Beauty copywriting tips: “free from” claims

Should “free from” claims be used in beauty communication?

Many beauty brands make ingredient “free from” claims in their beauty copywriting to differentiate their products from others in the market. But with so many brands taking this approach and generally adding to consumer confusion, is this style of beauty communication becoming outdated?

Making “free from” claims in beauty copywriting

There is always a huge amount of chatter about product safety and malevolence in the beauty industry. For as many arguments there are about safety concerns, there is an equal amount of scientific evidence debunking them or explaining the safety protocols that are put in place.

Because of this, “free from” claims have become a way for brands to communicate their position in the market (such as ‘clean’ and ‘natural’ versus ‘clinical’ and ‘scientific’). It tells a consumer that the brand deliberately doesn’t use certain ingredients, generally with some allusion to safety concerns.

But this exclusionary approach is risky because it places a lot of emphasis on assumed knowledge – that is, what you think someone already knows. It assumes that a potential customer shares your concerns about certain ingredients. But what if they don’t agree with you? Or they don’t understand why your formulation is free from one ingredient or another? We all know what to assume makes of you and me.

If a brand does make “free from” claims, they should be backing up these claims with credible, unbiased, and appropriate sources. Otherwise, making blanket statements about ingredients and safety without any context or supporting evidence can be misleading to the consumer. A brand founder or formulator personally might not like using certain ingredients, which is absolutely fine. However, they shouldn’t be expecting others to avoid such ingredients without a fair and factual explanation of why.

Reducing “free from” claims in the market

On July 1 2019, France banned the use of “free from” for beauty products marketed after that date. This is based on recommendations from the European Commission (the technical document can be downloaded from here), which aims to guide consumers to make well-informed decisions about beauty products.

The document uses corticosteroids as an example. Brands can’t say “free from corticosteroids” because the ingredient is banned for use in cosmetics by EU legislation, and shouldn’t be in any beauty formulation anyway. Next.

Brands can’t say “free from allergenic/sensitising substances” because that cannot be guaranteed – people can experience unusual allergies. Next.

Brands can’t say “free from XYZ” simply because they don’t think it is safe to use. The document sums it up nicely:

“Free from” claims or claims with similar meaning should not be allowed when they imply a denigrating message, notably when they are mainly based on a presumed negative perception on the safety of the ingredient (or group of ingredients).”

Interestingly, many brands that make “free from” claims link their ingredient philosophy to the lengthy list of ingredients banned for cosmetic use in the European Union (1680 ingredients, as of publishing this blog). Like the example of corticosteroids, many of the ingredients on this list would not ever be used in cosmetics anyway, making this move a bit redundant. Hello – the list even includes rocket fuel, which no brand is sneaking into a product!

Beauty copywriter recommendation

Instead of focusing on what your brand doesn’t have in its products, it can be far more impactful and reflective of current trends to flaunt the fantastic ingredients you do use, and how they’re beneficial. Isn’t focusing on the positives a good outlook for life anyway?

Amy Hadley

Amy Hadley is a beauty copywriter with a background in print journalism, digital media, public relations, and eCommerce. As someone contributing to the beauty industry, she encourages her clients to use words creatively, sincerely, and responsibly. This is to promote more honest and thoughtful communication in the beauty industry, and better serve its consumers.

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