{Business Tips} Etsy’s new policy and what it means to you

Etsy announced a new policy change prohibiting sales of certain types of products on August 8th, 2012.

According to the announcement, these are the items that are prohibited in its entirety:

Tobacco and other smokeable products: We have long-prohibited the sale of tobacco on Etsy. We’ve added other smokeable products to the list. This includes, but is not limited to, items such as herbal smoking blends, tobacco-alternatives, and other products that one might commonly smoke in a pipe or cigarette form. (Note: Incense – as a product that is burned to release a scent into the air in a room – is acceptable so long as it meets the other Etsy marketplace criteria.)

Human remains or body parts (excluding hair and teeth): This includes, but is not limited to, things such as skulls, bones, articulated skeletons, bodily fluids, preserved tissues or organs, and other similar products. (Note: Human hair and teeth are currently allowed, so long as the items comply with other Etsy marketplace rules.)

Hazardous materials (for example: flammable, explosive, corrosive, poisonous, etc.): A few notable items prohibited under this rule that might not be immediately apparent include, but are not limited to, mercury thermometers, loose matches (such as in a matchbox), sparklers and other fireworks, caps for toy guns, and lighter fluid (lighters are acceptable so long as they are empty and otherwise meet marketplace standards).

Motor vehicles (for example: automobiles, motorcycles, boats, travel trailers, etc.): We’ve clarified the examples here to include travel trailers and other vehicles that may not strictly be motorized. The sale of vehicles often requires transferring a title of ownership. At this time, Etsy’s platform is not equipped to handle such transactions. (Note: Bicycles are still allowed, so long as they comply with other marketplace criteria.)

Bath and Beauty Products Description

But that’s not all. It now prohibits the wording and description of bath and beauty products that imply to help or cure health and medical conditions.

FDA has been trying to crack down on bath and beauty sellers that make such claims for years with some success. But still, it need to police them better by setting a more clearer standards and educating consumers on what some of the terms really mean. But the rule and policy exists so there are no false claims.

So it’s no surprise that Etsy announced this new policy on how to describe bath and beauty products properly to inform its buyers what the products contain and not what they do. But why now? No one knows. From reading discussions and forums, many sellers are confused as to what they can say about their items due to this new policy change. And in some threads, even some admins are not quite sure.

According to one of admins on Etsy, the new policy

  • prohibits medical drug claims about an item.
  • “you may NOT use words to imply that using the item will cure or help relieve a health condition or illness” 
  •  avoid using disease or illness terms to imply your product is useful for curing or treating those afflictions. This includes use in title and tags, as well as description.” 
  • Using language like “this product MAY have an effect to cure or treat a health condition or illness” is still considered a medical drug claim under this policy.

Also, you can’t use a disclaimer to workaround a medical drug claim either.

However, “It’s OK to describe a product as having cosmetic properties or benefits, like saying it is moisturizing, conditioning, softens skin, deodorizes, beautifies, de-tangles hair, etc. Those are not medical drug claims; those cosmetic descriptions do not correlate the product to the cure or treatment of a health condition.” 

According to sellers who were contacted by Etsy to change the description, you “can’t mention feedbacks from previous customers how your soap or salve help their medical condition in your description.” I think, one way to get around that is to leave a link to your feedback page in your description, and simply put, “Here are some testimonials from my previous customers…(link to your feedback page)” so that a new potential buyer can read for themselves how your products have helped your past buyers. As long as you don’t use the actual quotes of any past historical references to the medical cure or help, you are not breaking any rules. You can also leave links to references and science research to support your products, again, as long as you don’t use the exact words in your descriptions.

Here are some comments from Eco Etsy members.

According to Sellers

Health and medical condition categories are no longer available and reference to historical and education is no longer allowed.

Herbfriend: “Etsy was giving me advanced notice, and said that my product would be moved into another subcategory…I did have my Organic Tamanu Calendula Salves listed under the “anti itch” subcategory.  I just moved it under the “body” subcategory of salve.”

“Acne Treament” – under subcategory “Skin Care”
“Anti Aging” – under subcategory “Skin Care”
“Diaper Rash” – under subcategory  “Salve”
“Anti Itch” – under subcategory  “Salve”

Krugs Ecologic: Uses this statement to inform her customers about the FDA rule.

***Due to the rules and regulations set forth by the FDA, bath and bodyshops are not permitted, by law, to make any claims about cosmetics (anti-aging, wrinkle reducing, pore reducing, acne/clarifying, etc..).Please do your own research as per ingredients and decide if thisproduct is for you.***

Erin goes on to say;

They are currently trying to pass a bill (I believe it’s called) – the Safe Cosmetics Act … which … would (from what I understand) force all cosmetics companies to label even the trace elements of every ingredient on their labels in descending order. As you’re well aware,…depending on what soil, climate, region each plant is grown in … affects the trace elements within. Thus, with every single order of ingredients, our suppliers would have to test and alter their labels to include proper trace elements in descending order … and thus, the formulators would somehow have to do that as well. 

