When your competitors are Liars and Cheats

I'm in the "Natural Products" industry, a truly disgusting place full of Woo Woo and Hacks and Luddites and burned out hippie word-salad peddlers. David Avocado Wolfe Woo-topia. The snake oil peddlers of old had nothing on these shysters. A lot of my friends that fall for the naturopathic fallacy are surprised to know that I find Whole Foods a far more unethical company than Monsanto; they are even more surprised when they tell me you can't trust those big corporations and I shoot back that Whole Foods is bigger than Monsanto. 

That's the short into. To my point:

I am confronted more and more these days by competing color cosmetic companies that claim to be 100% vegan, with no "crushed bugs" (carmines) and of course no evil petro-derived FD&C or D&C dyes.

Yet, these same companies have bright red and bright pink and bright purple lipsticks. Impossible. I have anonymously emailed customer service to ask how they get their bright reds and pinks without carmines or FD&Cs, only to be told that they use iron oxides to get these candy apple reds and hot pinks.

Some have turned to claiming the pinks are from Manganese Violet. I can see formulating a purple lipstick using Manganese Violet, but I am thinking there is no way that can you get a light pink using only Manganese Violet. Many of these suspect lipstick colors are shimmered.

My question for the group: Are there pigments out there, such as Manganese Violet coated micas, that I am unaware of? I keep fairly abreast with new offerings by the big pigment producers, but I have never come across a shimmer pink or a shimmer purple that was not carmine or FD&C coated mica. Any input here is greatly appreciated.

It is entirely frustrating and of course financially harmful to see my competition take off-the-shelf private labeled lipsticks and just put a false ingredient list on them and market them as all-natural, vegan, no petro-dyes, etc, and then they THRIVE in the marketplace with these products that anyone with any color cosmetic experience can see are misbranded, mislabelled and thus adulterated.

Yes, I did spend a few thousand dollars on one particularly egregious competitor's lipsticks being sent to a lab for breakdown. Sure enough, FD&Cs (which they claim they are free of) and phthalates (which they also claim to be free of) were in there. Their mascara has no TEA in it's ingredient list, but of course it has vegetable stearic acid, and is "preserved" with "grapefruit seed extract"... lies lies lies... 

As an individual, I can sue and get back the cost of a lipstick. As a business I can get into a legal back and forth lawsuit war where only the lawyers get paid. Of course there is class action... but that is a very time consuming and complicated suit.

I don't believe in the woo woo. However, there are people out there looking to avoid FD&C dyes, carmines, etc, for whatever reasons, and these unethical competitors are basically the equivalent of a shyster selling Orthodox Jews ground pork and calling it Kosher beef.

Your thoughts?


  • Which market are you competing in? (Location.) Some time ago I noted a UK company peddling products with ridiculous claims. I contacted the Advertising Standards Authority. Within a couple of weeks the offender redesigned all their marketing info and claims.
    Here in my local market I have a shampoo maker claiming their product is "free of salt" (massive billboard campaign). They use potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride... I was unable to get any action, possibly they paid something under the table, this being Mexico.
    Design of anti-aging creams, gels, and serums; shampoos; and therapeutic cosmetics. In-house label and box design capability.
  • These cosmetics aren't regulated by the FDA however the color additives are.  So if they are making claims on the label and turns out to be false they are welcoming a lawsuit.  However the additives might be under a safe harbor limit and don't need to be included on a data sheet.  Just chk out the FDAs website and they have everything you need to know.  I would just worry about your own products and not witchhunt the competitors too much.  
  • @Belassi - Mostly America, but these weasels are moving into Australia too, which is a good market for us. I get questions from my distributors / sales reps: Why can't our line be vegan and no synthetic dyes and no carmine... these other companies are kicking out butts off the shelves. I can only answer that it is impossible to make a red lipstick with no carmines or synthetic dyes. It is beyond frustrating.

    @chickenskin - these are not minute amounts. There are lipsticks colored with FD&C dyes and then premeditatively labeled and marketed to NOT contain FD&C dyes.

    It's not a witch hunt; I am wondering if I am missing something, but as I have worked with color cosmetics for 20 years I don't think there are new Manganese Violet based micas, or "ayurvedic vegetable dyes" that can be used in lipsticks, lip gloss and the like.

    Thank you both for your input.

  • No, you are "not missing anything," and it's just the marketplace these days. There are the types of issues you highlight here, and now a tendency for some cosmetics to "cure every ailment known to mankind." I'm just simply amazed at what companies can get away with. Yes, maddening.

    This focus you have described above consumes a lot of energy, and I wonder if it is helping your brand?

