free from cosmetic label compliance regulations

Why “Free From” Claims Can Be Dangerous For Your Brand

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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.

Next Steps

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
  • Vegan

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!

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2 years ago

Your concerns make perfect sense. The vegan label may also have the same implications as the “free-from” because many products that say vegan, are not always vegan from the source. Just a thought. since we are talking about labeling and having clear labeling, thought it was worth mentioning.

2 years ago

Are there any concerns over the “cruelty free” term?

2 years ago

Appreciate the response, thanks.

2 years ago

Thank you for the article it was very helpful and very informative.

2 years ago

I’m surprised to see this article point out the issues of using the “free from” strategy, but go on to skirt around the new regulation by simply changing the verbiage on EW products. If we know that labeling products “free from” is misleading to the consumer by implying that these particular ingredients aren’t safe, why continue to do so? I found this change a breath of fresh air as consumers may finally start to become aware that there is nothing wrong or harmful about using these “free from” ingredients. For example, parabens are one of the most effective preservatives around, and I would love to use them as a preservative system for this reason, but refuse to do so due to public perception and fear of declining sales. It’s disheartening to see companies can “comply” with this new regulation just by changing the verbiage on the product packaging and continue to shake the finger at these approved ingredients. This only furthers the problem in my eyes.

1 year ago

I wrote a blog about this a few months ago. I’m so glad to see that the EU enacted these regs as I am tired of the phony haloes which companies push with their stupid “Free From” claims. My favorite one is “Gluten Free”. These “Free From” claims have become ridiculous. Instead of concentrating on what their products are “Free From” why don’t they say what their products DO contain?

Ann K Leonardt
1 year ago

I prefer, as a creator & as a consumer, to inform & be informed as to what IS in a product, not what is NOT in a product.

1 year ago

Thank you for the insight. I have heard this before, and you give a good explanation as to why and the ramifications. My wording will be changed.

Christina R
3 months ago

Very good info!

3 months ago

By putting “no added” , it seems to indicate that the chemical is in there . I am in the U.S. and the paraben/phthalate issue is a big one. I feel that changing the wording will make it seem that there are some but I did not add any. So frustrating.