Navigating Non-Foods Claims as a Retail Dietitian

Navigating Non-Foods Claims as a Retail Dietitian

June 19, 2019
Retail Industry Insights

By Monica Amburn, MS, RD, LDN, Senior Director of Health & Wellness for healthyAisles® at Vestcom

Like many registered dietitians, I never expected there would be a time in my career when I would be called upon to answer wellness-related questions about shampoo, lotion, or soap. But given the recent surge in consumer concern over topical product chemicals, we’re the most readily accessible resource for our retailers and shoppers, so it’s no surprise that these inquiries are now falling on our desks. While we should still distinguish our subject matter expertise of food and nutrition from that of toxicologists, it’s important to be able to speak to the basic trends we’re observing in our own stores. Here are two of the most popular trends in non-foods claims, and what you need to know to better serve your retailers and shoppers. 

Paraben Free 

What it is: Parabens are man-made chemicals often used in small amounts as preservatives in many products, such as makeup, moisturizers, hair-care products, and shaving creams. However, human health effects from exposure to low levels of parabens are unknown, and various groups advocate for the avoidance of parabens in topical products as there are some claims of parabens being potential endocrine disruptors, and potentially carcinogenic. Currently, the FDA maintains the position that parabens are safe for cosmetics and topical products.

How to address: Follow both sides of the debate to ensure you are aware of the overall conversation and connect with any other health professionals in your organization (pharmacists) and/or hired subject matter experts (toxicologists), along with your marketing/communications team to develop your retailer’s position and talking points for this topic if necessary. The following links provide the CDC’s Paraben fact sheet, in contrast to the information provided by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (a breast cancer advocacy coalition). 

CDC’s Paraben Fact Sheet

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Parabens Summary

Phthalate Free

What it is: Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break and are often referred to as “plasticizers”. Some phthalates are used as solvents (dissolving agents) for other materials. They are used in hundreds of products, such as vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, plastic clothes (raincoats), and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes). According to the CDC, human health effects from exposure to low levels of phthalates are unknown, but some types of phthalates have affected the reproductive system of laboratory animals. More research is needed to assess the human health effects of exposure to phthalates. The CDC, NIH, and EPA have compiled resources for more information, and continued government research on the safety of phthalates has been cited.

How to address: Same as above with parabens – follow the debate from both sides and stay tuned in for emerging research. Phthalates have been banned from cosmetics in the European Union, and an increasing number of American beauty brands are removing phthalates voluntarily from their products. Work with your internal team to determine your company’s position and talking points as above, too. 

CDC Phthalate Fact Sheet

NIH’s ToxTown Phthalate Fact Sheet

EPA Phthalate Action Plan

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Phthalate Summary

How healthyAisles can help

As a team of registered dietitians, we understand the challenges of communicating wellness trends responsibly in non-foods categories. That’s why we recently expanded our claim database beyond the limits of center store and perimeter to include responsibly chosen lifestyle claims and attributes for popular non-foods categories, including HBC/HABA, Vitamins & Supplements, Household and Cleaning Supplies, and Pet Food. To learn more about our capabilities in this space, and which attributes may be a good fit for your retailer, please contact me directly at

Monica Amburn, MS, RD, LDN is a former supermarket dietitian, and currently the Senior Director of Health and Wellness for healthyAisles® at Vestcom. Monica works with the healthyAisles team to deliver customized, full-store health and wellness communication solutions to over 35 retail banners nationwide. For more information on healthyAisles or any of Vestcom’s other service offerings, please contact Monica at