    I follow the advice of @chickenskin .....focus on your own products, define your niche, develop the brand message, be honest, and forget about these ratbag competitors.

    Dr. Mike Thair
    Cofounder & Chief Formulator
    Indochine Natural
  • I realize this post is a slightly old but I'm saying something regardless...

    @Alias, I feel your pain! I hear you loudly and clearly! There's not much we can do about the liars and cheats, as there's one around every corner and in every crack. Even so, what we ourselves try to do is make the consumer think a little by placing a disclaimer type blotter on our products. We state the following - "Our promise to you: We will always label our products correctly, to the best of our knowledge, according to the FDA rules and regulations. We will never be deceitful about our ingredients or our use of preservatives by hiding them in the form of extracts or other means." - The mislabeling and preservative free type business crowd gets under our skin! Perhaps you can state something like that as well to at least get the consumer thinking.

    By other companies lying and cheating, it hurts our truthful business practices and profit lines. But we live in a "post truth" (2016 word of the year) society. No one cares about absolute truth anymore and they live like lemmings jumping off the cliff believing every piece of fear mongering chemical attack there is posted on every uneducated blog. We, ourselves, choose to educate ourselves; not by reading Miss Uneducated Farm Wife of the year's buy my all natural soap blogger type, but by reading what the science has to say and we try to educate our consumers as well. It's the most we can do.
    Self teaching lover of knowledge.
  • @Susan25 - To be fair, I think most people care about what's true or not.  There are just a lot of people that don't.

    Yours is an interesting strategy. Certainly worth trying.

  • @Perry - You are correct. I should not have said "no one cares". That was an extreme overstatement.

    And to further say to all - I have nothing against farm wives. I grew up on a farm. I said what I said due to my research of cosmetic chemicals and my observation of uneducated blog rants (I've seen way too many blogs lately, making my head explode). I'm a natural blonde if anyone wants to strike back. I'm good with it.
    Self teaching lover of knowledge.
  • Totally agree with all the comments above.
    It's very hard, we are the scientists....the gatekeepers.
    But there is so much pressure from marketing to compete with untruthful other brands. It's a constant battle to tone down the claims people want to make on products.
    I like @Susan25 's idea. If your company can really make a commitment to only labelling correctly and truthfully 100% then state that in BOLD! That is a good point of difference.

    I feel like the voice of scientists is more and more undermined by know-it-alls and people who think they know better. Ignoring the research and data.
    Scientists are often people who just get on with things, tinker away in their fields and don't make as much noise as those know-it-alls.

    Let's all join the March for Science happening on April, 22, 2017 happening all over the US and satellite marches around the world.
  • Did you consider naming said competitors here if you want to be on the side of transparency and truth? People could find this post through Google, the blog is well indexed.

    Why didn't you get the lab results published in a high traffic and trustworthy (vegan) blog? Heck maybe you could even offer to do a roundup for consumer-review using third party labs? You have the evidence and people should know!

    This issue is widespread and goes beyond cosmetics, huge problem on Amazon in the US for instance where you have companies peddling vitamin C serums with Vitamin C derivatives that don't convert to ascorbic acid in the skin.

    Lastly, have you recently asked all your suppliers? And if the answers are all negative, thought of hiring chemists or whom have you to invent new naturally derived dyes? If you have the resources that could be a big fat patent.

  • As a scientist, I certainly agree with @Cagouchick in that "I feel like the voice of scientists is more and more undermined by know-it-alls and people who think they know better. Ignoring the research and data." But this is nothing new, the erosion has been going on for years. In Australia it was difficult for me to earn a living as a scientist, and many escaped overseas (including me). Today we are shouted down by twits.

    A core problem is that the general public does not understand the scientific method. It takes some time for a scientific fact to be established, and in this process not all scientists will agree, and there may be conflicting research. In not understanding how science works, this undermines our value in the eyes of the public, and provides opportunities for quacks.

    How have I coped?  We just do our best, ignore the crap around us, and get on with it, trying not be angered by the deception of many brands. Probably not the best for our bottom line, but I do sleep very well at night.
    Dr. Mike Thair
    Cofounder & Chief Formulator
    Indochine Natural
  • The best approach is to make the best product you possibly can and market it effectively highlight your integrity to your clients.

