Selling and distributing your cosmetics in Canada (The Guide)
Can I easily sell my product in Canada?
Canada is an excellent market for beauty products and the total revenue will reach more than 34- billion dollars in 2018. However, prior to selling any cosmetics in Canada you will need to follow several specific steps prior to entering the market. I have seen many companies lose a lot of money and time because they did not have the proper information. The Canadian market is a good market but you need to understand what you are up to. This guide will help you navigate through the regulatory, business and social aspect of selling your cosmetics in Canada.
My product is already sold and approved in my country can I just send it to Canada?
No. You will need to comply with Health Canada regulation on cosmetics prior to sending any goods to your clients in Canada. Under the Food and Drugs Act, a cosmetic includes “any substance or mixture of substances, manufactured, sold or represented for use in cleansing, improving or altering the complexion, skin, hair or teeth and includes deodorants and perfumes.” This includes cosmetics used by professional esthetic services, bulk institutional products (such as hand soap in school rest rooms), as well as “handmade” cosmetics sold at craft sales or home-based businesses. This means that if you sell a cream or any type of cosmetics you will need to know these regulations or else your product might be stopped at the Canadian border. I would highly suggest checking with an expert if you are compliant or if you have any doubt. You can always email us.
Where do I start from here?
I suggest you start by checking your labels. Labelling is a very important part of approval of cosmetics in Canada. They are rules and regulation that you need to follow and that agent at the border will look for prior to entering the country. The first thing you need to check is if all the ingredients you use in your products are permitted in Canada. Cosmetic products are required to have mandatory ingredient labelling as per the Cosmetic Regulations. The label must be legible and follow all other labelling requirements outlined in the Cosmetic Regulations and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.
So how do I know if my labels are compliant in Canada?
First, the list of ingredients must be preceded by the word “Ingredient” or “Ingredients/ Ingrédients”. You will need to check if your ingredients or percentage of ingredients are allowed in Canada. Don’t be fooled, I know people that didn’t check their ingredients and got their packages stuck in customs.
How do I know if my ingredients are allowed in Canada?
Health Canada has an ingredients hotlist that you would need to check on a regular basis to know if your product can be sold in Canada. You can find the hotlist right here: Click here
Botanical and herbal ingredients must be listed using the genus and species names (at minimum) or the complete INCI name. For example, you are allowed to write Mentha Viridis but not Spearmint oil in your ingredients list.
Ingredients must be listed in decreasing order of predominance in their concentration by weight. Descending order of concentration does not necessarily apply to fragrance agents, flavouring agents or colouring agents (unless the company wishes to state them in decreasing order of concentration). Colouring agents should be listed at the very end of the list if all the colouring agents will be listed using the “±” sign or “may contain/peut contenir” provision.
Check carefully every single ingredient in your product. You would be surprised to know that some ingredients in your product are not allowed in Canada and therefore not sellable
Now that I checked that all my ingredients are permitted what do I do?
Legibility and location of where the ingredients are listed is also important.
Legibility: A box listing ingredients that is wrapped in clear cellophane would be considered acceptable since the ingredients are clearly visible. Products with ingredients listed on the back surface of an outer label that are read through a transparent container and clear liquids are considered acceptable unless the container and contents distort the lettering and affect the legibility of the ingredient list. If your product is too small then the label needs to be put on your secondary packaging. Small containers should have a tag, tape or card affixed to it which lists the ingredients if they are not on the outer label. Tear-away tags or leaflets accompanying the product at point of sale are not acceptable. Bottom labels is also permitted in cases where the shape of the container is flat. One thing is for sure, we need to be able to read your label.
Basically, your label must be clearly visible and readable.
Why should I care about my label?
Now we are getting in the complicated part. Your labels need to comply with 3 laws/regulations in Canada:
- the Food and Drugs Act and the Cosmetic Regulations,
- the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations, and
- the Hazardous Products Act and the Consumer Chemicals and Containers Regulations, as they read on September 30, 2001, to that Act.
First, you need to determine if your product is really a cosmetic or a drug. If you put some hormones or claim some unknown efficacy for your cream this could be considered as a drug and not a cosmetic. Basically, you are not free to write anything you want on your label. For example, I have seen a company write on their product that they “for the treatment of psoriasis”. That’s a no no and this claim is unacceptable!
So what should my label contain?
You should at least have this in your labels:
- product identity
- For reasons such as health, safety, product comparison, and prevention of fraud, the identity of a cosmetic product must be evident when purchasing it. In the home, the product must be identifiable even after any outer packaging has been removed. Example you need to write: Facial clenser, etc
- net quantity
- In general, the packaging ought to be constructed, embellished, or presented in such a way that the consumer will not be misled about the quality or quantity of the product contained inside. For example, 30 ml/ 1 fl. oz
- name and address of the manufacturer
- Sometimes it is necessary for the public, associations, medical practitioners, government agencies, or other interest groups to know the identity of the party that is responsible for a product. It is important that the name and address on the label appearing in section 2(a) of the Cosmetic Notification Form (see later) for the product that is submitted to the Cosmetics Program correspond to the name and address on the label. Regardless you should put the name of the company or product in the label so that we could identify you (i.e manufactured by …).
- avoidable hazards and cautions if necessary
- product identity
Do I have to submit this label to Health Canada?
Yes. You need to fill in a notification form for your cosmetics in Canada. It is now possible to do it online. Just here
You can do it in 2 ways: you can ask a company to submit it for you or you can follow the guide here: Click for the guide
Do I need to be located in Canada to be approved?
No. but Contact information for at least one manufacturer or importer located in Canada must be provided. Therefore, you need a Canadian company (listed in the form) so you can bring your product in the country. This company will be responsible for your product.
I heard that the labels need to be in both languages is that true?
It depends on what is in your label but yes. Supplementary French language labelling requirements may apply to products sold in the Province of Québec. If you do want to sell in Quebec then you should be ok. However,
- the product’s identification should be in English and French,
- the declaration of the product’s net quantity in metric units of measure in English and French, and
- the identity and principal place of business of the dealer (see definition) in English or French.
To save yourself trouble, I would suggest having part of your labels in French.
Now that I sent the notification, will Health Canada contact me?
Once you have filed the notification form, you should save a copy and keep it in your record in case Health Canada asks for it. You will not be contacted or receive any feedback. Submission of the CNF does not constitute approval for sale by Health Canada, agreement that the product is classified as a cosmetic nor that the product complies with all legislative requirements. Manufacturers and importers are responsible for making sure their cosmetics meets all requirements. That means that if an inspector gets a complaint or find something wrong with your cosmetic, Health Canada could contact you or could decide that your product should not cross the border.
Am I required to have a GMP certificate for my cosmetics?
No. Although your cosmetics should be done in a GMP environment there is no requirement to have a GMP certificate contrarily to many other countries. If you do have it then it’s a plus. If you make cosmetic at home the probability that you are compliant is null (think about sterility testing, batch records, personal requierement etc).
My product has made it to Canada, how can I sell it?
Distribution of your product is an essential part of success. Having proper channels is important. You will need to find out who your product relates to and what is the best way to distribute it to your potential clients. There is no shortage of cosmetics in Canada and the consumer has lots to choose from. I would highly suggest researching a distributor via different channels such as the internet or trade shows. Be careful if you give exclusivity to a distributor as this could be a problem if they do not meet your objectives. All in all, connect with the industry and connect with the people that can help you. We are connected to about 3000 spas across the country.