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Labeling Claims—Untangling the Rules

By: David C. Steinberg
Posted: September 3, 2009, from the September 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

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With each new free-from claim, consumer press started to ask questions: How many people were killed or injured until this dangerous ingredient was removed? What other dangerous ingredients are being used that have not been disclosed yet? Shouldn’t the FDA pre-approve all cosmetic ingredients since so many are dangerous? This is why nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) call for more and stricter regulations on cosmetics and their ingredients. Why doesn’t the Personal Care Products Council add a requirement to its Consumer Commitment Code that cosmetic companies refrain from this practice of free-from marketing?

In March 2009, the UK Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) advised members against labeling products as being free-from certain ingredients.4 Advertising Standards Canada has gone even further, allowing such claims to be made but under limited conditions, including:

  • Manufacturers must supply proof that the ingredient was in their product but has since been removed completely; even trace amounts of the chemical are not allowed. This claim may only be made for up to one year; and
  • Claims may also state that the product never contained a material if the statement is true. For example, phrasing such as, “This product naturally never contained automobile tires,” would be acceptable.

Drug vs. Cosmetic Claims

In the U.S., the FDA makes the distinction between drugs and cosmetics principally by the product’s promoted intent. If the claim indicates a product to have druglike effects, that product will be regulated as a drug. This ruling based on intent is subjective and leads many companies to “push the envelope”—that is, to make stronger druglike claims until the FDA issues a warning letter; then they pull back.

Health Canada, on the other hand, publishes a list of claims that it considers to be unacceptable for cosmetics but permissible for drugs, as well as a list of acceptable cosmetic claims with some examples. All claims must be true, verifiable and accurate.

The group recently revised its “Guidelines for Cosmetic Advertising and Labeling Claims.”5 These guidelines are broken into three categories: substrate, product and claim type, with sub-categories listed for each.

European Union

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