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Can You Promote ‘All-natural’ With Synthetic Ingredients?

April 21, 2016 | Contact Author | By: Nicole Urbanowicz
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Keywords: ingredients | synthetic | FTC

Abstract: The FTC determines companies can’t promote their personal care products as “all natural” if they contain any synthetics, such as dimethicone and phenoxyethanol.

What happens when you promote your personal care products as being "all-natural" even though the product’s formula contains a few synthetic ingredients? It costs you, big time, that’s what.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) bars the company from making these claims, which under a final consent order could result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000 for future violations.

Recently, the FTC said four companies that market skin care products, shampoos and sunscreens online have agreed to settle charges that they falsely claimed their products are “all natural” or “100% natural,” despite the fact that they contain synthetic ingredients. The commission issued a complaint against a fifth company for making similar claims.

Under the proposed settlements, each of the four companies is barred from making similar misrepresentations in the future and must have competent and reliable evidence to substantiate any ingredient-related, environmental or health claims it makes, the FTC said.

“‘All natural’ or ‘100-percent natural’ means just that—no artificial ingredients or chemicals,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies should take a lesson from these cases.”

What Not to Say, According to the FTC

According to the FTC, the concerning all-natural claims in online ads were:

  • Trans-India Products Inc., doing business as ShiKai, based in Santa Rosa, California, marketed “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 contains dimethicone, ethyhexyl glycerin and phenoxyethanol. The gel contains 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 contains dimethicone, polyethylene and other synthetic ingredients.
  • ABS Consumer Products, LLC, doing business as EDEN BodyWorks, based in Memphis, Tennessee, marketed hair care 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.” The products contain a range of synthetic ingredients, such as polyquaternium-37, phenoxyethanol, caprylyl glycol, and polyquaternium-7.
  • Beyond Coastal, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, used its website to sell its “Natural Sunscreen SPF 30,” describing it as “100% natural.” However, it also contains dimethicone.
  • California Naturel, Inc., located in Sausalito, California, marketed “all-natural sunscreen” on its website, though the product contains dimethicone. The Commission has issued a complaint alleging that California Naturel has made deceptive “all-natural” claims in violation of Sections 5 and 12 of the FTC Act.

What Does the Order Say?

The FTC said the proposed consent orders bar the four settling respondents from misrepresenting the following when advertising, promoting or selling a product:

  1. Whether the product is all natural or 100 percent natural
  2. The extent to which the product contains any natural or synthetic components
  3. The ingredients or composition of a product; and
  4. The environmental or health benefits of a product.

According to the FTC, the orders require the respondents to have and rely on competent and reliable evidence to support any product claims they make. The FTC added that “some claims require scientific evidence, which is defined as tests, analyses, research, or studies that have been conducted and evaluated objectively by qualified individuals using procedures generally accepted in the profession to yield accurate and reliable results.”

What’s Next?

The commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. When the commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000. The commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent orders with the companies final following a public comment period for 30 days through May 12, 2016.

The commission will accept comments via the “Invitation to Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” section of the FTC’s website. Comments case can also be submitted by clicking on the following links: Trans-India Products, Inc.; Erickson Marketing Group; ABS Consumer Products, LLC; and Beyond Coastal.