Using an Ingredient Name in a Product Name

2014-03-14-choose-cosmeticOver the years, one small section in my book, Soap and Cosmetic Labeling, has probably generated the most question and online discussion than any other.  That section covers “Using an Ingredient in the Name” and discusses the FDA regulations that prohibit the use of the name of one ingredient in the name of the product (if it has two or more ingredients).

What about “Goat Milk Soap” or “Oatmeal Soap” or “Luxe Lotion with Shea Butter”? On the one hand, those product names seem reasonable.  But first, let’s take a look at why the regulation might be there in the first place.

A Little History

The Food Drug and Cosmetic Act was signed by President Roosevelt on June 25, 1938.  It was the result of a long process to update the earlier law, passed in 1906.  There were a lot of factors that went into the formulation of the 1938 bill, including broad publication of hundreds of deaths resulting from unsafe products, loopholes in the earlier law and massive changes in the way food, drugs and cosmetics were developed and marketed.

“Fruit Jam” consisting of water, sugar, grass seeds and red dye probably didn’t cause any deaths, but it was just one more example of false claims and deceptive marketing.  That one example (or others like it) may be what ultimately developed into the clause we now have in cosmetic regulation (21CFR:701.1(b)):

The labeling of a cosmetic which contains two or more ingredients may be misleading by reason (among other reasons) of the designation of such cosmetic in such labeling by a name which includes or suggests the name of one or more but not all such ingredients, even though the names of all such ingredients are stated elsewhere in the labeling.

Intentional Deception

Not too long ago a friend of mine showed a pump bottle of “Shea Butter,” her new favorite cosmetic product. Since you can’t pump shea butter (it’s very solid at room temperature), I was intrigued. Reading the label, I saw that it was actually “Shea Butter LOTION” and the ingredient declaration showed that there was probably only 1 – 2% shea butter in the product.

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Clearly the product was misbranded and in violation of the regulations. Whoever packaged and sold that product was probably trying to deceive – and it worked. My friend knew about the benefits of shea butter and willingly shelled out $25 for a bottle of “Shea Butter” lotion because she expected to get shea butter. Did she get shea butter? Well, some, but probably not the quantity she was expecting for the price she paid.

What’s Included in the “Product Name”?

Obviously, the main statement of the brand or name of the product is the product name. “Luxe Lotion” or “Sally’s Super Soap” or “MyBrand Cream” are all product names.

But what about “MyBrand Gardener’s Helper Cream with Shea Butter”??  Well, I checked with the FDA to determine what they consider is part of the product name. Their response: “It depends on what the consumer considers is part of the product name.”  In other words, in the example, if “with Shea Butter” is placed in such a way that if looks or feels like part of the name, it probably IS part of the name.  On the other hand, if “with Shea Butter” is placed away from the main product name and in a size, color and/or font that clearly distinguishes it as separate from the name, then the consumer would likely consider it “additional information” – not part of the name itself.

Look at the two possibilities below. The one on the left clearly promotes “with Shea Butter” and it is in the same font and color as the name. I read the name of the product to be “Gardener’s Helper with Shea Butter”. Compared to the label on the right, I read the product name to be “Gardener’s Helper” and then there is additional information (not part of the name) is that it is a “deep moisturizing cream” “with Shea Butter!”.



The Final Take-Away

  1. Don’t include the name of an ingredient in the product name.
  2. If you promote one ingredient in the product, do it in a way that makes it a statement separate from the product name.

There is nothing wrong with including marketing information on your product label! There is nothing wrong with promoting that your product includes cool and trendy ingredients! Just use common sense and make sure that your consumer – like my friend with the “Shea Butter Lotion” – doesn’t misinterpret what you are saying about your product.


4 thoughts on “Using an Ingredient Name in a Product Name”

  1. I make lip balms with essential oils. I am taking this to mean I cannot call my product “Rosemary/Mint Lip Balm” to delineate a “flavor” or scent. Would you agree?

    1. As noted in the article, it’s using an ingredient name in the name of the product that causes the product to be misbranded. So the question is whether a “flavor” (or a “fragrance”, for that matter) is an “ingredient”. Honestly, it can get a little confusing and I don’t know what the final opinion of the FDA is. I think it would depend on all of the factors of a specific case, although using some common sense helps. Let’s take a look at the possibilities:

      In the case that a flavor or fragrance is made up of multiple (and undisclosed) ingredients that have nothing to do with the final flavor or scent, like, say, “Banana”. That’s an FO and doesn’t contain a single banana (at least, I don’t think it does). I have no idea WHAT makes the flavor. So to say it’s “Banana Lip Balm” wouldn’t actually be using the name of an ingredient in the name of the product (since there are no bananas in the ingredients) … but it does give the implication that there are (so that’s somewhat false and misleading, so not a good idea). In that case, maybe the best way would be to call it “Banana flavored lip balm”, or “MyBrand Lip Balm” with “banana flavor” somewhere nearby (so the consumer knows the flavor).

      In the case of an essential oil, where the flavor is, in fact, the ingredient … maybe the best way is to handle it the same as with an FO as in “MyBrand LipBalm” with “Rosemary Mint flavor”. That makes it very clear to the consumer what you’re talking about, which is really the bottom line.

  2. I have about four or so different recipes that I use. What differentiates them are their butters and oils, not a special use like “gardener’s soap”. I’m not sure how to rename them. What about 100% coconut oil soap? Do the other ingredients offset that too? Can I call a salt bar a salt bar or is that misbranding as well?

    1. The issue of using an ingredient name in a product name or identity can get a little bit tricky. I probably need to update the post to clarify.

      In general, you shouldn’t use an ingredient name in a product name or identity – it is against the regulations because it can easily confuse the consumer and make them think the product is something other than what it really is. If you say your soap is “100% coconut oil” it implies that coconut is the only ingredient … which isn’t actually true. Someone who doesn’t understand that there chemistry (and other ingredients) are involved in making soap could – possibly – think it’s the SAME as “100% coconut oil” that you use to cook with. That would be a big mistake!

      You CAN put information material on the front (or back or sides) of the product that gives more information to the consumer. I’m a soapmaker and I would like to know what oils are used in making the soap I’m buying. So saying on the front of the package that the only oil coconut is used in the soap would be important to me. BUT, it should be done in a way that doesn’t imply that it is that name or identity of the product.

      A “salt bar” is similar. We know what a “salt bar” is, but a general consumer might think that it’s all or mostly SALT (as opposed to being nearly all SOAP). Some other way to describe the soap bar without using the term “salt” in the identity might be more approrpiate. “Contains salt for scrubbing” or “with organic sea salt for exfoliation” might work — or whatever communicates to the consumer the actual reason/use for salt in the bar without making it part of the name or identity of the product.

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