Sephora ‘clean beauty’ lawsuit thrown out by judge

By Julia Wray | Published: 19-Mar-2024

The plaintiff failed to show that Sephora misled consumers when marketing its ‘Clean At Sephora’ cosmetics

A US court has dismissed a class-action complaint against Sephora over its ‘Clean At Sephora’ programme.

The lawsuit, requesting a jury trial, was filed on 11 November 2022 by Spencer Sheehan of Sheehan & Associates in the Northern Federal District Court. 

It was filed on behalf of Lindsey Finster, a resident of Oneida, New York, and “others similarly situated” over confusion about products sold as ‘clean’ under ‘Clean At Sephora’. 

According to the lawsuit, “a significant percentage of products with the ‘Clean At Sephora’ [label] contain ingredients inconsistent with how consumers understand this term”.

The alleged damages exceeded US$5m, including statutory and punitive damages.

However, Judge David Hurd of the US District Court for the Northern District of New York, US sided with the LVMH-owned beauty retailer.

In a 14-page response, Hurd wrote that the plaintiff “failed to plausibly allege that Sephora misled reasonable consumers when it marketed and sold its ‘Clean At Sephora’ cosmetics”. 

As well as failing to demonstrate that Sephora “made any explicit or implied promises that its ‘Clean At Sephora’ cosmetics were all-natural and free of any potentially harmful ingredients”.

Hurd said: “[The] plaintiff’s complaint leaves the court guessing as to how a reasonable consumer could mistake the ‘Clean At Sephora’ labelling and/or marketing to reasonably believe that the cosmetics contain no synthetic or harmful ingredients whatsoever.”

Legal expert Kelly Bonner, Associate at Duane Morris, called the court’s decision “relatively straightforward”. 

“The retailer very clearly stated its criteria for inclusion in its clean beauty programme ‘formulated without parabens, sulfates SLS and SLES, phthalates, mineral oil, formaldehyde', and other identified ingredients; not ‘free from synthetic ingredients’,” she said. 

“Simply because the retailer’s criteria for clean beauty differed from plaintiff’s doesn’t make it misleading. 

“It means that currently there are varying definitions of clean beauty.”

Sephora launched its ‘Clean At Sephora’ campaign in 2018 to highlight products that are free-from ‘toxic’ ingredients.

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