Retinol ban UK: Everything you need to know about the retinol rules

Is retinol really being banned in the UK? Here’s everything you need to know about the new retinol rules

1st June 2024 | Author: Victoria Woollaston-Webber

Everything you need to know about the new retinol regulations coming to the EU, and possibly the UK

Retinol has long been hailed as a wonder ingredient in skincare.

It’s recommended for everything from treating acne, to getting rid of dark spots, reducing hyperpigmentation, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and more.

However, it has to be approached with relative caution. It can cause irritation, it can leave your skin more sensitive the sun and generally, and it’s not advised for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

As a result of this, the European Union recently implemented new regulations to control how much retinol is in the cosmetics you buy on the high street.

Retinol ban UK: Everything you need to know

Below we explain everything you need to know about the rumoured retinol ban in the UK and EU including what the new retinol rules mean, when they come into force and why people believe that retinol is being banned in the UK.

What do the new regulations say?

Amino acids and bakuchiol for retinol alternatives for sensitive skinGetty Images/iStockphoto

The regulations, as formalised in Commission Regulation (EU) 2024/996, aim to protect consumer health by setting strict limits on the concentration of retinol in cosmetics.

From November 2025, all new retinol products sold in the EU have to have limited concentrations of retinol (as follows):

  • Face products: Maximum of 0.3% retinol equivalent (RE). This includes retinol, retinyl acetate, and retinyl palmitate.
  • Body Products: Maximum of 0.05% retinol equivalent (RE)

By May 2027, all existing products need to be reformulated or removed from the EU market to comply with the regulations.

Products containing retinol must also include warnings to inform consumers about the risk of overexposure to Vitamin A.

Note: the new EU regulations only apply to products that are sold to the public. It doesn’t cover retinol-based products that are prescribed by a doctor i.e Roaccutane, Tretinoin etc, or which are administered under medical supervision, such as those from personalised skincare brands like And Begin.

FURTHER READING: Retinol for beginners: How to get started with the best retinol products and retinol alternatives

What led to this decision?

How does Retinol work for fighting the signs of ageingShutterstock

In 2016, a group of experts who advise the European Commission on non-food consumer products, known as the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) carried out a review of Vitamin A. Retinol as well as retinyl acetate and retinyl palmitate are derivatives of Vitamin A.

This review revealed that while Vitamin A has its benefits and was originally considered to be safe for cosmetic use at higher concentrations, the original ruling didn’t factor in “cumulative exposure.” This means that, because Vitamin A is found in multiple sources including food and supplements, the SCCS was worried that some people may be exceeding the safe levels of Vitamin A without realising it. And this could lead to potential health risks.

Specifically, the SCCS’s investigations revealed:

  • Potential health risks: Long-term overexposure to Vitamin A might lead to bone density issues, increasing the risk of fractures, especially in older adults.
  • Skin irritation: High concentrations of retinol in skincare has been linked with causing skin reactions, such as redness, peeling, and swelling, commonly referred to as ‘retinol burn.’
  • Vitamin A toxicity: In extreme cases, overexposure could lead to Vitamin A toxicity, with symptoms including nausea, headaches, vomiting, blurred vision, and dizziness.

These findings underscored the need for regulatory intervention and the SCCS called on the European Union to investigate, and implement stricter regulations on the concentration of retinol in cosmetic products, in response.

After years of analysis and consultations, the European Union finally decided to update its Commission Regulation (EU) 2024/996 at the start of April (following the publication of draft regulations in June 2023) to address these concerns. Ultimately with the goal of making sure the use of Vitamin A in cosmetics would remain safe without contributing to excessive overall exposure.

When do the regulations come into force?

Microbiome skincare and makeupShutterstock

Phase one of the process ended when the regulations were formalised in Commission Regulation (EU) 2024/996. As a result we’re now in Phase 2, known as the Transition period.

Between April 2024 and November 2025, manufacturers and brands will have the time to reformulate their products to meet the new concentration limits.

On 1 November 2025, we enter Phase 3, when all new products on the market have to comply with the restrictions.

From this date, no new products can enter the market unless they stick to the maximum levels set by the regulations. This makes sure that any new formulations or products launched meet the updated safety standards.

Finally, by May 1, 2027, all non-compliant products must be removed from the market. This phase guarantees that all products available to consumers – both old and new – meet the new regulatory standards, ensuring safety and compliance across the industry.

Why now?

Dr Pam Benito, clinic owner and facial aesthetics specialist, said: “We’ve become desensitised to the power of active ingredients. Over exfoliation is rife, and higher strength products do not necessarily mean better results – they are best in the hands of a professional.