So what does this mean to you as a seller?

If you are not sure if your shop is affected by this new change, do not worry. The Marketplace Integrity team will contact those affected by the new policy to help them change the description as fast as they can. Meanwhile, if you think you need to change your description, you may. But if you are not sure, and have any questions about your shop, you can contact the Marketplace Integrity Team directly by emailing integrity [dot] Etsy [dot] com. Etsy understands the enormity of editing all your listings and how long it will take. So, inform the team and let them know you are working on your edits.

On a related note, even Google turned off its Shopping function for supplements, vitamins, and over the counter drugs like Aspirins recently without any warning. It’s unclear as to why but I have a feeling the reason is similar to why Etsy decided to crack down on Bath and Beauty products recently. And this comes a week before one of the biggest personal care product maker Johnson and Johnson announced that it will remove many cancer causing carcinogens from their products by 2015, leaving some hope that other cosmetics and personal care products makers will follow suit and eliminate toxic chemicals from their lines.

Are all these events related? Is it a coincidence? Maybe. I suspect, it might have something to do with Safe Cosmetics Act 2011 that requires proper labeling within a year. But that’s just my haunch.

If you would like more info on what FDA says about your cosmetic and drug marketing policy, read, Is it cosmetic or a drug? If you want to learn about FDA’s policy on how to label your B&B products, read Cosmetic Labeling and label claims.

As a consumer, would you like to be informed of what the product is suppose to do? Do you “trust” that sellers will tell the truth and not over promise?

As a seller, how does this new policy affect you? Do you think other sellers are making false claims while you don’t? And where do you draw the line in medical or health claims? Is preventing dry skin, a medical claim?

CC Image by Pierterco via Flickr

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About Karen Lee

As a former Captain of Eco Etsy and one of the current leaders for the team, I am really excited to be hanging out with like minded team members to share ideas on how we can leave the least amount of carbon footprint.

I sell eco-handmade and vintage goodies in my Etsy shop and consult small business owners on Karen Lee Consulting where popular Etsy Starter Kit is sold. And as a retired Chiropractor, I share natural health news and green tips on drkarenslee.com. Check out my past posts on Eco Etsy!


  1. Beth McCormack says:

    It seems as if these changes, if they are national changes, adversely affect small businesses and herbalists much more than large businesses… the regulations seem almost insurmountable. I am reminded of when changes to the kids’ products went through as a result of poisons being found in some mass manufactured toys. They were going to make everyone go through rigorous testing, even second-hand stores. This would have put everyone out of business! Plus my kid would have been running around naked! A huge push by consumers facilitated an exemption for second-hand stores, thank goodness.

  2. I have been debating the “dry skin” claim myself so much that I contacted Etsy about it and was told that “moisturizing” or “moisturizer” was okay so long as it wasn’t used in a context against their policies. I have no idea what that means! But it brings me back to the point of where DO we draw the line?

    I think, for instance, that there’s a BIG difference in me saying that I created my skincare line to help me with my severe acne problems – and it worked for me and might work for you….vs. saying that a tea will “cure” depression or incontinence or…whatever. I don’t think that skin conditions are in the same league as other major medical problems and I don’t see it as bad, necessarily, to share the information and products that helped US with our skin problems. Does that make sense? I realize it’s a slippery slope, but I still think there should be SOME allowances for talking about potential healing sources for minor skin issues.

    We do need to be clear that we aren’t doctors and our products haven’t been used in medical testing or any of that…and isn’t that understood by most consumers who are looking for alternative remedies for skin issues?

    I don’t know…it’s a complicated issue!

    • It’s definitely a complicated issue.

      It sounds like Etsy is still trying to decipher where to draw the line. At least you are allowed to say “moisturizing”! That implies that it can be used to moisturize any type of skin and not just to be used for a “condition”, whether someone views it as medical or not.

      Hope that makes sense.

  3. Well, on one hand, bath and body sellers may now be getting more educated consumers simply because they’ll *have* to be in order to find the products they want. I hope there’s some leeway on wording because it will be difficult to search for say, acne soap or dandruff shampoo, if the sellers aren’t able to tag their items as such.

    • Yes, you can’t find items for “acne” or “eczema” anymore. I guess you’d have to be an educated consumer now to know what ingredients are good for acne or dandruff. It’s good and bad because I’ve found so many ingredients that sellers tout as being cure-all for dandruff or Eczema. Now, I have to know what I’m looking for, which is better in some sense.

  4. I totally agree with Picnic Basket Crafts. Historical information is interesting and fun to read. The FDA has no damn business regulating it, especially if it is presented in a clearly historical or folklore context.

    • Historical reference is banned from Etsy, not from FDA.

      And since those testimonials are on your feedback page, you are not restricted from using it….just don’t use it to market your listing. But like I said in the post, link it to your feedback page to let your potential customer know what has been said about your item. Or link to an outside reference. If you have a blog, you can link it to there too.

  5. I saw something about this I’m the eco etsy google group. My sister currently sells soaps and body care, I will forward her this info.