When is “Free From” just Fearmongering?

“Free from” claims need to be relevant to the formula to be, well relevant.

“Free from” claims are often attached to products and formulas that normally wouldn’t contain the ingredients. This is when “free form” marketing can turn into fearmongering.

Let’s look at story about KFC to understand why.

KFC or Kentucky Fried Chicken is a global fast-food chain that is famous for its fried chicken.

In 2012, KFC ran advertisements in Canada claiming that their chicken was “hormone free”.

Suddenly, some people worried. Were there hormones in other brands’ chickens? Was KFC healthier, safer, and “cleaner” because their chicken was hormone free?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, dedicated to the safeguarding of food, plants, and animals in Canada, responded:

‘Products cannot be labelled or advertised as “hormone free” as it may mislead consumers to believe that the meat in question does not contain any hormones…all meat, poultry and fish products contain naturally occurring hormones.’

What that statement says is that chickens naturally have hormones, so it can’t be “hormone free”.

KFC clarified that they meant that they served chicken “that’s raised without hormones.”

They meant they didn’t supplement their chickens with hormones, which implied that other brands did.

But since 1963 in Canada, you can’t give chickens hormones.

Turns out in reality all chickens in Canada are actually “raised without hormones.”

This happens a lot in skincare, in a few different ways.

Irrelevance: We’ll see products like facial oils say “Free from sodium lauryl sulfate”, when sodium lauryl sulfate is not a common or necessary ingredient in a facial oil formulation.

Too Broad: We’ll find claims like “Free from fragrance” claims on products where ingredients, like plant extracts impart a scent.

Inaccuracy: “Free from formaldehyde” claims are often attached to products that contain ingredients that release formaldehyde at safe levels to preserve the formula.

Undefined: “Cruelty free” is not a defined term. Some brands take it to mean they haven’t tested the product on animals. It might mean the finished product wasn’t tested, but the ingredients were. Or a contractor or authority did. Because it’s not a standard, it’s up to the brand to define it. Some organizations have created logos and definitions that brands use, but customers must verify the standards used and its claims.

“Free from” claims might have begun as a useful and quick declaration to potential customers and users.

“Free from alcohol” would be useful for a parent buying a mouthwash for their child.

“Free from animal-derived ingredients” would be useful for someone who is vegetarian or vegan.

Like almost any product messaging, “free form” statements have mostly turned into more real estate for advertising and marketing.

Often by implying a product is “free from” it implies it is superior and in today’s market “cleaner” than its competitors.

Ultimately this trend may end up being worse for the beauty and skincare community as they’re left anxious and confused.