FTC goes after "natural" personal care products containing "synthetic" ingredients

FTC goes after "natural" personal care products containing "synthetic" ingredients

What does "natural" mean? We know that it does not mean "healthy" or "safe." Then what, exactly, does it mean?

Apparently, to the Federal Trade Commission, it means "not synthetic." Recently, four companies that market skin care products, shampoos and sunscreens have agreed to settle FTC charges that they falsely claimed their products are "all natural" or "100% natural." The FTC issued a complaint against a fifth company making similar claims. The products aren't "natural," according to the FTC, because they contain synthetic ingredients.

"'All natural' or '100 percent natural' means just that – no artificial ingredients or chemicals," said an FTC spokesperson. I have to presume that the adjective "artificial" modifies "chemicals" as well as "ingredients." Otherwise, we'd think the Food Babe had taken a new job at the FTC.

The synthetic ingredients included dimethicone, ethyhexyl glycerin, phenoxyethanol, polyethylene, polyquaternium-37, phenoxyethonol and caprylyl glycol. I'm no chemist, but I couldn't find that any of these "synthetic" ingredients caused human health concerns when used as intended or that they are not effective as claimed.

Several of these products are legally classified as cosmetics by the FDA. There is no pre-market safety review of cosmetics by that or any other government agency. Manufacturers are responsible for insuring the safety of their products.

Oddly, the same presumption of safety applies to dietary supplements, which are, by definition, "natural" because they are classified as foods by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. If a dietary supplement ingredient was marketed before October of 1994, it is presumed to be safe. If not, the manufacturer must simply assure the FDA that the supplement is reasonably expected to be safe, which can be based on nothing more than historical use. This means that "natural" substances that carry some real health risks, such as DHEA, yohimbe and bitter orange are being marketed for "health" purposes.

Thus, by law, "synthetic" ingredients cannot be marketed as "natural" even though they are safe, but dietary supplements with serious adverse health effects can be marketed with the presumption of safety because they are "natural."

This dichotomy between "natural" and "synthetic" is a false one. "Natural" is as meaningless as "synthetic" when it comes to either product safety or efficacy. The only standard should be whether a product is safe and does what it says it will do. But the personal care product industry has sold the public on the myth that "natural" means "good" and "safe." They are simply lying in the confusing regulatory bed of their own making. If they were to sell their products on the basis that they are effective and safe, as opposed to "natural," they wouldn't have this problem in the first place.

Points of Interest 04/17/2016
Points of Interest 04/13/2016