What’s in a Name?

Posted in: Soap & Cosmetic Labeling

sample-labelOnce again we’re discussing ingredient names, but this time in the name or identity of the product, not in the ingredient declaration.

It can get a little tricky because there are different regulations for cosmetics and for soap that is exempt from the definition of a cosmetic.  See Intended Use – Know Before You Go and Melt & Pour Soap: Soap or Cosmetic? for more info about the differences.

Fair Packaging and Labeling Act

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act is the law that was passed by Congress (1968) that sets the standards for product labeling. The intent of the FPLA is to provide consumers with necessary information to make value comparisons and to stop deceptive labeling practices.

The FPLA provides the authority for the detailed regulations that we have to comply with. For food, drugs and cosmetics, the regulations were written by, and are enforced by, the Food and Drug Administration. For other products, including soap that is exempt from the definition of a cosmetic, the regulations were written by, and are enforced by, the Federal Trade Commission.

The FPLA does not contain any provisions covering using the name of an  ingredient in the name or identity of a product, but it was apparently of sufficient concern that both the FDA and the FTC included provisions covering it (although they are different).

Name vs Identity

There are two parts to the label which can be confused:

Name

The name of the product is the trade name or brand name or the unique name that you have given to your product to make it stand out from other products. The name might be trademarked so others can’t use it.  Examples: “Regenerist” or “Tide Clear and Simple” or “Simply Green” (brands or names, depending on use).

The name is not required on the product label.

Identity

The identity of the product is what it is, or what it is intended to do.  It is usually a generic description using common words; it might be a picture or illustration.  The identity is too general to be trademarked.  Examples: soap, lotion, cream, scrub, etc.

Using an Ingredient Name

The regulations covering using an ingredient name in the name or identity of a product are different for soaps and cosmetics.  Hence the tendency for confusion.

Cosmetics

Labeling regulations covering the product name and identity for cosmetics (including soap as a cosmetic) are handled by the FDA.

Cosmetic: Product Name

A cosmetic can be misbranded by having the name of one (or more) but not all ingredients in the name of the product.

In other words, if you make a lotion that contains water, various oils, emulsifiers, honey, fragrance and preservative, you can’t NAME the product “Honey Heaven” because that would be putting the name of an ingredient in the name of the product.

Consider the ramifications – if you put only one ingredient name in the name of the product, the consumer could reasonably consider that it is the ONLY ingredient in the product (or at least that it is primarily that ingredient).

As a example, my daughter came to me touting the benefits of shea butter, based on a lotion named “Shea Butter.” When I gave her some actual, pure, 100% shea butter, she didn’t like it (“too greasy”). Needless to say, when I looked at the ingredients of her lotion I found it contained many more things that just shea butter… in fact, shea butter was in the ingredient list below the fragrance!

Putting the name of an ingredient in the name of a cosmetic product is likely to confuse the consumer, and could be easily be considered deceptive or misleading.  Hence you can’t do it.

Cosmetic: Product Identity

There are no regulations for cosmetics covering the use of an ingredient name in the identity of a cosmetic product.

However, the regulations covering deceptive or misleading practices still apply, so if the presentation is done in a way that could confuse the consumer it is still in non-compliance.

Soap (Not a Cosmetic)

When soap is exempt from the definition of a cosmetic, it’s covered by the FTC regulations, which are different than those by the FDA.

Soap: Product Name

The FTC regulations don’t cover using the name of an ingredient in the product name. However, once again the aspects of “deceptive” or “misleading” come into play, so care should be taken when creating a name for your soap.

Soap: Product Identity

Ingredients or components which are not present in the commodity in a substantial or significantly effective amount may not be mentioned in the statement of identity.

The regulations do not specify what “substantial” or “significantly effective” amounts are.

The principle is very much like that of cosmetic product names – if you put an ingredient name in the identity, you are implying that the ingredient is important and provides some benefit.  Consider a “shea butter soap” … is there actually a substantial or significantly effective amount of shea butter?  If not, then you are at risk of misleading or deceiving your consumer.

Scent or Additive Names

Many of us have used the name of the scent to describe the product (either as the name or the identity, or both). While it seems a good idea, this too can lead to confusion if the scent name sounds like an ingredient.  It can get tricky.

A soap that is scented with Oatmeal, Milk and Honey fragrance oil may not have any oatmeal or milk or honey in it at all.  To identify it as “Oatmeal, Milk and Honey Soap” could be misleading to the consumer, especially when you compare it with a soap that does contain oatmeal, milk and honey (which might be more valuable to the consumer).

That said, there is nothing whatever wrong with putting marketing text on your label – on the front panel or anywhere in the informational panel.  So long as it is truthful and doesn’t violate any other regulations, it’s fine.  In fact, marketing text is a GOOD idea, because it helps to explain to the consumer what the product is, what it’s for and why YOURS is the best one out of all the possible choices.

Instead of naming or identifying the soap or cosmetic by the scent name, it might be a better practice overall to place additional marketing text on the label – that is clearly NOT part of the name or identity – that tells the consumer the scent of the product.

This also holds true for additives.  A “French Green Clay Soap” might be better explained on the label as “Soap” (or “handmade soap” or your brand name) “with French Green Clay” or “contains French Green Clay.”  Again, presented in a way that is clearly NOT part of the name or identity of the product.

Enforcement Realities

Now that you’ve read all this, you’re probably saying, “Yeah, but I see ingredient names in the product name or identity all the time!”  That’s true.

It doesn’t make it right, but you will see it a lot.  You’ll also see places where the text, font and colors are used in a way to ensure that the ingredient or scent name is (just barely) marketing text … or at least a good enough argument could be made that no one is going to push the point.

