FTC Alleges “Your Baby Can Read!” Ads Deceptive And Files Suit

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed false advertising charges against the marketers of Your Baby Can Read! – a program that was widely touted in infomercials and on the Internet.  I remember the ads about the program, and also remembering wondering if I should be doing it for my kids just in case in actually worked . . . If you remember, the program uses videos, flash cards, and pop-up books that supposedly teach children as young as nine months old how to read.

The FTC’s press release indicates that the complaint charges Your Baby Can, LLC, its former CEO Hugh Penton Jr., and the product’s creator with false and deceptive advertising – namely that the program could teach your infant or toddler to read and that the program was supported with scientific studies .  Your Baby Can, LLC, and the former CEO have agreed to settle with the FTC.  The principal and product’s creator, Robert Titzer, Ph.D, has not settled, and he is also charged with  making deceptive expert endorsements.

The settlement is interesting – it prohibits the defendants from further use of the term “Your Baby Can Read.”  The settlement also imposes a $185 million judgment, which equals the company’s gross sales since January 2008.  However, since the company is in a dire financial situation, once Your Baby Can makes a payment of $500,000, the remainder of the judgment will be suspended. If it is later determined that the financial information the company gave the FTC was false, the full amount of the judgment will become due.  Also, the settlement order against Penton and Your Baby Can LLC prohibits them from misrepresenting the benefits, performance, or efficacy of any product or service for teaching reading or speech, or enhancing language ability, cognitive ability, school performance, or brain development.  They also are barred under the settlement from misrepresenting that scientific support exists for such assertions.

According to the complaint, the defendants sold the Your Baby Can Read! program to parents and grandparents of children aged three months to five years since at least January 2008, charging about $200 for each kit and taking in more than $185 million.

FTC Green Guides – The End of Eco Friendly? Plant Friendly? Earth Friendly?

Most of us will say that we are green.

We all have different definitions of what green is, but ask most people, and they will say they are for protecting the earth. For limiting trash. For saving water and energy. For stopping pollution.

And becauase we are for those things, we will spend money on products that claim to be eco friendly or planet friendly or earth friendly. We might not actually spend more money than we otherwise would, but given the choice between a product with a green claim and one without, for the same price, most of us will choose the green product (assuming, of course, that we believe the product works the same as the conventional product).

But still. We have a niggling suspicion that those vague claims of planet friendly, eco friendly and earth friendly might not mean exactly what we think. But we still buy products with those claims, believing that we are doing some good.

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) proposed revised Green Guides may well end those vague, unqualified green claims.

The FTC released its latest revised Green Guides on October 6, 2010. If you aren’t familiar with the FTC’s Green Guides, they are the FTC’s guidance to industry that helps marketers avoid misleading environmental claims in advertising.

The Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act) requires that advertising:

  • Be truthful and not deceptive;
  • Be supported by evidence to support the claims; and
  • Not be unfair.

Under the FTC’ Policy Statement on Deception, an advertisement is deceptive if it contains a statement or omits information that is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances and is material (or important to a consumer’s decision to buy a product).

What is important that the FTC looks at an advertisment from the perspective of the reasonable consumer, and considers the advertisment in context. It isn’t just the words, but also the pictures and everything else. And, and this is critical, the FTC evaluates both express  and implied claims made in the advertising.

So, back to the proposed revised Green Guides. To update the Guides, the FTC conducted its own survey of consumers and green advertising. And the findings are of critical importance to the proposed revisions to the Green Guides with respect to unqualified green claims.

So, the FTC’s Consumer Perception Study found that consumers, reading an unqualified green green, believed that the product had a number of specific attributes implied by that unqualified green claim. Specifically, 61% believed that the product was made from recycled materials, 59% believed that the product was recyclable, 54% believed that the product was made with renewable materials, 53% believed that the product was biodegradable, 48% believed that the product was made with renewable energy, 45% believed that the product was non-toxic and 40% believed that the product was compostable. And, 27% of respondents interpreted the unqualified green and eco friendly claims as suggesting that the product had NO negative environmental impact.

Remember, a marketer must have evidence to support both express and implied claims. Therefore, because the FTC found that a reasonable consumer implied all of this attributes from an unqualified green claim, the FTC notes that making an unqualified green claim “remain[s] very difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate.”

As a result, Section 260.4(a) of the revised Green Guides, if adopted as proposed, state that “[i]t is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product, package, or service offers a general environmental benefit.”

Further, Section 260.4(b) states:

Unqualified general environmental benefit claims are difficult to interpret and likely to convey a wide range of meanings. In many cases, such claims likely convey that the product, package, or service has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits and may convey that the item or service has no negative environmental impact. Because it is highly unlikely that marketers can substantiate all reasonable interpretations of these claims, marketers should not make unqualified general environmetnal benefit claims.

From this, it appears that any general claims of eco friendly, planet friendly or earth friendly, or similar unqualified general environmental benefit claims, will be a thing of the past if the Green Guides are adopted as proposed. The examples given make this even more clear.

