How To Avoid the Writing Errors That Put Gwyneth Paltrow Under Investigation

Uh-oh. Looks like Gwyneth Paltrow is getting some public flogging over her health and wellness website, Goop, once again. She’s taken flack over the sometimes silly-seeming products she promotes, but this time it’s not coming from consumers and bloggers. Or even Martha Stewart.

It looks like Goop may be in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Those of us who are beauty bloggers recognize these guys as the ones who make us put up those disclaimers telling our audience things like “this post is sponsored by …” or “there are affiliate links in this post from which I receive a small compensation”. Yep, if you’ve ever wondered why we bother with those obtrusive disclaimers, it’s the FTC.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) governs cosmetic labeling, the FTC regulates advertising claims. This includes product descriptions on brand websites.

As a beauty copywriter I am very familiar with FTC regulations. Basically, when marketing a cosmetic product for sale you cannot describe the product as altering or affecting the structure or function of a human body, or curing or preventing disease or health issues. In the eyes of the FDA, drugs do those things, cosmetics do not.

Even if I absolutely swear a client product has done something amazing to my skin, like made it firmer or erased a wrinkle, I can’t say that in the product description I write for them. It has to be all about making the skin look and feel more attractive. That’s the law.

But it looks like the copywriting team at Goop missed the memo. I love to read the health articles at Goop and Jean Godfrey-June has long been my beauty editor idol. The problem isn’t with the articles recommending products or remedies, it’s when health claims are used to market the products, as in product descriptions on sales pages.

For example, one of the products in question is a flower essence blend that can be used on the skin for “trauma repair”. The trouble spot is “this formula helps clear, stabilize and soothe emotional trauma.” They could have said “this formula lends a feeling of clarity, stability, and soothing to emotional trauma.” (I’m also a fan of the Oxford comma 😉) or “designed to offer a clear, stabilized, and soothing feeling to mind and body.” Either of those would have worked with FTC law but making health claims is the no-no.

Another example is a moisturizer on the site that is said to “work throughout the day to firm and rejuvenate the skin.” It can “give the feeling of firmer, rejuvenated skin” or “increase the appearance of firmer, rejuvenated skin” under FTC law, but it cannot claim to physically alter the skin.

If all of this is a bit too word nerd for you, the main issue is this. If you read any cosmetic product advertising that claims to improve your health or the actual structure of your skin, it is in violation of FTC laws. Authentic natural beauty brands know this and product descriptions that follow FTC regulations are proof you are dealing with a pro.

If you are a natural beauty brand or shop owner who would like help coming up with product descriptions that won’t get you in trouble with the FTC, contact me. It can be tricky to work within these guidelines and not repeat the same words and phrases over and over. I’m well versed in FTC laws and would love to help you put together fresh product descriptions that are as creative as they are legal. Let’s talk!

Photo by Lauren Mancke on Unsplash

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