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Australian skincare brand issued court order for misleading marketing claims

Australian skincare brand issued court order for misleading marketing claims

In a recent development, popular Australian skincare brand Biologi has found itself in hot water due to misleading claims in its marketing campaigns. Several allegations have been made against the brand, including misrepresentation of organic certification, ingredient claims, and statements about the purity and composition of its products.

Proceedings were initiated by Native Extracts, an Australian plant extract manufacturer, which was founded in 2012 by Biologi founder Ross Macdougald’s former girlfriend and business partner, Lisa Carroll.

According to the corrective notice ordered by the Federal Court of Australia, Biologi engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct and made false or misleading representations in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law. The order also stated, Macdougald was knowingly concerned with these contraventions.

The Australian Financial Review also reported, Carroll hired chemists at the University of Queensland to analyse Mr Macdougald’s products – which were marketed as fruit extracts – and found two were 70 to 80 per cent glycerol, a compound made from vegetable oils or fats.

Biologi was founded by Macdougald in 2017, who also founded Phytoverse and is the Chairman of Plant Extracts. According to Biologi’s website, the brand was born as a result of Macdougald’s frustration at the low levels of plant actives added to products, often only for marketing and labelling claims. Since its inception, Biologi has grown to become a cult skincare brand, which is now stocked throughout New Zealand at spas and clinics, including The Facialist, Skintopia, and Tonic Room.

Over the weekend, Biologi issued a statement via its Instagram and website, taking accountability for its transgressions and issuing an apology to its customers:

“Recently Biologi has received a Court Order related to certain ingredients in our products and claims made in our marketing materials, specifically questioning our Vitamin C levels in two products and plant-based materials,” the statement read. “In response to these legal findings, we want to emphasise our unwavering commitment to product efficacy, safety, and transparency. We take these findings seriously and have been actively working to address any issues and make any necessary adjustments required.”

Source: Biologi

Biologi also commented on harassment online by those looking to discredit the brand, alluding to another “party” they previously had a “valued relationship” with:

“We have also been made aware that you may have been contacted or harassed online by others wanting to discredit Biologi. We want to apologise for any frustration or confusion this has caused, and for not being given the opportunity to be the ones to notify you. It is unfortunate that the other party has tried to undermine our valued relationship.”

Misleading organic certification

One of the concerns raised against the brand was its use of the Organic Food Chain logo, inferring that their products were organically certified when they were not. From April 2017, Biologi depicted the logo on its website in circumstances where it was not certified as organic by the Organic Food Chain Company.

In response, Biologi said, “Yes, we are sorry. From September 2017 to December 2018, Biologi displayed an incorrect OFC logo on their website. The certification of the serums/extracts was held by Biologi’s sister company Phytoverse and should not have appeared on Biologi’s website too.”

Exaggerated levels of Vitamin C

The skincare brand also faces scrutiny for its misleading representations regarding high levels of Vitamin C in its products.

In response, Biologi said the following:

“This is a difficult one for us.  Our Ross Macdougald was the first person to produce stabilised Vitamin C in liquid form in 2012.  It is well known that Kakadu Plum in particular contains Vitamin C, as does finger lime and our products and its supplier have been independently tested as containing Vitamin C.  

Due to personal reasons, no evidence was led by us in the recent trial.  The Court relies on the parties presenting all evidence to it for its decision and we did not.  We consented to the order made and we 100% support the Court’s order, in the circumstances where we were unable to provide and have this information considered.

Since 2017 there has been numerous independent laboratory tests through Southern Cross University and third-party government laboratories on the Vitamin C content of both finger lime and Kakadu plum extracts produced by Plant Extracts.  All results show Vitamin C present. There is also another Biologi product, Biologi Bx, that contains Vitamin C from Kakadu Plum which has been tested and these results show considerable amounts of Vitamin C.  The Vitamin C content of this product is not in issue.”

Deceptive claims about purity and composition

The court order stated that Biologi misrepresented on its website, Facebook, and Instagram pages that its products contain only one ingredient, only pure plant, and do not contain any additives that have not been diluted. The court declared that this was false, as well as permanently restraining Biologi from making these misleading representations in the future.

In response, Biologi said, Yes, early in our journey our former marketing team adopted wording that reflected our great excitement about our products, but which was open to misinterpretation.

Our ‘single ingredient, pure plant’ representation was centred on our philosophy of only using plant extract and nothing else.  These extracts do contain other naturally-derived ingredients that we use to unlock the plant extracts using our methodology.  We do not add or change the extracts produced after the completed extraction process in any way except adding 0.2% Sodium Benzoate which acts as a preservative for the natural extracts.”

Misleading stabilisation claims

According to the court order, Biologi also made false or misleading claims that they had developed a method to stabilise natural Vitamin C and its products are the only skincare products in the world that contain natural Vitamin C, when they are not.

In response, Biologi said, “In November 2017 Biologi incorrectly stated ‘for the first time, developed a method to stabilise natural Vitamin C and that its products were the only skincare products in the world that contain natural Vitamin C.’ The R&D for stabilised natural Vitamin C was done in 2012 – 2013 by our Ross Macdougald in an entity called FPI Oceania Pty Ltd.  This is well known in the industry and to those familiar with Ross’ story.

A non-technical employee of another company Mr. Macdougald founded at one point incorporated their own company and started selling extracts that they appropriated from the warehouse as a skin care brand.  We did not consider that situation to be a valid prior use of Mr. Macdougald’s discovery.

Mr. Macdougald and his team continue to develop improved methods building on his initial discovery.”

False ingredient claims

From 2018, Biologi made false or misleading representations that its Bf Hyrdation Serum contained the compound Byangelicin and that it reduced the appearance of ageing. The order declared that the product in question did not contain Byangelicin or have these particular performance characteristics.

In response, Biologi said, “Third party testing from Southern Cross University indicated that ‘Byangelicin’ was a compound found in extracts created by Plant Extracts from Australian native citrus fruits such as finger lime (Biologi Bf serum) and desert lime.  That was the basis it was advertised as a compound by Plant Extracts & Biologi along with the believed benefits of this compound to the skin.  

In addition to the analysis produced by Southern Cross University, Plant Extracts & Biologi have documentation that indicates that ‘Byangelicin’ is a known compound from US based, Chem id, https://www.chemid.com/ and USDA, United States Department of Agriculture, https://www.usda.gov/.  We accept the order of the court and provide this information only by way of background to our customers on the basis on which this compound was previously referenced by us.”

At this juncture, due to the ongoing legal proceedings, Biologi is limited in what they can disclose and comment on beyond the above.

“Moving forward, as this matter progresses and when we have new information or details, we will provide you with updates. Our entire team appreciates your understanding and support during this time, and we look forward to the future. Our utmost priority will always be creating positive change in people’s skin,” the statement concluded.

Update Nov 10, 2023:  Audrey Gater, Head of Ecommerce & Digital for Biologi told Professional Beauty, ProCollective’s Australian sister publication, that Biologi will keep stockists updated. “While proceedings will be ongoing, the impact on current products and marketing is minimal, with most of these issues being resolved on the departure of historical marketing teams,” she added.

Main image: Biologi