    If you feel a competitor is misbranding ... simply report it to the FDA ... that's what they are there for.  The FDA is required by law to investigate and reply to consumer complaints.  If no one complains, then you're "Lying Cheating Competitor" is free to carry on business unchecked.  But, your complaint cannot be anonymous.  If you have a valid reason to complain, then present your case to the FDA.
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    Provides Formulation Development and Lab-Scale Contract Manufacturing Services.  See website for details www.desertinbloomcosmeticslab.com

  • After reading this thread and also starting my own to learn how to make vegan friendly natural products, I have now been enlightened to how 90% of these claims are a marketing strategy, so anyway yeah this community is a big eye opener for myself.
  • @susan25 - good idea. I was thinking of putting a small link like "about vegan and no synthetic colorant claims" and in it, put up a real and escrowed $100,000 dollar challenge to any of my competitors that can prove by laboratory analysis that their products are bright red or hot pink etc yet do not contain any carmine or FD&Cs etc.

    I try to keep a good sense of humor about it. James Randi's "One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge" comes to mind. It would be good fun.

    I'm also thinking of just going full blown Class Action Litigious Man: not my favorite super hero, but sometimes necessary, and just drop it in a class action lawyer's hands, and watch the spiders shrivel under the magnifying glass that they will be under. There will be no way out: Most of these companies do not make their own products, so, it's a simple subpoena and when you have their private labelers.. these liars are toast, because any real private label lab is going to give their customer (these shysters) a real list of ingredients to protect themselves (the lab) from potential lawsuits.

    It's the shyster marketer that ignores that real list of ingredients, and then writes their own list of ingredients according to Wootopia, Natural News, David Avocado Wolfe etc lore.

    @Zink If I put the names of the companies here... and there are other places I could do that (DCI, SCC, etc) man, oh man, what a shite storm that would ensue. You give me some good thoughts. I conversed via email with one of the most respected color cosmetic chemists in America about this, and he concurred that there are no Fire Engine Red iron oxides, and no Hot Pink iron oxides, etc. We had a laugh, but also both noted the seriousness of the misbranding and mislabeling and egregiously unfair competition this practice fosters.

    @MarkBroussard - I would have no problem with involving the FDA, and using my real name. Unfortunately, the FDA has zero power to force a recall, and it would have little effect. The company would simply go on as normal. Please correct me if I am wrong, but my impression is the FDA cannot issue recalls.

    But, the FTC might be another option. They have teeth.

    Yeah, folks, I am just frustrated. Thank you all for your thoughts, and good guidance to keep my own line's integrity, and to just keep truckin' on.

    But, I fear, at some point, one of these shysters is going to knock me off of the shelve of a local shop (the owners here don't know who I am, I am very low key, ie.: no one who works there knows I am the owner of the cosmetic line) and I am going to see it with my own orbs and might just be pissed off enough at the lying injustice to consumers and competitors that I might give that Class Action Law Firm I know (that has experience in this type of weasel tactics) a call and expose their lying marketing secrets and have these class action sharks sue their shyster bottoms off.
  • @Alias - The FDA has more power than you're suggesting. Just because they don't have immediate power to force a recall doesn't mean they are powerless when they do issue a recall.

    Bottom line is that it is not a good thing for a company to get a recall notice from the FDA.
  • Thank you kindly, Perry. This is the kind of information we seek on a forum such as this that you you host. Muchas gracias.
  • @Alias Thanks for the update, exciting stuff, could set precedence for other cases of mislabeling. I'd be worried about would be a counter suit for libel if you "blogged" about it, so going to the FDA seems like a safer route.

    In any case, I hope you take some kind of action and let us know :)

  • I am not a chemist or have a science background. I am a mere soap maker and have only added oil blends and body butters to my small line. And I have seen a lot of deceitful claims all over from other small handcrafters. While some are promoted their goods with full knowledge of the untruths behind their labels, others are rushing in without doing their proper research and are ignorant to FDA regs. The good news is the FDA is going after companies who make these false claims.
    I am new to this forum and even though crafters like me can benefit from the bits of information, until I have completed some online courses, or pay for consulting services, I shall leave formulating to the professionals
  • edited June 2017
    Just thought I would weigh in here for a bit since I had a customer who read this thread and is now concerned that no pink or red may be achieved with just iron oxide and that all labels that say otherwise are false. 
    You certainly may be many shades of pink and red with iron oxide and manganese and the 2 combined. Additionally with the addition of tin oxide you get many different colored refections such as violet, green, blue, red and gold without adding any chromium green etc.
    Finally iron oxides in cosmetic are not natural, they are made in a lab and are "nature identical". Natural Iron Oxides do not achieve the low heavy metal requirements of the FDA. Ultramarine, Chromium Green and Manganese Violet are not Natural, they also are made in a lab. Theoretically there is no such thing as "Natural Mineral Makeup" .  
    Rebecca Midriff (Owner of Just Pigments and DIY Cosmetics)
  • @diycosmetics - thanks for your perspective. I think one of the objections of many chemists in this thread is that iron oxides just aren't natural but many companies market them as such.

Sign In or Register to comment.