Personal care products that claim to be “natural”, “all natural” or “100% natural” continue to draw scrutiny from consumer advocates and regulatory agencies such as the FTC. Perhaps surprisingly, there still is no clear definition of the word “natural” for personal care products. It’s no small concern, as consumers and manufacturers can have different expectations of what “natural” means, which can lead to confusion and accusations of false or misleading advertising.
Despite the uncertainty, “natural” product claims matter to consumers. According to a 2015 Nielsen report, 53% of consumers surveyed said that an “all-natural” description was moderately or very important to their purchasing decision. The worldwide natural products industry is estimated at $33 billion – and it’s growing. “Naturally,” companies want to capitalize on this trend.
But what exactly is a “natural” product? Is it plant-derived? Is it made from ingredients found in nature? Is it free of preservatives? Is it made without synthetic ingredients? There are no FDA regulations regarding use of the word natural. However, the FDA has issued non-binding guidance that states it will not contest food products labeled as “natural” if the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Though this provides a limited understanding of the term “natural”, the guidance is as to food, pertains only to FDA enforcement and is not a legal requirement.
In a recent complaint filed with FTC, California Naturel’s sunscreen was alleged to be not “all natural”, as it claimed, because 8% of it was Dimethicone, a synthetic ingredient. Following the FTC complaint, California Naturel put a disclaimer on its website, which was later ruled as ineffective in a 2016 FTC decision.
Starting in 2015, the Honest Company also found itself in court for false advertising in regard to their “natural” products. Though the Honest Company markets its products as “natural”, the products contain a number of synthetic ingredients. Consumers argued that their understanding of “natural” was a product free of synthetic or artificial ingredients, and the court held that the Honest Company’s “natural” claims for its products is misleading.
The current trend is that the surest way to avoid complaints when products are advertised as “natural” or “100% natural” is to make certain they are free of synthetic ingredients. Next to that, disclosure of what you mean by “natural” as used on your product can be an important measure to avoid consumer confusion.
Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys help their clients navigate these tricky currents by staying up to date on developments affecting the personal care products industry.