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What is natural? TGA guidance on ‘natural’ advertising claims 

 August 4, 2019

By  Jennifer - Skincare Business Foundations

In June 2019, the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) published guidance on using the term ‘natural’ in advertising therapeutic goods. Keep reading to find out what the guidance says and what it means for you.

Why has the TGA published this guidance?
They have stated this is for two reasons:
1.  So consumers are not misled
2.  So businesses know what they can say when advertising products.

The term ‘natural’ is widely used, but doesn’t have a common legislatively-defined meaning in Australia. Which means it’s often used loosely, and sometimes even incorrectly. The TGA wants to crack down on this – and I say good on them for doing so, as it’s about time.

What does the guidance say?

To use a ‘natural’ claim in an advertisement (including labels and social media), the guidance states that a business must ensure their product’s ingredients meet the following three conditions.  

The natural raw material of the product must:

  1. be produced from a raw material found in nature, such as a plant,
  2. undergo minimal processing, such as grinding or fractionation, AND
  3. stay chemically the same after processing.

OR the advertisement has to tell consumers what it means when it uses ‘natural’ to describe a product.

This means businesses have 2 options:

  1. Use the term ‘natural’ as per the above definition, OR
  2. Explain what is meant by the term ‘natural’ (in the advertisement and on the label if used there).

This includes the use of similar language to ‘natural’, such as ‘naturally derived’, ‘naturally occurring’ and ‘sourced from nature’, which must also be defined in advertising.

If a product contains ingredients that aren’t natural, the term ‘natural’ must be qualified so consumers don’t think that all the ingredients are natural, e.g. by specifying the natural or non-natural ingredients.

Advertisers also can’t mislead consumers by correlating ‘natural’ claims with other qualities such as safety or efficacy, e.g. stating “nature knows best”.

The Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code and other requirements also apply, e.g. businesses must hold evidence that supports any claims made about the product in advertising.

What does it mean for natural skincare makers?

You might be wondering why this is relevant to you when you don’t make therapeutic goods. (Not sure what therapeutic goods are? View my stress-busting cosmetic versus therapeutic claims guide here.)

Although cosmetics aren’t regulated by the TGA, and therefore you don’t have to comply with this guidance, I consider their definition of ‘natural’ to be a good one to follow for a couple of reasons:

  1. The definition is aligned with international standards for use of the word ‘natural’.
  2. Under the Australian Consumer Law, businesses can’t mislead consumers, which includes use of the word ‘natural’.

So I recommend that before you make any ‘natural’ claims about a product, check whether its ingredients meet the TGA’s three conditions.

Who knows – maybe the ACCC or NICNAS will introduce similar requirements for advertising natural cosmetic products one day?!

You should also check that you are able to substantiate any ‘natural’ claims you make.

What will happen if ‘natural’ is incorrectly used?

Using the term ‘natural’ incorrectly or without proper definition for therapeutic goods would be a breach of the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code, and people can report non-compliant advertising via the TGA website.

The TGA will use the definition in this guidance when assessing advertising compliance for therapeutic goods.

For cosmetic products, people can report false and misleading claims to the ACCC.  

Where can you find more information?

You can find the full guidance on the TGA website, including examples of compliant and non-compliant advertising claims.

If you think it’s confusing, keep in mind this is the simpler version, after feedback from the public consultation on the proposed guidance was that it was too complex!

The TGA will soon be releasing more information directed to consumers – I’ll keep an eye out and share it when I see it if it’s useful.

If you’re still bamboozled and need a hand working out what claims you can make, I offer a Marketing Claims Review service. I’ll take a look at what you want to say about your products (e.g. that it’s ‘natural’ or ‘naturally derived’), as well as documentation for the product and its ingredients, to determine whether you can use the claim on the label and/or in promotional material.

You’ll be more confident and less stressed knowing that your advertising is compliant. Which is important as it’s such a visible part of your business. 

About the Author

Hi, I'm Jennifer - cosmetic regulatory consultant for Australian skincare brands. After running my own skincare business, and having a 10-year+ corporate background in risk management, auditing and compliance, I decided to combine my business know-how and industry knowledge to help others build a solid business foundation. Since 2018, I've been supporting skincare brand owners with friendly expert advice and time-saving regulatory guides. And my signature course on how to start a skincare brand in Australia.

Jennifer - Skincare Business Foundations

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