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Legislation Introduced to Define the Term ‘Natural’ for Personal Care Products

Last month, Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) and Grace Meng (NY-6) introduced the Natural Cosmetics Act that would define the term “natural” as it relates to personal care products and give the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to enforce the new requirements. 

Key Provisions in the Natural Cosmetics Act

If enacted, the law would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) to require cosmetic products labeled as “natural” to contain at least 70 percent natural substances, (excluding water and salt) and be made without certain manufacturing processes like ionizing radiation and ethylene oxide treatment. For a cosmetic ingredient to be considered “natural” the law would require that it be “naturally occurring” and either (i) unprocessed, (ii) processed “only by manual, mechanical, naturally derived solvent or gravitational means, by dissolution in water or steam, by flotation, or by heating solely to remove water”; or (iii) “extracted from air by any means.” A cosmetic that is labeled as “natural,” but that fails to meet these standards, would be deemed “misbranded” under the FDCA.

The Natural Cosmetics Act would impose new recordkeeping requirements on manufacturers and distributors of natural cosmetics. It would also require ingredient suppliers to conduct Carbon-14 testing and to share those test results with the manufacturer of the finished cosmetic product. FDA would also be given some new authorities to enforce the law’s requirements. Specifically, the FDA would be able to issue so-called cease distribution orders and to request (but not require) the recall of misbranded “natural” cosmetics.

The Current State of Natural Claims

Neither the FDA nor the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have formally defined the term “natural.”

FDA has a long-standing informal policy defining “natural” as it applies to foods and dietary supplements. And although the agency has considered initiating notice-and-comment rulemaking to establish a legal definition of “natural” (most recently in 2014 in response to numerous citizen petitions and requests from Federal courts), it has yet to do so.

Likewise, the FTC has not defined the term “natural,” and has instead focused on evaluating claims on a case-by-case basis. In 2016, FTC challenged several companies for marketing skincare products, shampoos, and sunscreens as “all-natural” or “100% natural” even though they contained synthetic ingredients. However, these actions did not articulate FTC’s expectations for “regular” natural claims. 

How the Natural Cosmetics Act Would Impact the Personal Care Products Industry

The most notable impact that the new legislation could have on the personal care products industry is reducing the risk of costly false-advertising lawsuits.

Because consumers and industry stakeholders differ in their perceptions of what it means for a cosmetic to be “natural,” the absence of a formal legal definition poses a risk of any “natural” claim being challenged as misleading. Indeed, for many years, “natural” claims have been one of the most popular targets in false-advertising litigation. By formally defining the term “natural,” the Natural Cosmetics Act could help prevent potential future lawsuits over the use of the term in the personal care products industry.

The Natural Cosmetics Act is currently awaiting further consideration in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

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