October 26, 2023   |   Reading time: 6 minutes

Navigating EU and UK Classification Divergence

Navigating EU and UK Classification Divergence
As the UK bid farewell to the EU on January 31, 2020, regulatory shifts set in motion a unique challenge – the divergence between the EU’s Harmonised Classification and Labelling List (C&L) and the UK’s Mandatory Classification List (MCL).

While this divergence touches various sectors, we focus on the fragranced goods industry. A bottle of perfume, a scented candle, or an air freshener – they all carry labels that convey essential information about their hazards. But what happens when two distinct regulatory systems demand different hazard classifications for the same product?

We will look at the intricacies of the CLP principles that guide these classifications and how they affect the labels on fragranced goods. From understanding the core principles of hazard classification to dissecting the impact of EU-UK classification divergence, this blog explores the nuances of post-Brexit regulatory challenges.

What is CLP classification?

The EU’s Regulation No 1272/2008, known as the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation, is a legally binding framework governing chemical classification in the EU and EEA. In the UK, it is retained as the GB CLP Regulation. It forms the foundation of the EU’s chemical classification system. It should be noted that any updates to EU CLP that took place after January 31, 2020, do not apply to GB CLP. This discussion looks at the core principles of hazard classification under CLP, which are vital for understanding how fragranced goods are labelled.

CLP classification for substances

CLP classification is a meticulous process, considering test data, computer modelling, human experience, and expert assessments. Specific criteria exist for each hazard class and category, guiding suppliers’ self-classification of chemical substances.

CLP classification for mixtures

The classification of mixtures follows a tiered approach, incorporating test data for the mixture when available and employing bridging principles when applicable. For health and environmental hazards, classifications are estimated based on known ingredient information.

The significance of hazard classification for fragranced goods

The principles of CLP classification directly impact the labelling of fragranced goods. Fragranced products, such as perfumes, scented candles, and air fresheners, can exhibit a range of hazard classifications. These can fall into three main categories:

  1. Physical hazards: These encompass 16 main hazard classes, including flammability, reactivity, and the release of flammable gases upon contact with water. Physical hazard classifications are typically based on test data for the substance or mixture.
  2. Human health hazards: These comprise 10 main hazards, such as acute toxicity, skin corrosion/irritation, and carcinogenicity. Determining human health hazard classifications is often complex, relying on a combination of test data, human data, expert judgment, and specific concentration limits.
  3. Environmental hazards: These include being hazardous to the aquatic environment and hazardous to the ozone layer. Environmental hazard classifications consider factors like aquatic toxicity, bioaccumulation potential, degradability, and the presence of substances contributing to ozone layer depletion.

The classification of fragranced goods hinges on a comprehensive assessment of their potential hazards. This classification directly informs the labels on these products, understanding the connection between CLP classification principles and the labelling of fragranced products is crucial for both businesses and consumers.

Why are the classifications of chemicals diverging between the EU & UK?

The EU has a list known as the “harmonised classification and labelling of hazardous substances (C&L List)”. The UK has its equivalent, the “GB Mandatory Classification and Labelling List (GB MCL List).” These lists are regularly updated and must be followed in their respective regions. Both lists are downloadable Excel documents on the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) websites.

The divergence between the classifications of chemicals in the EU Classification and Labelling (C&L) List and the UK Mandatory Classification List (MCL) is a result of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union (Brexit) and its subsequent development of independent regulatory frameworks. Several key factors contribute to this classification divergence:

  • Post-Brexit independence: After leaving the EU, the UK regained regulatory autonomy, enabling it to develop its own rules and regulations, including those related to chemical classification and labelling.
  • Regulatory frameworks: While the EU’s classification and labelling system is governed by the CLP Regulation (EU No 1272/2008), the UK established its version of this regulation, known as the GB CLP Regulation. These parallel regulations provide the legal basis for classifying and labelling chemicals in the EU and the UK, respectively.
  • Alignment challenges: As part of the Brexit process, the UK decided to depart from the regulatory framework of the EU. This required the UK to adapt the existing EU classifications to its context, resulting in differences in classification criteria and terminology.
  • Risk assessment and decision-making: Classification of chemicals often involves a complex process of assessing factors, such as toxicity, environmental impact, and hazard potential. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in the EU use separate criteria and risk assessments for certain substances, leading to divergence in classification decisions.
  • Diverging expertise and scientific data: Over time, regulatory agencies in the UK and the EU may accumulate different scientific data and expertise, leading to varying interpretations of hazard data and potential effects.
  • Global harmonization challenges: The classification and labelling of chemicals are influenced by international standards, such as the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). However, even with international guidelines, there can be flexibility in how different regions implement and interpret these standards, leading to divergence in specific classifications.
  • Ongoing updates: The EU and the UK may make updates and amendments to their classification and labelling regulations independently. These changes may introduce further divergence over time.