“If you do require something stronger, a professional consultation means your overall skin health is assessed thoroughly. The regulation aims to protect consumers from potential negative reactions, like redness, peeling, and heightened sensitivity to sunlight, which can occur more frequently with higher concentrations of retinol if not properly guided and supervised.”

What does this mean for brands and your favourite products?

What is retinol and what does retinol do?Getty Images/iStockphoto

Brands have a number of options:

  • They can reformulate their products so they comply with the regulations.
  • They can switch to selling their higher concentrations only in countries outside the EU.
  • They can pull the products completely.

The Inkey List is believed to be shifting non-compliant stock to markets outside the EU, such as the US. Others, like Medik8, are set to discontinue certain products in the EU and redirect stock to other regions. Additionally, many brands are pushing alternative ingredients that offer similar benefits without falling under the new restrictions such as bakuchiol.

Are any other ingredients impacted?

Alpha-arbutin and arbutin ban UKEU

The new regulations also extend beyond retinol.

Alpha-Arbutin and Arbutin, popular for their skin-lightening properties, will also be restricted. As will other less well-known but controversial ingredients.

  • Alpha-Arbutin: 2% in face creams; 0.5% in body lotions
  • Arbutin: 7% in face creams
  • Kojic Acid: Limited to 1% in face and hand products.
  • Triclosan and Triclocarban: Restricted in various products because of being linked to potential endocrine-disrupting properties.
  • Genistein and Daidzein: Limited to 0.007% and 0.02% respectively, in cosmetic products.

What about retinol products in the UK?

In the UK, the situation regarding retinol in cosmetics is different due to Brexit.

As of now, the UK has not adopted the new EU regulations, which means higher concentrations of retinol will still be available in the UK market.

Products containing up to 1% retinol will still be available without a prescription, too.

It is possible that UK will review and potentially align with these regulations in the future, and this could lead to similar restrictions being applied although brands selling in the UK are not bound to do so.

Does this mean retinol isn’t safe?

Best retinol products for beginnersShutterstock

The new regulations do not mean that retinol isn’t safe to use. To the contrary, they highlight the importance of using retinol safely and responsibly.

Retinol is effective and beneficial when used correctly and in appropriate concentrations. The regulations are designed to make sure consumers continue to enjoy the benefits of retinol while minimising the risk of overexposure and potential side effects.

Even at lower concentrations, retinol remains effective for improving skin texture, reducing acne, and helping with wrinkles and all the regulations aim to do is protect consumers by preventing excessive intake of Vitamin A.

With clearer labelling and guidelines, they should help you make more informed decisions. The rules regarding using retinol during pregnancy and breastfeeding remain unchanged. You can read more in our guide to the skincare ingredients to avoid when pregnant or breastfeeding.

What happens if you have too much vitamin A/retinol?

Dr Pam continued: “Vitamin A stands as a crucial fat-soluble nutrient vital for supporting your immune system, vision, reproductive health, and foetal growth.

“While it’s imperative to meet your body’s needs for this vitamin, excessive intake can pose risks. Prolonged ingestion of high doses of vitamin A may lead to liver damage.

“There’s also evidence suggesting that prolonged overconsumption could potentially impact bone health, particularly concerning older women vulnerable to osteoporosis.”

Retinol ban UK: At a glance

We’ve summed up the main retinol ban questions below.

What are the new regulations for retinol?

The new regulations limit the concentration of retinol in cosmetics and require specific labelling to inform consumers about the risks of overexposure.

What is the EU Regulation 2024/996?

This regulation updates the previous rules to enforce stricter controls on the use of Vitamin A compounds, enhancing consumer safety.

What is the maximum retinol allowed?

The maximum allowed is 0.3% RE in face products and 0.05% RE in body products.

What is the rule for retinol?

The rule limits retinol concentrations and requires specific labelling to inform consumers about the risks of cumulative exposure to Vitamin A.

What is the EU Cosmetics Regulation 2024?

It is an updated regulation setting new safety standards for cosmetic products, focusing on limiting the use of Retinol and other potentially harmful substances.

What is the EU limit for retinol?

The EU limit is 0.3% for face products and 0.05% for body products.

Can you buy Retinol over the counter in the UK?

Yes, retinol can still be purchased over the counter in the UK. Following Brexit, the UK has not adopted the new EU restrictions and isn’t legally bound to, however chances are that they’ll follow suit in some way to ensure consistent safety standards.

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