A Beginner’s Guide for Shipping Cosmetics Internationally

June 28, 2023 
|  Passport

In today’s digital age, reaching beauty enthusiasts worldwide has never been easier with the power of technology and online platforms. Getting those products into customers’ hands across the world, however, can come with challenges. In this guide, we’ll touch on the basics of shipping cosmetics internationally and provide valuable insights to help beauty brands navigate the global market. 

The Basics of Exporting Cosmetics

Besides the logistics involved, shipping cosmetics internationally can present some unique obstacles and considerations. Given the chemical ingredients that may be used and sensitive areas where they are applied to the body, beauty and skincare products are heavily regulated. Most countries have strict rules that govern the contents, packaging, and claims that cosmetics must adhere to. Prohibitions, restrictions, and even how cosmetics are defined can also vary by country.

For Example, Canada defines a cosmetic as any substance used to clean, improve or change the complexion, skin, hair, nails, or teeth. This means “cosmetics” would include beauty preparations like make-up, perfume, skin cream, and nail polish as well as grooming aids such as soap, shampoo, shaving cream, and deodorant. Now, some items that seemingly fit into this category may actually fall under another product type. A topical antibiotic cream, for instance, claims to prevent or treat an infection and contains certain active ingredients that are not permitted in cosmetics. This would cause the skin cream to be considered a drug, meaning it would be managed under different regulations.

Speaking of ingredients, there are several chemicals commonly found in US cosmetics that are either completely prohibited in other countries or restricted based on concentrations allowed. This is referred to as the quali-quanty formula which specifies qualitative ingredients and their quantitative thresholds. An example of this is hydrogen peroxide, often used in teeth whitening strips. The US allows up to a 14% concentration, while the EU and UK prohibit direct-to-consumer sales of any concentrations above 0.1%. Another product you can typically find in the US is keratin hair straightening treatments. These actually contain high concentrations of formaldehyde which is strictly banned in the EU for being a known health risk.

The key takeaway here is, you’ll want to make sure your products meet each destination’s compliance requirements and that any ingredients or chemicals used are not prohibited or above the acceptable limit. Partnering with a company like Passport can help your business navigate the complexities of these rules so you can ship cosmetics around the world with confidence. 

Where to Start with Shipping Cosmetics Internationally

So you’ve got a successful product in the US and you’re ready to start expanding globally, what’s next? A great place to start is with your neighbor, Canada. For beauty or skincare products to be sold in Canada, they must meet the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and Cosmetic Regulations (CR). A tool called the hotlist will show you ingredients that are prohibited or restricted from use. While there are some packaging and labeling policies too, these rules are usually not strictly enforced for DTC products. In fact, Canada has a “personal use exemption” for importing cosmetic products that are sold to individual consumers for their personal use and not for resale. As long as the ingredients are not prohibited or exceed restrictions, Health Canada permits the importation of these products without pre-market notifications or compliant labels and packaging.  

We also recommend launching in Europe despite the extensive process. If your cosmetics are authorized to be sold in the EU, you’ll gain access to 27 countries along with many other global markets that view the EU’s strict standards as a stamp of approval. Some brands even use this as a point of differentiation, marketing their product as “EU compliant.” The UK is similar as their guidelines mirror the EU’s. 

Which Countries Are Cosmetics Not Allowed to Be Shipped To?

While most countries usually impose restrictions on specific products, ingredients, or chemicals, in certain markets like Turkey, cosmetics cannot be shipped directly to consumers. Instead, merchants are required to use a local distributor. Some EU customs agencies are also strict with beauty and skin care products. While many carriers clear EU shipments through a single country, such as the Netherlands, before being distributed to individual member states, express carriers often go through each country’s customs agency directly. In such cases, countries like Italy, Portugal, and Spain often reject shipments of cosmetics if they do not have an import license.    

Which Countries May See Holds or Customs Challenges When Shipping Cosmetics?

There are various sources out there that can provide you with a list of country-specific prohibitions and restrictions. Prohibited items are obviously more concerning as they may be refused entry. However, if a product falls on the restricted list, you’ll need to dig a little deeper to determine whether the quantity or concentration of an ingredient or chemical makes it prohibited. Some additional rules you may also see with clearing customs include obtaining certain approvals, licenses, and certifications.

Here’s a list of countries we commonly see concerns with:

  • Brazil (specific chemical restrictions)
  • Chile (may require the consumer to complete a declaration form)
  • China (formal entry may be required)
  • Greece (specific chemical restrictions)
  • Indonesia (certificate/license may be required)
  • Israel (may require Ministry of Health approval)
  • Japan (teeth whitening products restricted)
  • Kazakhstan (certificate may be required)
  • Mexico (may require Ministry of Health approval)
  • Peru (max 4 products per shipment)
  • Qatar (may require Ministry of Health approval)
  • Saudi Arabia (certificate may be required)
  • Thailand (certificate/license may be required)
  • Turkey (direct-to-consumer prohibited, must use local distributor)
How to Prevent or Resolve Common Customs Holds and Challenges

Customs holds can be caused by a variety of factors like missing shipment details, incorrect product details, and commodities or chemicals that are prohibited or restricted. The most important thing you can do proactively to avoid issues is to provide accurate information such as HS codes, item values, goods descriptions, and consumer tax IDs when required. To illustrate this point, let’s say a company sells a nail polish called “red wine.” While this may be a great product name for your consumers, customs agency algorithms can flag this commodity description as an alcoholic item and hold it for inspection. Additionally, having an ingredient list on hand can be helpful as well as a manufacturer’s declaration if the local customs agency requires it during an inspection of that specific shipment. And lastly, it may be worth considering obtaining an export certificate to streamline the customs clearance process. We realize shipping cosmetics internationally may seem taxing with all these intricacies, but we’re here to help make things a little less complicated.

Top Reasons for Cosmetics Customs Holds:

How Can Passport Help Your Brand Expand Globally?

Passport’s in-house compliance experts are ready to get your beauty and skincare products to customers around the world. Our team of licensed customs brokers, trade advisors, and regulatory specialists will help you understand and navigate any complex regulations so you can succeed in selling cosmetics globally. 

These are just a few of the many benefits Passport offers:

  • Avoid costly customs holds or rejections with complimentary product reviews that include accurate commodity classifications, goods descriptions, and valuations as well as guidance on import restrictions.
  • Guarantee your total cost to ship inclusive of duties, taxes, and shipping fees with a landed cost analysis.
  • Reach global consumers without having to set up a local business entity or hire a costly accounting firm with reliable guidance regarding international tax regulations.
  • Manage country-level health and safety regulations, and ship challenging items with our specialty product compliance solutions.
  • Receive proper direction when determining if licenses, certificates, or permits are required in various markets and get assistance obtaining any necessary documents.

In short, we’ll ensure a smooth shipping experience by sorting out all the complicated international rules–  so you can focus on growing your brand. Get in touch with the Passport team here to start your global growth journey.