Myth: Soap Labels Aren’t Regulated

2015-05-30-soap

One of the myths that I still frequently hear is that “I can put whatever I want on my soap labels because they aren’t regulated.”  I believe that particular myth got started because of the “soap exemption” in the FDA’s definition of “cosmetic”:

A product, except soap, intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness or altering the appearance. 1

Right – soap can be exempted from the definition of a cosmetic (and thus the labeling regulations for cosmetics). But there are still other regulations that apply to the labeling of soap.

Fair Packaging and Labeling Act

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act was passed in the late 1960s. The first paragrah (Section 1451) is the “Congressional declaration of policy” which states:

Informed consumers are essential to the fair and efficient functioning of a free market economy. Packages and their labels should enable consumers to obtain accurate inforamtion as to the quantity of contents and should facilitate value comaprisons.

The law is very specific about the fact that it is addressing the issue of labeling products,  including soap.:

Unfair and deceptive packaging and labeling; scope of prohibition.

(a) Nonconforming labels.  It shall be unlawful for any person engaged in the packaging or labeling of any consumer commodity … to distribute … any such commodity if such commodity is contained in a package, or if there is affixed to that commodity a label, which does not conform to the provisions of this chapter and of regulations promulgated under the authority of this chapter.

The Labeling LAW

The FPLA, which is the law itself, is specific about what has to go on the label.  It includes:

  1. The identity of the commodity;2
  2. The name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer or distributor;3
  3. The net quantity of contents, separately and accurately stated, for liquid products in fluid ounces, and for solid products in ounces by weight.4  5

This labeling law applies to all consumer commodities, including soap and cosmetics.

The difference between soap and cosmetics is that the FDA was given authority to create regulations for cosmetics (as well as foods, drugs, and devices), and the FTC was given authority to create regulations for other products (including soap).

The Labeling REGULATIONS

For consumer commodities generally (including soap), the FTC created regulations (Title 16, Commercial Practices, Part 500, Sections 500.1 to 500.29) which specifically detail what must go on the label of every product (including soap).  These regulations go into greater detail and specificity on how each of the three items required by law must be actually done.

These regulations include things like where the information must be placed, how to calculate the correct text size, when the street address may be omitted from the label, acceptable methods to identify the product, etc.

The regulations require that the net contents are presented in both inch/pound (i.e. ounces and fluid ounces) and in metric (i.e. grams, milliliters).

State Regulations

In order to keep things coordinated throughout the United States, most states have adopted some form the Uniform Product Labeling Regulations, which are suggested state-level regulations dealing with product labeling.  They are essentially the same as the federal-level regulations created by the FTC.

If you’re making soap (exempt from the definition of a cosmetic) you are subject to not only the federal laws and regulations, but also the state-level laws and regulations.  If you’re labels do not comply, you are subject to enforcement at both the state and federal level (depending on who catches you).

And more regulations …

In addition to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, there are other regulations that apply to soap:

  • Required reporting to the Consumer Product Safety Commission of any unsafe product (i.e. if you were sued over a soap being harmful in some way).
  • Certification of scales used to weigh products for commercial sale (generally at a state level; often under the Department of Agriculture).
  • Laws and regulations at both the state and federal level covering contests, sweepstakes, and lotteries (if you’re offering free give-aways, for example).
  • Fair and non-deceptive advertising laws and regulations.
  • Green or environmental claims about your product or packaging.
  • Identification of organic ingredients or products.
  • “Made in the USA” claims, which must meet very specific requirements.

Just a Myth

In the end, like unicorns and fairies, it is just a myth that soap is exempt from labeling regulations.

References   [ + ]

1. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, 21 USC 321(i)
2, 3. 15 USC 1453(a)(1)
4. 15 USC 1453(a)(2)
5. There are also quite a few other specifications about net contents and how they should be presented.

Comments

  1. We are a charity that trains women in Laos to make soap. We are considering exporting their products in the near future. Do you have any links or resources about other countries labeling requirements?
    This blog was very helpful….

