ChatGPT, the AI chatbot that can answer all sorts of questions in a human friendly way, is all over the internet. But can it be used for labeling advice? Is it reliable?
A recent paper published by OpenAI – the developer of ChatGPT – discussed the various drawbacks of ChatGPT and what is being done to mitigate the downsides. Besides issues with the possibility of harmful content of all types, disinformation, hate speech, cybersecurity and privacy (to name a few) …. there’s also the potential of hallucinations. Say, what?
Yep, ChatGPT can hallucinate. As in, “make stuff up!” And, according to the report, it has a tendency to do so.
For example, not too long ago there was a lawsuit in which one of the attorneys submitted papers to the court that cited non-existent cases as if they were real. Turned out that the paper was written by ChatGPT, which made up cases to support the submission to the court. Made them up – with complete bogus citations and everything!
What about labeling advice?
I thought it would be interesting to see if ChatGPT gave reliable information about labeling — or if the details would be based on false information… or just hallucinated.
What I found was that the information was mostly right, but wrong in some pretty outstanding ways.
Examples from ChatGPT
Note: I have only included the paragraphs provided by ChatGPT that contain incorrect information.
I asked: Can I include colors in cosmetic products?
ChatGPT answered: Clearly indicate the presence of colorants on your product label. You can use the INCI name of the colorant or simply mention “may contain” followed by the colorant name. For example, “May contain: CI 77491 (Iron Oxides)”.
The Issue: You can’t “simply mention” that the product “may contain” the colorant name. Using the phrase “may contain” is ONLY allowed when a color additive is used sometimes for color matching purposes.
I asked: Does soap require an ingredient declaration?
ChatGPT answered: According to the FDA, traditional soap is defined as a product composed mainly of alkali salts of fatty acids (i.e., the combination of fats or oils with an alkali, such as sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide) and does not contain synthetic detergents or additional cosmetic ingredients that alter its composition.
However, it’s important to note that if your handcrafted soap contains ingredients other than the traditional soap components (such as added fragrances, colorants, exfoliants, or moisturizing agents), it may be classified as a cosmetic, and therefore, the labeling requirements for cosmetics would apply. In that case, you would need to include an ingredient declaration on your product label.
The Issue: It’s correct that “traditional soap” (lye/oil based) that is only marketed as soap is exempt from the definition of a cosmetic and doesn’t need an ingredient declaration. It’s also true that a detergent-based soap is not exempt. However, adding ingredients does not make the product a cosmetic; you CAN add fragrance, color, exfoliants, moisturizing agents or other ingredients without making the soap into a cosmetic.
What makes the product a cosmetic is if the intended use is changed. As soon as you say that the intended use is anything more than cleansing (moisturizing, exfoliating, etc), THEN the soap becomes a cosmetic – and the soap requires an ingredient declaration. [Note that this is applicable to the United States only; in all other countries, soap is a cosmetic.]
I asked: When is soap a cosmetic?
ChatGPT answered: The distinction between soap and cosmetic is based on the intended use and the ingredients present in the product. Here are some key factors to consider:
- Additional Ingredients: If a soap contains ingredients beyond the basic soap components (alkali salts of fatty acids), such as fragrance oils, essential oils, botanical extracts, colors, or other cosmetic additives, it is typically classified as a cosmetic.
- Intended Use: If the soap is marketed and labeled with claims or indications that go beyond cleansing and basic skincare, such as anti-aging properties, moisturizing benefits, or therapeutic effects, it is more likely to be considered a cosmetic.
- Product Presentation: The form and presentation of the soap can also impact its classification. For example, if the soap is shaped, colored, or designed to resemble a specific object, animal, or character, it may be considered a cosmetic due to its aesthetic or decorative purpose.
The issue: Whether or not a soap is considered a cosmetic is NOT based on the additional ingredients in the soap. Nor is it based on how the product is shaped or colored or its aesthetic or decorative purpose (I think that paragraph is a hallucination for sure!).
It is only the INTENDED USE that determines whether the product is a cosmetic. If the soap is marketed with moisturizing benefits, for example, it is not “more likely” to be considered a cosmetic … it IS a cosmetic.
I asked: Can I say my soap reduces redness?
ChatGPT answered: In many jurisdictions, including the United States, cosmetic claims must be supported by scientific evidence and should not mislead consumers. Making a claim that a soap reduces redness would likely be considered a cosmetic claim, implying a specific effect on the skin.
The issue: The answer implies that cosmetic claims must be supported by scientific evidence (like a drug claim). Advertising must not be “false or misleading”, but there is no requirement that cosmetic claims be backed by scientific evidence. A claim that the soap reduces redness is NOT a cosmetic claim; it is a drug claim because it states the intended use is a physiological effect on the skin (altering the function or structure).
I asked: Is melt and pour soap exempt from the definition of a cosmetic?
ChatGPT answered: In the United States, melt and pour soap is considered a cosmetic product, subject to the regulations and labeling requirements for cosmetics. Melt and pour soap refers to a pre-made soap base that is melted down and customized with additional ingredients, such as fragrances, colorants, or exfoliants, before being poured into molds to create finished soap bars.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines cosmetics broadly and includes melt and pour soap in that definition.
The issue: The FDA does not automatically include MP in the definition of a cosmetic. What determines whether a soap may be exempted from the definition of a cosmetic is whether it is the alkali salt of fatty acids (lye/oil), not whether it is melt and pour. There are many melt and pour soaps on the market that do qualify as “traditional soap” and are not cosmetics.
It also doesn’t matter what additives are put into the MP soap. What does matter is whether the MP soap is detergent-based, or if there are claims that it will do anything more than clean.
I asked: Must cosmetic manufacturing follow GMP?
ChatGPT answered: In many countries, including the United States, cosmetic manufacturing is required to follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) regulations.
The issue: Most countries do have GMP regulations which cosmetic manufacturers must adhere to – but not in the United States. In the US, there are guidelines which are suggested, and following them is likely to ensure that the product is not adulterated. However, in the US the law and regulation is that the product cannot be adulterated … not that the manufacturer must follow specific GMP requirements.
As easy as it is to use ChatGPT, and as much as the answers LOOK good, be sure to check them against a reliable source. For labels and labeling, as well as other regulatory requirements, read the actual regulations, official government websites, or websites (such as this one, of course) which may make the information more understandable (in “plain English”) but which refers you back to the actual underlying laws and regulations.
As a personal aside
While I was researching using ChatGPT I also asked, “Who is Marie Gale?” to see what I would find out. I got a better bio from ChatGPT than I’ve been able to write on my own!
According to ChatGPT, I’m a “prominent figure”, “widely recognized for my expertise in cosmetic labeling,” “highly regarded in the soap and cosmetic making community,” and “an authoritative voice on cosmetic labeling and regulations”! Okay – so maybe ChatGPT doesn’t hallucinate ALL the time!