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What are the regulations surrounding the labeling of personal care products?

August 23, 2007
Question 

What are the regulations for labeling Personal Care products with the words natural, organic, or/and biodegradable?

 

Answer 

Regulations on organic, natural, and biodegradable labeling of personal care products need to be addressed separately. First, concerning "organic," The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 required that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products. The OFPA and the National Organic Program (NOP), a marketing program within USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, regulations require that agricultural products labeled as organic originate from farms or handling operations certified by a state of private entity that has been accredited by USDA.

On October 21, 2002, USDA announced that the National Organic Program would extend beyond food to many other types of products, including cosmetics and body care products. The NOP offers three tiers of organic labeling: "100% Organic," for products that contain only organic ingredients; "Organic," for products that contain 95% organic ingredients and the remaining ingredients are on an approved National List; and "Made with Organic Ingredients," for products that are made with at least 70% organic ingredients. Details on the National Organic Program and organic labeling regulations can be found here.

In April 2004, USDA called on companies to halt using the "USDA Organic" seal to label pet foods, cosmetics and personal care products by October 21, 2005. However, USDA reversed its decision one day before the deadline to respond to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia contesting the department's decision. The complaint was filed by Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and the Organic Consumers Association. The text of the complaint may be viewed by clicking here.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued general guidelines on the use of "biodegradable" and other environmental marketing claims that provide a framework for the use of environmental advertising and labeling claims. According to the FTC, biodegradable should mean that a product is degradable (able to decompose) when exposed to air, moisture, bacteria or other organisms, and that the materials will break down and return to nature within a reasonably short time after customary disposal. The FTC has taken action in the past against companies for making deceptive claims about a product or package's ability to degrade in the environment, or the rate and extent of degradation. The guidelines can be found here.

There are no regulations concerning the use of "natural" on personal care products. However, in the context of food, as a general rule, the term means that nothing artificial or synthetic has been added that would not be expected by the consumer to be in the product. This would be a good starting point for personal care products as well. One issue that FDA has raised is coloring, where the Agency has taken the position that any added color—whether artificial or natural—excludes a product from the natural realm. Again, this is a consideration for personal care products as well. Another issue that USDA adds is the concept that "natural" products are subject only to "minimal processing," which, again, is a relevant consideration. Such claims on personal care product, at a minimum, would be subject to Federal Trade Commission and some state requirements that prohibit false, misleading, or deceptive practices.