If you’re a small business making soaps and detergents, you can get into big trouble with regulatory agencies for paying insufficient attention to the labels on your products. Federal regulations require soaps and detergents to list some or all of their ingredients, particularly if the marketing makes any mention of cosmetic or health benefits. Products often meet the guidelines for both of those categories, which means that labels must meet the labeling requirements for each.
A true “soap,” consisting of fats and an alkali, falls under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If fats and an alkali (such as vegetable oil and lye) along with water constitute your product's ingredients and the elements responsible for their cleansing properties, and if you make no other claims for your soaps and detergents than advertising their cleansing properties, they do not require ingredient labeling. However, most “soaps” and other body cleansers sold today are synthetic products that come under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Soaps and detergents making health-related claims -- such as being antibacterial, antiperspirant or acne-fighting -- are placed into the “drug” category by the FDA. This means that the product must list all active ingredients as well as the intended use and any appropriate warnings. It also must meet FDA safety and effectiveness requirements. If you’re making a soap with acne-fighting properties, for example, your label needs to list its active ingredients. You can also expect that the FDA will be interested in knowing how you prove that claim you make on the label.
Per FDA regulations, any soap or detergent that advertises a cosmetic claim must list all ingredients on the label. Cosmetic claims can include the ability of the soap or detergent to cleanse, beautify, promote attractiveness or alter appearance. Among the common items falling into this category include moisturizers and cleansing shampoos. Both cosmetic and drug labels must also include the name of the product, the size, weight or quantity of the contents and, usually, the name and place of business. The list of ingredients must be conspicuous enough to be easily noticed at the time of purchase.
Soaps and detergents can and often do fall under both the drug and cosmetic requirements, which means they must follow both sets of guidelines in their labeling. For example, a cleansing shampoo that cures dandruff or a moisturizing soap with sun-protection properties make both cosmetic and drug-related claims. When determining categories, FDA looks at claims stated on the label or on other advertising and marketing materials, consumer perception and even the presence of a particular ingredient. Listing the ingredients on soap and detergent labels has a greater importance than simple legal requirements. Customers with sensitivities or allergies to certain fragrances or colors may be impacted if an ingredient is not noted on the label.
One issue for some small business manufacturers is the requirement that a physical street address be shown on the label, unless the address is included in a city directory or telephone directory, to comply with the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. Since fewer city directories are published, and since telephone books usually only include landlines and may or may not include a street address, some with home-based soap-crafting businesses find themselves having to list their home address on their business products. Some have petitioned the FDA to alter the rules to allow P.O. boxes to be used instead.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Soap: What It Is and How It Is Regulated
- American Cleaning Institute: Soap & Detergents: Human Safety
- Regulations.gov: Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild Inc. -- Citizen Petition
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Is It a Cosmetic, a Drug, or Both? (Or Is It Soap?)
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Cosmetic Labeling Manual
- Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetics Guild: Soap Ingredients
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images