    Mac

    1. Author

      Regulations vary by country, but generally the requirements for the identity of the product (“soap”), name and address of the manufacturer and the net contents are universally required in any country that has regulations at all.

  2. Thank you for clarifying this. I still get told that an address is not needed on the label now. People don’t seem to understand the definition of Street address. I take it to mean that you still MUST list City, State and Zip Code no matter what. Am I correct? There is a lot of confusion on this for some reason.
    Thank you Marie!

    1. Author

      Yes, you’ve got it. City, state and zip MUST be included (along with the business name) — no matter what. The street address may be omitted for COSMETICS if the street address is listed in a current online or print phone directory; and for SOAPS the current regulations say “current phone or city directory” but are likely to change to be more lenient and allow online listings in the near future (the rule is under revision).

    1. Author

      Generally, most states have a Weights and Measures law which governs the scales used to determine the weight of products that are sold commercially. That’s why you see those little “This scale is certified” stickers on gas pumps or grocery store scales for produce or deli.

      If you’re packaging a product and say it is “4 oz.”, generally any laws in place will required that the “4 oz” is determined on a scale that has been certified to be correct.

      I only know of one case where the scale-police actually contacted someone — that was in California, and after she purchased an expensive, obviously commercial, scale. It was a county inspector who contacted her and came and checked her scale, products and wholesale packaging.

      But I do know for sure there are laws in place in other states as well.

      1. After reading this in your book, I asked my lawyer if I needed to have a certified scale in Iowa. He said he didn’t know. So I contacted the weights and measures department in our state. They put me in contact with our county inspector. He was surprised that I knew about this law, and it was indeed correct, and hardly any lawyers, according to him, even know about it. He asked where I would be selling in town, and I have a feeling he will eventually stop by. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. is there some clear cut guidelines about what information goes on private label or wholesale soap. i have been searching for days ( i have your book ) but i would really luv an example to show to a difficult but lucrative client. we have been going round and round about whether or not Made for: her info/address etc, by my biz name and address is the correct way or not. she feels if my info is on there, her clients will go straight to me for product, i however think that if their is a problem with the soap for some reason and they can’t get ahold of her, that they would me next. please help

    1. Author

      The regulations say that it needs to be the name and place of business of the “manufactuerer, packer or distributor” and that:

      (c) Where the cosmetic is not manufactured by the person whose name appears on the label, the name shall
      be qualified by a phrase that reveals the connection such person has with such cosmetic; such as,
      “Manufactured for _______”, “Distributed by ________”, or any other wording that expresses the facts.

      So it is perfectly acceptable to put the distributors name and address on the label.

      That’s generally the difference between WHOLESALE and PRIVATE LABEL. For wholesale (say to a gift shop or grocery store) the outlet buys in bulk and receives a wholesale discount. They just sell the product and don’t have any involvement in it. In that case, the manufacturer’s name is on the product. For private label, the company is buying a product that they will sell, under their own name. They might sell it wholesale or retail, but they are the ones who are putting it into the distribution chain. In that case, the private label company name is generally on the label as “distributed by __” or “manufactured for ___”.

      For some examples, go down the shampoo or lotion aisle in a large store and you’ll see that a lot of the products there are actually private label (in that they get someone else to make the products which they sell).

  4. I have just finished one Soft Soap refill bottle and started another. The old one was 56 oz and the new one is 50 oz. BOTH are labeled 800+ dispenses. Obviously something is wrong. The 56 oz has 12% more liquid. Obviously they shrunk the bottle instead of raising the price. Which regulatory agency can I report this to? Thank you.

    1. Author

      If the net quantity is correctly stated, there isn’t anything to report. The “800+” dispenses may be true for both 56 and 50 ounces. It could also be that the pump being used dispenses a smaller amount with each pump … so you get the same number of pumps for the 50 ounce bottle, just a smaller amount in each pump.

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