Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York) recently introduced a bill into the House of Representatives -- the Natural Cosmetics Act -- which if passed, would require cosmetics to meet certain standards in order to use the term "natural" on product packaging or labeling.

Market research projects that the global cosmetics industry is expected to be a USD 429.8 billion dollar industry by 2022, with US consumers being one of the major contributors to that value. The consumer market has shown increased demand for "natural" beauty products, likely driven by consumer belief that products that are labeled "natural" are safer. This bill seeks to provide consumers with facts to ground that belief. Congressman Maloney has expressed a desire to increase company accountability and protect consumers by requiring standards for "natural" cosmetics claims.

Currently, although the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) prohibits labeling or advertising of product that is misbranded (e.g., false or misleading labeling and claims), neither the FDCA, nor its implementing regulations define the term "natural" or limit its use on cosmetic product labeling or advertising. Therefore, although the FDCA gives general authority to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to oversee the safety of cosmetics, without a definition of "natural" in the FDCA, the FDA has been hesitant to define the term or comment on the appropriate use of the term "natural" in cosmetic labeling and advertising claims. The FDA has traditionally focused its enforcement efforts on cosmetics marketing claims that refer to treating, managing, diagnosing or preventing a disease and cosmetics that are adulterated due to contamination or contain unsafe/non-permitted ingredients.

While the FDA remains silent on providing an accepted definition for the word "natural", enforcement of "natural" claims has largely fallen to the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division. The Federal Trade Commission has reviewed "natural" claims in advertising to determine if the claims are false or misleading, and particularly claims regarding "all natural" and "100% natural" cosmetics. The National Advertising Division has looked at "natural" claims in the context of competitor complaints to see if the claims have been properly substantiated. However, without a clear definition of "natural" from the FDA, making advertising claims that a cosmetic is "natural", continues to be risky because of the difficulty in determining if an advertising claim is false, misleading or unsubstantiated.

The bill seeks to address this by defining the use of the words "natural" and "naturally derived ingredient" on cosmetic products. It further distinguishes the appropriate use of the term "natural" for a cosmetic that is "natural" overall, and for a cosmetic containing certain "natural" ingredients. For cosmetics containing "natural" ingredients, the bill establishes a particular labeling procedure. The bill also requires manufacturers and distributors to maintain records that substantiate their claims and to take detailed remedial measures for misbranded cosmetics.

Cosmetic products labeled "organic" or "made with" organic materials must meet the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) strict labeling and production requirements. The future of "natural" cosmetic products may be moving in a similar direction. The bill introduced by Congressman Maloney has garnered the support of cosmetic industry leaders and many agree an update to US cosmetics regulation is overdue.

Similar to the US, there is no legal definition or specific regulation governing the use of the term "natural" on cosmetic products marketed in the EU. However, the EU Cosmetic Products Regulation 2009 and Regulation 655/2013 require cosmetics marketing claims -- including those marketed as "natural" - to comply with six common criteria: a claim must be legally compliant, truthful, honest, fair, substantiated with evidence, and allow the end user to make an informed choice about the product.

In 2016, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) issued ISO 16128 that provides express guidelines on definitions for "natural" and "organic" cosmetic ingredients, and details how to calculate percentages of "natural" ingredients in finished cosmetic products. Under the World Trade Organization rules, governments are directed to base their national regulations on standards produced by international organizations like ISO.

In the EU, ISO standards are mandatory when referenced in EU directives, but otherwise compliance with the standards is voluntary. Compliance with ISO standards is voluntary in the US, although the US has taken ISO standards into consideration when developing Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) guidelines for cosmetics.

What it may mean for you

Partly because of the EU directives that implement ISO standards, and because of the general globalization of trade, companies in the US and around the world are implementing ISO standards, and may therefore already be accustomed to being required to substantiate "natural" cosmetics claims. If this bill proposed by Congressman Maloney becomes US law, for companies solely operating in the US, it may necessitate a significant shift in their operating procedures. Companies bridging both the US and the EU may already be operating within the parameters of ISO 16128 and may require limited shifts in marketing and production.