Dr. Squatch Soaps Up Lawsuit Over Allegedly ‘Unnatural’ Natural Body Wash

Are Dr. Squatch shampoos really natural?

Judge Allows Class Action Lawsuit to Proceed, Rejects Dr. Squatch's Attempt to Dismiss Claims of Deceptive Labeling

Dr. Squatch can’t rinse off accusations it fraudelently markets its Men’s Natural Shampoo as being natural, when, according to a lawsuit, it contains synthetic ingredients and barely any of the natural products it exposes, a judge has ruled. 

In a recent decision, spurred by Dr. Squatch asking the courts to toss the case in its entirety, United States District Judge Lashonda A. Hunt ruled the company must face up to the lawsuit’s accusations of consumer fraud and unjust enrichment, but dismissed a number of other claims including more broad fraud and negligent misrepresentation. 

Natural label, unnatural Ingredients?

The ruling was made over a proposed class action lawsuit filed by Dr. Squatch consumer Lauren Fleming, who is accusing the company of selling its men’s shampoo with a deceptive label, which touts the product being natural and containing oat protein, jojoba oil, and honey “even though the product contains “nonnatural” ingredients and less of the named ingredients than expected.”

Dr. Squatch called on the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Fleming failed to prove the product labeling was misleading because she didn’t “provide a plausible definition of the word ‘natural’.” Lawyers for the company said the Dr. Squatch website lists two ingredients as “man made” and doesn’t mention the amounts of oat protein, jojoba oil, and honey contained in the product. 

Judge Hunt called Dr. Squatch’s arguments “unpersuasive” and allowed the consumer fraud and unjust enrichment to proceed, but tossed out remaining claims saying the claims didn’t meet the legal standards.

The price of “natural”

Fleming filed the lawsuit after buying the men’s shampoo over the last few years under the guise it was a natural product made from naturally occurring ingredients. “Plaintiff says that she paid more for the Product ‘because she expected that it did not contain non-natural ingredients and that it contained more honey, jojoba oil, and oat protein than it did.’”

Fleming accused Dr. Squatch of selling the shampoo at a premium ($14 a bottle) on a false basis, and said if consumers knew the product wasn’t natural they could not demand the same price.

The rise of natural products and consumer protections

Consumers are increasingly turning to natural products, typically thought of as those that occur in nature and are not man made in a lab, for a variety of reasons. Organic cosmetic brands, including Josie Maran Cosmetics, RMS Beauty, and Jane Iredale, have popped up to cater to consumer demand for the trend that really looks to returning to the roots of production. Some reasons include:

  1. Health concerns over which products are safe for their skin and overall health
  2. Choosing products that are more environmentally sustainable
  3. Putting ethical considerations like animal welfare and worker protections at front of mind
  4. Perceived effectiveness of more gentle, nourishing, and non-toxic formulations 
  5. Trend and lifestyle choices around moving to more holistic wellness
  6. Trust and transparency with brands and how they operate

There are a range of federal and state laws designed to protect consumers from false or misleading labeling and ensure trust between consumers and companies. The laws establish a framework through which companies must display accurate and honest information on packaging and in marketing so consumers can make informed decisions.

Some key laws include:

  1. Truth in Advertising Laws, enforced by the likes of the Federal Trade Commission
  2. Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, administered by the Food and Drug Administration 
  3. Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, enforced by the FDA
  4. Country of Origin Labeling Laws
  5. Consumer Protection Laws, which make up a vast network at the national, state, and international levels 
  6. Environmental and Sustainability Regulations

Not-so-clean natural products

According to Bloomberg, the “clean beauty” market will expand to $15.3 billion by 2028, and many brands have seen a way to capitalize on the trend by creating “natural” and “clean” products. At the same time, there has been a surge in class action complaints against cosmetic companies for their marketing of such products. 

In 2022, beauty giant Sephora was hit with a class action lawsuit accusing it of misleading customers over its “clean” brand labeling. After two years of challenging the lawsuit, Sephora won out, getting the case dismissed in New York federal court. Target is currently facing a similar proposed class action lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Herbal Essences and Pantene owner P&G was hit with a proposed class action lawsuit this year alleging the brand’s hair care products do not contain the identified percentages of natural-origin or naturally derived ingredients advertised. Pure Body Naturals is another body and hair care company facing a similar lawsuit accusing false advertising.

Back in 2016, the Federal Trade Commission heavily reprimanded four companies that market skin care products, shampoos, and sunscreens online as being “all natural” or “100% natural,” ordering them to stop making similar misrepresentations in the future and to provide “competent and reliable evidence to substantiate any ingredient-related, environmental, or health claims it makes.”

“‘All natural’ or ‘100 percent natural’ means just that -- no artificial ingredients or chemicals,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies should take a lesson from these cases.”

The plaintiff and proposed class is represented by Spencer Sheehan of Sheehan & Associates P.C.

The Dr. Squatch not natural proposed class action lawsuit is Fleming v. Dr. Squatch, LLC, Case No. 1:22-cv-04842 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.



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