- The settlements are significant because neither the FTC nor the FDA have previously been particularly aggressive in this area
- These settlements make clear that FTC believes “all-natural” or “100% natural” means a personal care product contains nothing synthetic
Earlier today, the Federal Trade Commission approved four final consent orders against companies that allegedly misrepresented their personal care products as “All-Natural” or “100% Natural,” despite the fact that they contain synthetic ingredients.
This action follows the FTC’s April 2016 announcement that it had reached agreements with these companies to settle charges that they falsely claimed that their products -- ranging from sunscreen to shampoo -- are “all-natural” or “100% natural,” when, in fact, they contained synthetic ingredients, including dimethicone, ethyhexyl glycerin, polyethylene and various polyquaternium compounds. The companies and products involved are:
- Trans-India Products, Inc., doing business as ShiKai, based in Santa Rosa, California, sold “All Natural Hand and Body Lotion” and “All Natural Moisturizing Gel” both directly and through third-party websites including walgreens.com and vitacoast.com. The lotion contained Dimethicone, Ethyhexyl Glycerin, and Phenoxyethanol. The gel contained Phenoxyethanol.
- Erickson Marketing Group, doing business as Rocky Mountain Sunscreen, based in Aravada, Colorado, used its website to promote “all natural” products such as the “Natural Face Stick,” which contained Dimethicone, Polyethylene, and other synthetic ingredients.
- ABS Consumer Products, LLC, doing business as EDEN BodyWorks, based in Memphis, Tennessee, sold haircare products on its own websites and at Walmart.com. It made “all natural” claims for products including “Coconut Shea All Natural Styling Elixer” and “Jojoba Monoi All Natural Shampoo.” In reality, the products contained a range of synthetic ingredients such as Polyquaternium-37, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, and Polyquaternium-7.
- Beyond Coastal, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, sold its “Natural Sunscreen SPF 30,” describing it as “100% natural,” but it contained Dimethicone.
The settlements are significant because, although “natural claims” have often been challenged by competitors and consumers in litigation or in actions before the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureaus, neither the FTC nor the FDA have previously been particularly aggressive in this area. (FDA has had an informal policy for food that it considers “natural” to mean “that nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.” Last year, FDA issued a notice seeking comments regarding the definition of natural for foods. FDA has not, however, articulated a similar policy for personal care products.)
These settlements make clear that the FTC, at least, is taking the position that claims such as “all-natural” and “100 percent natural” in the advertising of personal care products mean that the product contains nothing synthetic whatsoever.
Going forward, companies wishing to make “all-natural claims” should be aware that they will face a greater risk of federal enforcement action than has been the case previously. Thus, before making these claims, companies need to analyze carefully whether any of the product’s ingredients might be considered synthetic. In particular, in the case of ingredients that are originally derived from natural sources, whether the ingredient is ultimately viewed as synthetic by regulators will depend on the degree of processing to which it has been subject. Where the line is between “natural” and “synthetic” in these cases remains somewhat unclear, but in view of these settlements, it behooves companies to analyze the origin and processing of all ingredients in a product for which a natural claim is contemplated.