What with recent recalls of over 500 products because of a listeria outbreak in frozen vegetables  and a multistate E. coli outbreak linked to flour, not to mention more significant label or safety violations for cosmetic products, it’s unlikely that the FDA agents are going to be perusing the aisles looking for ingredient names in the name of a product.  State agencies probably also have much bigger fish to fry.

But just because others have gotten away with it and you might get away with it too, it doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea.

Best case scenario is that your bad labeling becomes another small, silent nail in the coffin that contains our current cosmetic freedoms, buried by new regulations that require labels to be approved in advance (like many other countries require).

Worst case scenario is that you actually do come to the attention of the FDA, FTC or state inspectors and not only your label, but your whole facility and manufacturing practices, come under detailed scrutiny.

Summary

It’s not hard to modify a label to make it compliant and it’s certainly much easier than the potential alternative to you, your business, and the industry in general.

So, take a moment, make sure your label is compliant and that you haven’t accidentally misled your customers by incorrectly implying what makes up your product.




14 Comments on “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Melissa

    Thank you. We are mindful in our labeling and try our best to be compliant. It is always good to refresh with good articles like this one. Melissa – Space City Soaps.

  2. Vee Myrick

    So I will need to rename my triple tallow bars because all that is in them is beef, mutton and pork tallows, water and NaOH? The guys like my triple tallow and beer bars and for those I switch beer for water. I don’t add anything in the way of colors, herbs, or fo/eo to them. If I have scented them, I use Triple Tallow and Beer Soap: Scented with xxx. Sometimes I will add Honey and Apple Cider vinegar and call the Sweet and Sour Triple Tallow and Beer Soap.

    1. Marie Gale

      You might want to reconsider the name. Maybe using something like “YourBrand handcrafted soap” and then put “with triple tallow and beer” as informational material on the front of the bar … just making sure that it is done in a way that it is not part of the name or identitiy (which would be YourBrand handcrafted soap).

  3. Jen

    I want to make sure I have this right so I can label correctly. If your making soap like Oatmeal, Milk and Honey you should name it something like : MyBrand/Morning Comfort Soap/Net Weight.
    By calling it Morning Comfort, it doesn’t lead consumers to believe there is any oatmeal, milk or honey in the soap if all you’re using is a FO to scent it.
    If you do add oatmeal, honey and milk in addition to a FO, could you than label it Oatmeal, Milk and Honey Soap on the front label?

    1. Marie Gale

      You have it right … except that if you do add oatmeal, milk and honey you should say that they are IN the product (i.e. “contains oatmeal, milk and honey” or “made with real oatmeal, milk and honey” (or something similar) and do it in a way that it is MARKETING TEXT, not part of the name or identity of the product.

  4. Tonya

    If I am amking lip balm and want to put my brand name and a name for the scent or flavor how would that translate? For example if I want to make a pineapple flavor balm and call it Aloha Pineapple lip balm can I do that? Or just make a balm that says simple strawberry lip bam. If it actually has pineapple or strawberry flavor oil or extract then that would be ok? If its just pinapple scent then I would have to put pineapple scented balm?

    1. Marie Gale

      A cosmetic product (including a lip balm) cannot have the NAME of an ingredient in the name of the product. Best practice would be to name the product without the flavor, and identify it as “lip balm” without naming the flavor, and then state on the label that it is “pinapple flavor”. That eliminates any possibility of someone claiming that it is named with an ingredient name or that you have falsely stated that it has pineapple in it when it is just a synthetic flavor oil.

  5. Deb

    I am going to be making and selling soap, bath bombs, sugar scrubs and bath melts at a Farmer’s market. I buy melt and pour base and soap colorants from a soapmaking supply store. Because it’s a farmer’s market I need to use products I grow and I will be growing lavender, mint, lemon balm and chamomile to use as dried herbs or infused oils with these herbs in these products.
    Can dried herbs and/or infused oils be used in these products?

    What are the rules for use of essential oils?

    Do I need to list the ingredients on my label for scrubs, melts and bombs. I.e. the bath bombs label I think should be read baking soda, citric acid, lavender and lavender essential oil.

    So, from reading above, I should not name my products with the ingredient, I.e. Lavender Sugar Scrubs, but name the product something else and say “with lavender or lavender essential oil”.

    1. Marie Gale

      As far as putting dried herbs or botanicals into MP soap base, you need to research and test to make sure that they won’t go moldy or bad in the soap over time. Preservation is always an issue when you have plant-based material and water together. Safety of your products should be a primary consideration.

      There are no (well, very few) regulations concerning essential oils. However, some essential oils so have safety issues — again, become educated on the use of essential oils for safety and also how they interact with the particular soap base(s) you are using. There are limits in both cases. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has a Standards Booklet which details the acceptable usage levels of many (most) fragrance materials and essential oils.

      You do need to list all the ingredients in your cosmetic products. If your soap base is detergent-based, then you must list the ingredients for it as well.

  6. Migdalia Quiñones

    I’m starting to do M&P soaps. I write the fragrance on the front of the label and on the back I write the different oils I use. Is that correct or do I have to write something else?

    1. Marie Gale

      If you are putting the name of the fragrance on the soap (which is a good idea for marketing), just ensure that you are clear that you are naming the SCENT. For example, if the scent is “Oatmeal, Milk and Honey” or “Watermelon” be clear that it’s the SCENT, and con’t imply that the soap contains oatmeal, milk or honey, or watermelon.

      On the back, you need and ingredient declaration which includes ALL the ingredients in the MP soap, any oils or additives that you have put in the soap, plus “fragrance” to define the scent.

      You also need your business name and address on the label — if you don’t have a business name that would be your personal name. The address must include your street address if your address is not listed in a print or online phone or city directory.

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