Cosmetic regulations expert on what Biologi court order means for the industry
The beauty industry has been abuzz in the past few weeks after the initial judgment was handed down in a landmark Federal Court case between Lisa Carroll from Native Extracts and Ross Macdougald, along with his associated businesses including Plant Extracts, a manufacturer of plant extracts, and Biologi, a skincare retail brand.
This is the biggest thing to ever happen in the Australian skincare industry – or at least in the eight years I’ve been in it! It’s not an isolated case, but indicative of a widespread issue within the industry where false claims and misinformation run rife – often at the expense of the consumer.
Summary of the court case
The court order issued on 19 October 2023 required Biologi and Plant Extracts to publish eight corrective notices to ensure customers are aware of the false and misleading claims around. The court found:
- Vitamin C was not detected above 0.001% in the Bf and Bk serum products (based on results of independent scientific testing);
- Biologi’s ‘single ingredient’ products also contain glycerin and are diluted with water (based on results of independent scientific testing);
- Biologi was not the first company to stabilise natural Vitamin C as Native Extracts had previously done so;
- A compound named Byangelican was advertised as being in some products but was found not to exist;
- Plant Extracts modified various Certificates of Analysis that belonged to Native Extracts; and
- Biologi had used the Organic Food Chain logo of Native Extracts.
To be very clear, the trial is over – the orders published to date around the false and misleading claims are final and no further evidence can be submitted. Biologi, Plant Extracts and Ross Macdougald had three years to file and present evidence to refute the allegations, however chose to amend their defence in court last month and admit to the allegations and agree to the corrective notices.
Response to the court order
Interestingly, leading up to the deadline for publishing the mandated corrective notices, Biologi’s social media predominantly promoted a brand-new body scrub launching on November 1.
Shortly after, Biologi issued a letter to stockists about the court orders claiming to ‘have evidence refuting the claims’ and emphasising their ‘commitment to transparency and compliance’.
The corrective notices were eventually published on November 4, past the court’s specified due date – obscured on the main feed by a shadowy leaf.
The corrective notices did not appear on the Biologi homepage until November 10. At the time of writing, no corrective notices appear on the Biologi YouTube and Biologi Russia Instagram pages as mandated by the court order.
Biologi provided questionable responses to the corrective notices, ranging from admissions of guilt, disputes and attributions to mental health issues and past marketing staff.
Impacts on the industry and consumer
The ripple effect of this court case cannot be underestimated.
Biologi stockists, facing the busiest sales period of Black Friday and Christmas, find themselves in a particularly challenging situation. Responses have varied: Biome has chosen to stop selling the Biologi range until issues of ingredient transparency and honesty are resolved. Others still stock Biologi, awaiting further guidance.
It is unclear what further guidance stockists are expecting, as they continue to stock products that make misleading claims about Vitamin C and don’t list all ingredients found in the product.
Customers who have purchased Biologi products based on these misrepresentations over the years specified in the court order have every right to feel deceived, in my opinion. However, due to limited media coverage and the manner in which the corrective orders were published, many would still be oblivious to the Federal Court’s findings.
Refund requests are reportedly being turned down due to their returns policy on opened products.
Click here for the full article with additional details about the court case and responses, what happens next, and how the industry can learn from this landmark case.
Jennifer Rudd is a cosmetic regulations expert with a diverse background including Business and Psychology degrees, 13 years in corporate risk and compliance roles and 8 years in the beauty industry. Jennifer has a Certificate in Cosmetic Regulatory Essentials and is a member of Accord Australasia and the Australian Society of Cosmetic Chemists.
Words: Jennifer Rudd