The EU-UK classification divergence affects industries like fragrance, flavour, and essential oils, necessitating adaptation by businesses operating in both regions to ensure compliance with respective jurisdiction requirements.

Implications for CLP labels

The recent decision to update the GB Mandatory Classification and Labelling List (GB MCL) with 98 chemical substances holds significant importance, especially when it comes to the labels affixed to chemical products under the Classification, Labelling, and Packaging (CLP) Regulation. Here, we investigate the reasons behind this decision and the implications it carries for CLP labels:

Updating the GB MCL list

Under Article 37 of the GB CLP Regulation, the Ministerial decision to update the GB MCL list represents an essential regulatory milestone. This list includes legally binding mandatory classifications and labels for substances used in various industrial and consumer products. This update, published on 20th October 2023, brings new and revised GB MCLs into effect.

  • Scientific and technical assessment: The decision to update the GB MCL list was grounded in a rigorous scientific and technical assessment. The intrinsic hazards of the 98 substances were identified through a comprehensive evaluation of available information, as outlined in the Agency Technical Reports. This assessment ensures that the classifications accurately reflect the potential risks associated with these substances.
  • GB MCL compliance dates: As this update takes effect, businesses and manufacturers must be aware of the compliance dates. The GB CLP publication table provides summaries of the new and revised GB MCLs, along with the entry into force date (20th October 2023) and the compliance date (20th April 2025). This timeline allows stakeholders to adapt and ensure their products meet the updated regulatory requirements.
  • Implications for CLP labels: The impact of this decision directly extends to CLP labels on a wide range of chemical products. Businesses dealing with substances on the GB MCL list must promptly and accurately update the labels on their products to align with the new or revised GB MCLs. This ensures compliance with the law and guarantees that consumers and workers are provided with the most up-to-date safety information regarding these substances.

Updating the GB MCL list goes beyond bureaucracy; it directly impacts product classification and labelling. Rigorous scientific assessments, regulatory compliance, and updated labels prioritise safety. UK businesses must comply with the updated GB MCL list to ensure responsible commerce and well-being.

Implications beyond the UK: EU market faces divergence challenges

The regulatory divergence in chemical classification and labelling is not limited to the United Kingdom; it also extends its influence on the European Union (EU) market. As the UK pursues its independent path, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) oversees regulations and standards for the EU. This dual trajectory in chemical classification holds noteworthy implications for CLP labels in the UK and across the EU.

While the UK and the EU initially adhered to the same set of regulations, changes in classification criteria, scientific assessments, and evolving standards will result in discrepancies between the two systems. As ECHA updates and potentially diverges from certain classifications no longer aligned with the UK, businesses operating in the EU must also adapt their CLP labels to remain compliant with EU regulations.

This growing gap between the UK and EU classification systems means that products intended for both markets may require distinct labels. Businesses dealing with chemicals in their product lines must carefully navigate these differences to ensure they meet the specific regulatory requirements of each jurisdiction.


The key takeaway is that while initiated by Brexit, regulatory divergence has a ripple effect that touches all stakeholders. Businesses operating in the EU market, alongside their UK counterparts, must be diligent in their efforts to stay informed, align with updated classifications, and provide accurate CLP labels that reflect the latest hazard classifications. In doing so, they not only fulfil legal obligations but also prioritise the safety of consumers and workers across these regions.

We have explored the core principles of CLP classification and how they influence the CLP labels on fragranced goods. As we conclude, expect further divergence. These two systems have started to diverge in just three years, and they will likely continue to drift apart as current and future updates occur.

Additionally, it is worth noting that there is a plan for a comprehensive update to the entire EU CLP before 2024. This update will introduce more differences between the two regulations, potentially leading to distinct classifications for the same substance under each CLP regulation.