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Free from claims part I: Full of fear

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Fearful free from claims

Related tags Personal care Cosmetics Belinda carli

Belinda Carli, Director, Institute of Personal Care Science, highlights how today’s cosmetics and personal care brands are centring on including negative ‘free from’ claims that are creating misplaced fear in consumers.

In recent years, claims on cosmetics packaging have centred on including details relating to ingredients, formulations and ethical statements. Now, however, there is a prevailing trend that sees brands create exclusion-based claims that clearly identify what the products are ‘free from’.

Fact or fiction?

The types of exclusion claims that cosmetics companies are utilising on their branding and packaging vary according to the nature of the brand and the product they are advertising.

With that said, “parabens and sulphates seem to be the two most popular free from claims in Asia-Pacific and around the globe”, ​Belinda Carli, Director, Institute of Personal Care Science reported.

Carli highlights the other five main emerging free-from claims that are currently included on new product launches, and details the confusion surrounding the inclusion of these:

  • Triclosan - this is only found in a limited number of products
  • Propylene glycol - this can also cover glycols in general, even though none of the glycol materials used in personal care production pose any problems
  • Phthalates - these generally only apply to nail polish and the materials that do present a risk are prohibited
  • Triethanolamine - while there are some valid concerns relating to this organic compound, there are also regulatory limits over its input and usage
  • Nano-materials - Similarly, these materials have been investigated and specific regulatory guidelines have been set
  • PEGs and ethoxylated materials – purity criteria relating to these materials ensure they are safe for use in personal care products. There are concerns over possible 1,4-dioxane presence, yet these are unfounded as this is prohibited in personal care products. In addition, any PEG or ethoxylated materials must be free of this chemical before being used in personal care goods.

The Fear Factor

As the majority of these claims, therefore, do not appear to indicate a serious risk, why are these free-from claims proving such a popular move for brands and marketing teams?

Creating fear appears to be a key driver. Carli noted that fears play “the biggest”​ motivator in changing consumers’ current purchasing decisions.

“There are two things that will motivate a consumer to change their purchasing behaviours: fear — undoubtedly the biggest motivator — and hope — what claims should promise (and deliver) but all too often don’t,”​ emphasised Carli.

The Internet appears to be a main culprit in invoking this fear, with Carli highlighting that “unfortunately, the internet is too full of misinformation and fear over many ingredients that aren’t relevant or an issue, or have been proven safe when used within regulatory limits”.

Marketing message

While industry experts and formulators may recognise this tactic as a marketing ploy, the typical consumer, who is unfamiliar with chemicals, compounds and processes, may not be.

“Unfortunately, consumers will believe the scary message far more than believing the valid information provided by an industry body or industry regulator,”​ Carli emphasised.  

Even when information is incorrect, it is “extremely hard — if not impossible — to change a consumer’s misinformed opinion where fear has been used in the message”,​ she added.

The second part of this article, exploring examples of the damaging impact that these fearful messages can have, will be published on 14th August 2017.

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