What is LABELING

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.

LABELING

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

Discussion

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.

Examples:

  • 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

Comments

  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.

  2. I have noticed a recent trend for “naked” bars (no packaging) for soap, shampoo/conditioner bars, lotion bars, etc. While I love how eco-friendly this is, and would love to follow suit, isn’t this is a violation of labeling requirements? Or by selling products online, does the website text stating all the labeling requirements take the place of a physical label attached to the product/container?

    1. Author

      There are a couple of factors involved in naked soaps.

      First, the FDA doesn’t ahve any regulations specifically about naked soap. The LAW is that when a product is sold to a consumer they must be able to make a judgement of the value of the product – which includes the net contents (so they know how much they are getting), the identity of the product (what it is), the ingredients (if applicable to the type of product) and the business name and address of the person/company that made it. Normally that’s what goes on the label.

      If the product is sold naked in a store or retail setting, there is normally some sort of signage that gives the price, and the net weight. For soap that is exempt from the definition of a cosmetic (which most of the naked soaps are), then the ingredients aren’t required. Usually there is somewhere where the maker is noted.

      For product sold mail order (and ONLY mail order) there are some other options – but you still have to provide that information not only on the website, but in some materials or paperwork that goes with the product when it is sold.

      The bottom line is that the consumer needs to be informed – before they purchase. And they need to know who to contact if there is something the matter with the product. If you’re selling naked soap, just make sure at least those bases are covered.

      1. I’m actually starting to think that, since soap labeling became the jurisdiction of the CPSC, are weight, ingredients, and business name even necessary?

        Per the soap section on the CPSC, there are no labeling requirements. I can’t tell if they mean, just no ingredient labeling requirements,but the other requirements(weight, business info) are still true. The way the website is worded, it seems there are no requirements at all (beyond the hazardous section)
        https://www.cpsc.gov/Soap

        What do you think?

      2. Author

        The CPSC governs the safety of products … and they have no special labeling requirements for soap.

        Fair Packaging and Labeling Law covers ALL products for consumer use. The FTC enforces the FPLA for all products EXCEPT food, drugs, cosmetics and tobacco products, which fall under the FDA.

        The labeling requirements for all consumer products, including soap that is exempt from the definition of a cosmetic, include: identity of the product, net contents and the business name and address. (Ingredients are not required.)

  3. Very informative blog that I’m glad I stumbled onto before I started marketing my soap. Even purchased your book! Are there any laws regarding soap made for horses that you are aware of? Could I make a shampoo bar geared towards equine use and sell it along side my “human” soap? Or would I have to stick to my regular soap recipe for horses as well.

    1. Author

      Soap for horses isn’t regulated by the FDA … unless there is anything stated on the packagelabel or in the labeling that the product MAY be used by people.

      The requirements for general packaging still apply – net weight, name of the product and the business name and address.

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