.”

And that, apparently, is the motivation behind the move. “Transparency is fundamental to running a sustainable business,” said Unilever North America President Kees Kruythoff in the announcement. “Through SmartLabel and What’s in Our Products, we are meeting the needs of our consumers who are increasingly mobile, online, and actively searching for products that are made responsibly and sustainably.”

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