If you are new to the handcrafted bath and body industry in Canada, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about the Cosmetic Notification Form (CNF). I started to write a short post about CNFs, which quickly turned into an encyclopedia, so I have turned it into a two or three part series. Up first, what is a CNF and why do I need one?
Health Canada requires that anyone who sells a cosmetic product in Canada must file a CNF with them within 10 days of first making the product available for sale. Anyone means everyone, from the big name sellers such as L’Oreal or Lush, all the way to your neighbour who sells a few bars to family and friends just to help cover the cost of her raw materials: no exceptions. Aside from reviewing the ingredients in your product to confirm that all of your ingredients are approved for use in cosmetics, the CNF also provides Health Canada with your contact information, which will be used in the event that your product causes an allergic reaction or other issue that is reported to them. They will contact you and ask you to recall the product.
To get you started, here are some commonly asked questions about filing a CNF:
- Is my product a cosmetic? Health Canada defines a cosmetic as “”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 bath bombs, bath salts etc.
- What is not considered a cosmetic? If you make any claims that your product has any therapeutic or healing effect, it is no longer a cosmetic. For example, claims that your dandelion balm treats eczema, or that your tea tree oil mask clears up acne will result in your product being regarded as a drug or Natural Health Product, which requires testing and approval. Some products, such as bug spray or sunscreen are automatically excluded from the cosmetics category even if you make no claims about them. Sunscreen is considered a drug, and bug spray is a pesticide, and they must conform to much stricter regulations. Sale of handmade sunscreen is prohibited in Canada, and sale of handmade bug spray is currently under review.
- If I file a CNF, can I say that my recipe is approved by Health Canada? No. The only things that are screened by Health Canada when you file a CNF is that the ingredients you are using have been approved for use in cosmetics, and that you are not exceeding the maximum usage rate of any ones that are restricted.
- What happens if I sell product and don’t file a CNF? That depends on how and where you sell your product. If you are that person who is just selling to family and friends, your chances of getting “caught” are pretty slim. However, there is always the chance that your product may cause an allergic reaction in someone, and it may get reported to Health Canada. Fines for non-compliance range from $1,000 to $25,000 per offence. Now you may think, “my friends would never do that to me”, but imagine if your product caused a reaction in their young child? Or, what happens if your friend buys soap from you and gives it as a gift to someone you don’t know? Still feel confident? It is always better to be in full compliance with all regulations. There is no fee to file a CNF. If you sell your products online, in stores, or at a market, your chances of being found non-compliant are increasing every week. Health Canada has staff reviewing websites and attending markets, and you could find yourself under scrutiny at any time.
- Okay, I’ve filed my CNF…now what? Once you’ve filed your CNF, one of two things will happen. You may receive an email or phone call from Health Canada indicating a problem with your submission. Respond to their inquiry, and work out the problem. If you aren’t contacted, then at some point you will receive a notice that your CNF has been approved and they will provide you with a number. Keep that number in a safe place. If you ever change the product you will need that number to file an amended CNF. More importantly, this is your proof of compliance which you can show to a Health Canada inspector if one shows up at your market, or contacts you by email requesting to see your CNF.
In Part 2 of this series, we will take a closer look at the actual filing process. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the CNF, come join our Facebook group, Soapz and Stuffs and post a question. The group is open to everyone, not just HBBG members, and someone is always around to help.