L’Occitane Inc’s advertisements for its topically-applied body sculpting almond extracts seemed straightforward: “Almond Shaping Delight 3 out of 4 women saw firmer, lifted skin. This luxuriously lightweight massage gel instantly melts into the skin to help visibly refine and sculpt the silhouette” and “Almond Beautiful Shape Trim 1.3 inches in just 4 weeks. This ultra-fresh gel cream helps to visibly reduce the appearance of cellulite, while smoothing and firming the skin.” [see FTC complaint and exhibits

Unfortunately for L’Occitane, an international skin care company with over 150 shops across the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found those claims dubious at best, and earlier this year charged the company with violating the Federal Trade Commission Act (“FTC Act”).

According to the FTC’s complaint, which was filed on January 7, 2014, L’Occitane had been manufacturing, advertising, and selling the two products at issue, “Almond Beautiful Shape” and “Almond Shaping Delight,” in interstate commerce and violated the FTC Act by promoting them as being able to slim and reshape the body. The FTC alleged that L’Occitane did not have sufficient scientific data to support L’Occitane’s advertising claims that the creams could trim the user’s thighs, reduce cellulite, and slim the body in just weeks. The FTC asserted that  L’Occitane based its advertising claims in large part on two unblinded and non-controlled clinical trials and greatly exaggerated the results from one of the studies. The FTC charged L’Occitane with violating Sections 5(a) and 12 of the FTC Act, which declare unfair or deceptive acts or practices unlawful and bar false advertisements likely to induce the purchase of food, drugs, devices, or cosmetics. As part of the final consent order, the FTC fined L’Occitane $450,000 and prohibited it from making future false and deceptive weight-loss claims.

L’Occitane, however, is not the only entity which the FTC has recently fined because of questionable advertising claims. The FTC has also charged Sensa Products, LeanSpa, and HCG Diet Direct with violations of the FTC Act for allegedly misleading the public with unfounded weight loss claims and misleading endorsements relating to their products. These complaints, along with L’Occitane’s, were part of the FTC’s recent “Operation Failed Resolution” initiative, aimed at combating deceptive weight-loss claims.

One of the companies charged, Sensa Products, which claimed weight loss results from one of its dietary supplements, had to pay a $26 million fine for FTC Act violations. As a part of “Operation Failed Resolution,” the FTC also released an updated media guide for spotting deceptive weight-loss claims in advertising, entitled “Gut Check: A Reference Guide for Media on Spotting False Weight-Loss Claims.”

Manufactures and marketers of health products, cosmetics, drugs, and dietary supplements should be mindful of the FTC’s continuing and increasing vigilance in taking action with respect to enforcement of the FTC Act to stop unfounded weight loss claims. Companies making weight-loss claims in advertising and marketing materials must make sure that their claims are defensible and supported by sufficient credible scientific data.

Jordan Grushkin