The FTC issued an opinion and final order granting a summary decision against California Naturel, Inc. finding that the company falsely advertised its sunscreen product as “all natural” and containing “only the purest, most luxurious and effective ingredients found in nature.” As we previously reported, the FTC has now filed a number of complaints against companies based on “all natural” claims. Here, California Naturel admitted that 8% of its sunscreen formula consists of dimethicone, a synthetic ingredient, but argued that this was addressed by a disclaimer added to its website stating that: “The FTC requires us to add the following: ‘Dimethicone, a synthetic ingredient, is 8% of the sunscreen formula, the remaining 92% are natural products.’” The FTC rejected California Naturel’s position, finding that the recently-added disclaimer did not excuse the deception that had occurred prior to when the disclaimer was added, and that the disclaimer was not effective because it contradicts the express, prominent advertising claims. The FTC further criticized the location of the disclaimer at the bottom of the webpage, where it could not be viewed without scrolling down, and well below the site’s “Add to Cart” button.
Under the final order, California Naturel is prohibited from misrepresenting the ingredients or composition of its products, including whether a product is “all natural,” “100% natural,” or otherwise contains any natural or synthetic ingredient or component. The company is further prohibited from misrepresenting the environmental and health benefits of its products. The order will remain in effect for at least 20 years.
TIP: “All natural” and “100% natural” claims for food and other household products continue to be challenged by consumers and regulators. Though the FTC has previously declined to issue specific guidance on the meaning of “all natural,” it has again determined in this case that such a claim is deceptive where the product at issue includes one or more synthetic ingredients. In addition, advertisers should be aware that disclaimers are not likely to be effective when they directly contradict the express claim that is made, especially when buried far away from the claim.