A Primer on Slack-Fill: e.l.f. Cosmetics

June 15th, 2018

A recent viral Facebook video concerning the packaging for an e.l.f. bottle of face primer, a creamy makeup product, has created a great educational opportunity to take another look at the concept of slack-fill. In the video, an e.l.f. customer demonstrates what appears to be an egregious case of deceptive product packaging. According to the disappointed customer, much like the famous Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls, the e.l.f. Tone Adjusting Face Primer in “neutralizing green” is made up of a container within a container within a container, such that the actual product volume amounts to nowhere close to what it seems.

Comments on the Facebook post reveal the outrage and are quick to condemn the company:

  • “Yikes! That’s crazy, even if the volume is on the labelling and it was missed/looked past, if you’re only going to sell such a tiny portion, why all the extra packaging?! Sheesh!”
  • “How terrible for a company to be so deceptive – ripping people off; however, I suppose in their company name, ‘E.L.F’ they did not lie, disclosing the size/amount in the product! ;oO “’Shameful The ELF.’”

Which leads us back to the question: What exactly is slack-fill? You can read our entire overview here, but here’s a quick recap:

We’ve all experienced it before. Buying what appears to be a big bag of chips or large box of candy only to be disappointed when you open it and discover that a large percentage of what’s inside is actually air. Legitimate (and legal) reasons for this extra space do exist. For example, it could be that it is necessary for the protection of the product, so your chips or candy don’t get smushed while in transport. Or, for example, it could be that extra space is necessary for the mechanical functions necessary to dispense the product. This is what is known as functional slack-fill.

Now returning to the e.l.f. case at hand. It appears as though while yes, there is some extra space, the situation may not be worthy of the pitchforks being raised in response to the video. You see, this product functions similarly to say a tube of lipstick or stick of deodorant in which the product is slowly pushed to the top via a manual twisting motion. The e.l.f. product works in the same way only it is the suction created by the pump at the top that pulls the product up. The inner green container’s bottom slides up and slowly pushes the product up to the top via the force of suction. When the product is all used up, the bottom of the container is pulled all the way to the top.

And while the container-within-a-container setup may seem strange, the outer clear container appears to prevent the user from accidentally pressing the bottom of the green container (which would accidentally create a volcano of primer).

It looks like this video was created once most of the product was already used. So yes, it would appear as though that inner green container held very very little product thus making this item a total rip-off. But as it turns out, a second look reveals that this slack-fill complaint may just be filled with hot air.

UPDATE 6/18/18: The company has responded to criticism sparked off by the viral Facebook video, which as of Monday, June 18, had reached 6 million views. In a June 16 Facebook post, e.l.f Cosmetics said the extra space serves a purpose and is indeed “functional,” comparing the mechanism of the air pump to that of a push pop. In a statement to TINA.org, the company repeated that comparison and added that the sizes of its face primers are indicated on the front of the package.

Find more of our coverage on slack-fill packaging here.

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You know when you buy a big bag of chips, and you’re all psyched for a feast, and then it turns out there are like, three chips in the bag? That bag is slack filled.

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