Example 2 is as follows:

A product wrapper bears the claim “Environmentally Friendly.” Text on the wrapper explains that it is environmentally friendly because it was “not chlorine bleached, a process that has beens hown to create harmful substances.” Although the wrapper was not bleached with chlorine, its production releases into the environment other  harmful sustances. Since reasonable consumers likely would interpret the “Environmentally Friendly” claim, in combination with the explanation, to mean that no significant harmful substances are released into the environment, the “Environmentally Friendly” claim is deceptive.

So, it will be interesting to see what will develop. Other claims addressed by the proposed revised Green Guides include certifications and seals of approval, degradable, compostable, ozone-safe/ozone-friendly, recyclable, free-of/non toxic, made with renewable materials, made with renewable energy and carbon offsets.

June Junk Claim #2: Aveeno Not So Natural

June Junk Claim #2 is Aveeno’s claim that “all of [its] products come from nature.”

Okay, so June Junk Claim #2 isn’t a specific product claim as discussed in the post for June Junk Claim #1. June Junk Claim #1 addressed Josie Maran Cosmetics’ false claim that the line’s Argan Mascara is petrochemical free.

But I wanted to talk about Aveeno. The Aveeno claims really bother me because people believe that the products are all natural.

So, Aveeno markets itself as using the science of Active Naturals, which are ingredients derived from nature and uniquely formulated by Aveeno to optimize skin’s health and beauty. Aveeno’s tag line is “that’s the beauty of nature + science.” And there is a little box on the website that states “all of our products come from nature.”

So the problem with the claim that its ingredients are “derived from nature” is that most of us picture flowers and herbs and similar items when we hear that the ingredients are derived from nature. We don’t picture petroleum derived ingredients. And there’s the rub. The claim that the products are “natural” or “derived from nature” has no legal or regulatory meaning. It means whatever the company wants, including long decayed organic matter (petroleum).

Aveeno has a reputation for being natural with a lot of parents and it isn’t deserved. If you buy the products because you like the smell or they work well, that’s great. But if you buy the products because you think that the ingredients are all natural, you might want to reconsider. Let’s look at the ingredients of Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Moisture Cream, described as naturally soothing and hypoallergenic. The ingredients are:

Water, Glycerin, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour (Oat), Carbomer, Sodium Hydroxide, Ceteareth 6, Hydrolyzed Milk Protein, Hydrolyzed Oats, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, PEG 25 Soy Sterol, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylparaben, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Benzalkonium Chloride Solution, Benzaldehyde, Butylene Glycol, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Ethyl Alcohol, Isobutylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Propylparaben, Stearyl Alcohol

So, petrolatum and mineral oil are derived from petroleum. And while that is natural, it isn’t what you expect, is it?

Cetearyl alcohol can come from vegetable sources, or can be synthetically derived. Without more information, it is hard to say how natural it is.

Dimethicone belongs to a group of polymeric organosilicon compounds popuarly referred to as silicones.

Ceteareth 6 is a polyoxyethylene ester where the “6” indicates the average number of ethylene oxide residues in the polyethylene chain. To get ceteareth 6, ethylene oxide is used, which is derived from ethylene, which is derived from petroleum. Notably, because ethoxylation is used to derive ceteareth 6, it can be contaminated with the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane. 1,4 dioxane won’t appear on the ingredient list because it is a by product of manufacturing and is a contaminant, not an intentional ingredient.

Butylene glycol is derived from petroleum.

The production of phenoxyethanol involves ethylene oxide, which is derived from petroleum.

The various parabens in the product are synthetically produced. While some parabens are found in nature, all commerically used parabens are synthetically produced. And parabens are a group of compounds that many choose to avoid in products. One reason is that parabens have been detected in breast tumors, although no link between the topical use of paraben containing products and breast cancer has been found. Parabens do mimic estrogen, however. And, parabens can cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis in those with paraben allergies, which is at odds with the claim that the product is hypoallergenic.

Okay, so I think that advertising that pushes the natural basis for the Aveeno products is junk. And before you decide that it doesn’t really matter because the FDA makes sure that the products sold in the US are safe, think again. The FDA does not approve or evaluate cosmetic ingredients for safety before they are sold even thought most of us think that the FDA does undertake such a review.

If you want a more natural, soothing cream designed for baby, try Earth Mama Angel Baby’s Angel Baby Lotion.  (Yes, I’m an affiliate but this link is not an affiliate link.) Or  Weleda’s Calendula Baby Cream. Or erbaviva’s Baby Lotion.

June Junk Claim #1: Josie Maran Mascara and Petrochemical Free

So, I recently blogged about how I was tired of chemical free claims when it comes to beauty and cleaning products. And that gave me an idea. I thought for each day of June, I’d talk about a “junk” claim when it comes to beauty and cleaning products.

