Cosmetic formula VOC restrictions - are your products legal?

californiaEnvironmental rules are often strange. Here is a story where L’Oreal was fined over $160,000 for selling a product that contained 55% volatile organic compounds (VOC). According to California law companies are restricted in the amount of VOC that they can have in their formulas.

Problem of VOC claims

While the folks at L’Oreal thought they were complying with the law they weren’t. It wasn’t because of their formula, but because of what they claimed about their formula. The products were sprayable starch and according to regulations they can only have 6% VOC content, not the 55% VOC content which is the regulations for hair styling sprays. Since they didn’t list anywhere on their packaging the claim “finish, maintain or hold previously styled hair” they are subject to the 6% level. Oops.

Cosmetic VOC level limits

This is something that many people don’t realize. Even products that are not sprays are subject to VOC limits according to the California regulations. So if you have the idea of using alcohol (ethanol) as your primary preservative, you may be in violation of VOC rules.

Here are VOC limits for some common products. You can find more limits here.

Astringent / toner = 35% VOC
Nail polish remover = 1% VOC
Insect Repellant = 65% VOC
Temporary hair color = 55% VOC
Shaving cream = 5% VOC
Shaving gel = 4% VOC
Fragrance (less than 20% fragrance) = 75% VOC
Fragrance (more than 20% fragrance) = 65% VOC
Hair styling product = 6% VOC
Hair finishing spray = 55% VOC
Hair shine spray = 55% VOC
Hair Mousse = 6% VOC
General purpose cleaners (body wash, shampoo, etc) = 0.5% VOC


As you can see it can get a bit complicated. If you have questions about it this is one of those things that are best to consult an expert in the regulatory matters of California.

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