Why “Free From” Claims Can Be Dangerous For Your Brand
You may have noticed the abundance of websites and products that claim something is “free from” particular ingredients, like “Paraben-free”. Every day we see class action lawsuits filed in the beauty industry, and the FDA is happy to investigate these claims. At Essential we have always placed an emphasis on regulatory compliance, and have been steadily pivoting away from “___-free” claims.
Here we want to talk about why these claims can get you into trouble
No True Guarantees it’s “Free From”
Essentially, no company can fully guarantee, with absolute certainty, that a product is completely “free from” a certain ingredient. Even if it is not added or part of the formulation, many molecules are carried in the air, found in nature, or make contact with ingredients at some stage of its life.
You can do everything possible as a company to ensure that no part of your product is stored in or around packaging that contains phthalates, for example, but can you truly guarantee that the goat milk used in your bath soak never passed through plastic tubing that contained phthalates? Even if you can guarantee this, what if there is a rupture in the phthalate-free tubing on the Greek farm you source from and one day they repair it with a new tube?
This can quickly slide into a pedantic argument, where it becomes clear that an ingredient or molecule in question is present in only very negligible amounts. However, several companies have faced lawsuits and lost because trace amounts of a compound have been found.
EU Regulations: No More Misleading [chemical]-free Claims
A few years ago the European Union (EU) enacted legislation starting on July 1st, 2019, prohibiting the use of “free from” statements. Not only because companies cannot 100% guarantee the absence of a chemical, but because those statements imply that the use of approved chemicals is unsafe, such as parabens.
By stating that this lotion is “paraben-free”, the assumption is that parabens are dangerous in levels that are actually approved as safe. The EU is content that its regulations are safe, and thus doesn’t appreciate the implication that products using approved ingredients are somehow harmful.
This is an easy marketing trick for any product too—describe what a product is by either renaming it or saying it is free from something (even if there would be absolutely no reason to have that other ingredient in it). For example, you could release a Micellar Water and add that it is “Rice Sugar-free” or “free from rice sugars”. This statement is essentially worthless, in part because it implies that most people would find that information useful and in part because it implies that rice sugar is both a normal ingredient in this instance, but also a harmful one.
So to cover both the impossibility of guaranteeing a lack of a compound and to follow EU regulations, we are erring, as we always try to do, on the side of proactive compliance.
We strongly encourage you to adopt this change as soon as possible, especially if you are interested in entering the EU market. It is only a brief matter of time until consumers catch up, so we hope our reasoning makes sense. You’ll see a list of attributes on our site that may include:
- No Added Phthalates
- No Added Parabens
- No Added Palm
- No Added Gluten
In the meantime, if not the EU market, let the threat of litigation be a guide: there is really no way you can fully guarantee a lack of a certain common ingredient. For example, blueberries, cucumbers, and carrots all have naturally-occurring parabens. Perhaps you have a blueberry powder that floats through the air and “contaminates” a nearby lotion—now you can no longer ensure that there are zero parabens present.
Human bodies produce parabens as well, in addition to many other seemingly unappealing chemicals that are useful for our functioning, including formaldehyde, acetone, and ammonia. Which is simply to say everything in moderation, with transparency coming first. This is why we appreciate compliance—there is so much to learn and labeling laws help consumers understand it all better. Here is a starting guide to creating a FDA-compliant label.
Let us know your plan for handling this issue in the comments below—we’d love to know what you think!