My first “junk” claim is Josie Maran Cosmetics’ Argan Mascara. I’m picking on Jose Maran Cosmetics to start because of a recent Twitter party that included promoting the products as safe for pregnant mamas, including that they were free of petrochemicals. And while I can’t say whether or not the products are safe, I can say that many of the products are not free of petrochemicals as advertised.

The Argan Mascara, for example, is advertised as free of petrochemicals, free of animal testing, and free of toxic chemicals. The claim “free of petrochemicals” should mean, well, that none of the ingredients are petrochemicals. Petrochemicals are generally considered chemicals derived from petroleum.

So, if the advertising is true, none of the ingredients should be derived from petroleum. The ingredients are:

White Beeswax, Carnauba Wax, Polyisobutene, Isododecane, Propylene Carbonate, Quaternium-18, Hecorite, Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil, Isoeicosane, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Oil, Simmondsia Chinenesis (Jojoba) Oil, Linseed Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Hexylene Glycol, Caprylyl Glycol. May Contain: Iron Oxides, Black Iron Oxides, Mica.

Okay, let’s look at some of these ingredients. And, don’t be worried, there isn’t too much chemistry – just a little.

Let’s start with polyisobutene. Polyisobutene is a synthetic rubber, a copolymer of isobutylene with isoprene. Isobutylene is produced from oil, and 95% of isoprene is synthetically produced from oil, although it is possible that the isoprene comes from a natural source. Unlikely but possible. And I could not get a response from Josie Maran Cosmetics.

Isododecane is produced from isobutane, which is produced from oil.

Propylene carbonate is basically produced from propene, which comes from petroleum, natural gas or sometimes coal.

Phenoxyethanol is virtually always derived from phenol and ethylene oxide. Phenol is usually produced from benzene derived from oil, and ethylene oxide comes from reacting ethylene with oxygen. Ethylene is derived from oil.

So, you tell me, how is this mascara free of petrochemicals?

Seems to me that the claim the Jose Maran Cosmetic Argan Mascara is free of petrochemicals is nothing more than junk greenwashing.

No Such Thing As Chemical Free In Cleaning & Beauty Products. Really. Really really.

Fingers cross

Cross my heart – there is no such thing as “chemical free” when it comes to cleaning and beauty products. Unless you bought a product that just contains a vacuum – nothingness. Because if it was just air, it would still have chemicals.

Really.

Really really.

A “chemical” is a material with a specific chemical composition. Like water, whether it is found in nature or manufactured in a laboratory, is always 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom, or H20. Now, there are some refinements to that. For example, in organic chemistry, there can be more than one chemical compound with the same composition and molecular weight. These chemicals are known as isomers. You actually know this. Really. Glucose and fructose are isomers. Both have the same molecular formula but differ structurally.

Okay, enough chemistry. Basically, all you need to know is that a chemical is a material with a specific chemical composition.

So, if a product contains water, it contains a chemical. If it contains propylene glycol, it contains a chemical.

But, lately, I have seen a TON of products claiming to be chemical free. Take Blue Lizard’s Baby Sunscreen. It claims it is chemical free and fragrance free. Yet, here are the ingredients:

Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide (10%), Titanium Dioxide (5%)

Inactive Ingredients: Water Purified, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, C12 15 Alkyl Benzoate, Ethylhexyl Stearate, Polyglyceryl 4 Isostearate, Cetyl PEG/PPG 10/1 Dimethicone, Hexyl Laurate, Propylene Glycol, Cetyl Dimethicone, Trimethylated Silica/Dimethicone, Octyldodecyl Neopentanoate, VP/Hexadecene Copolymer, Methyl Glucose Dioleate, PEG 7 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Sorbitol Oleate, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Beeswax (Apis Mellifera), Stearic Acid, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben, Disodium EDTA, Diazolidinyl Urea, Tocopheryl Acetate

Take a close look at the ingredients. Does that really seem chemical free to you? So the two active ingredients – although naturally occurring minerals – they are chemicals. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are both chemicals. (Although in sunscreens, they work by providing a barrier, as opposed to chemical sunscreens.)

The first inactive ingredient – water – is a chemical. Water is H20. Always. So it is a chemical.

Then we can pick on all the other synthetic ingredients too.

It has skin penetrants – the PEG/PPG ingredients. It has lots and lots of petroleum based ingredients, such as propylene glycol. And it has 2 parabens, something many individuals are avoiding.

So if you see a beauty or household cleaning product claiming to be chemical free, be wary. If the company is going to make that blatantly false a claim, then what else is it doing?

If the company is claiming all natural ingredients, or no harsh chemicals or something similar, that is a different issue. It may well be true – it all depends on your definition since “all natural” and “no harsh chemicals” are not legal or regulated terms.

But chemical free? That is just a lie. Unless the company is selling you absolutely nothing. Because even water is a chemical.

Don’t be fooled. Even natural products must contain chemicals.

And, by the way, natural doesn’t mean safer by any stretch of the imagination. Arsenic and lead both are natural.