This is part of the Labeling Basics series in which I am taking labeling back to its most fundamental parts, starting with the legal terms used and then going on to each requirement for soap and cosmetic labels.

When you start to learn about what it takes to legally label your soap and cosmetic products, you may not realize that within the laws and regulations there is a very specific definition of labeling. It’s not what you would expect it to be, and it’s not a definition you can get by looking in a regular dictionary. BUT, it’s a definition you MUST know in order to make sure you are complying with the laws and regulations.


1. (Common) The act of applying a label or information to an object.

2. (Common) The information placed on an object.

3. (Legal) All labels and other written, printed or graphic material on or accompanying a product in interstate commerce or held for sale1, 2


1. (Common) The act of applying a label or information to something

This is a common, dictionary definition of the action of physically or mentally applying a label.

Examples of use:

  • I am labeling the bins in my garage with brightly colored label stickers.
  • I kept track of my vegetable seeds by carefully labeling each packet.
  • Labeling children as “underachievers” can be detrimental to their self-esteem.

2. (Common) The actual information placed on an object.

Another common dictionary definition of a thing which contains information about something to which it is attached.

Examples of use:

  • The labeling on the boxes clearly showed the movers where to put them.
  • I was impressed by the organization of her garage because the labeling on the bins was so easy to see.
  • Putting warning labeling on plastic bags has probably saved children from suffocation.

3. (Legal) All labels and other written, printed or graphic material on or accompanying a product in interstate commerce3 or held for sale.

The label is what is actually on or attached to the product. The labeling includes the label itself, but also ALL the written, printed or graphic (pictures) information that goes WITH the product – whether it is attached or not.


  • Product labels
  • Inserts
  • Leaflets
  • Promotional literature
  • Retail signage
  • Articles or handouts provided to a customer
  • Brochures or materials included with products shipped
  • Website text and pictures
  • Information your website links TO

Signage at a craft show or farmers market

Text and pictures about the product on a website.

Brochure that accompanies the products for display or when sold.

Why is it important?

When the FDA (or any government agency) is looking at your product to determine if you are following the laws, they look at the labeling, not just the label.

In fact, what you say about your product in the labeling often determines which laws apply.

For example, if you say in the labeling that the product is for use by children, then there may be child safety laws that apply. If you say that the product is edible, then food laws will apply.

If you are aware of the extent and content of your product labeling, you will be better prepared to ensure that your product stays legal.

References   [ + ]

1. Sec. 201(m), Food Drug and Cosmetic Act
2. 21 CFR 1.3(a)
3. Interstate commerce: sale of products across state lines


  1. Thank you, Marie! You keep us informed about the most important things. Details are often annoying to deal with but, we don’t realize how often we read labels in our daily lives.

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