exclusive interview

Free from claims part II: Removing mistruths

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Free from claims mistruths

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We continued our conversation with Belinda Carli, Director, Institute of Personal Care Science on how the cosmetics industry needs to change its narrative to stop communicating unnecessarily fearful messages.

Scientists are strong advocates for change within the industry. However, the power of multinational firms with expanding budgets and startups with a loyal social media following tend to have more weight in motivating fear than the chemists and regulators that are trying to communicate the facts.

Sensationalist claims

“Our words and science are wasted – unfortunately, the consumers who are motivated by the fear won’t listen to the chemists or regulators,”​ Carli impassioned. “Unfortunately fear wins over good science or reliable sources every time.”

Consumers are searching for trust, confidence and credibility, and the brands that can deliver this successfully, gain loyalty and increased sales.

The problems, Carli, highlights is that “the fear is out there” ​and so while these traits are generally positive indicators of a reputable company, this is not necessarily the case with free from claims.

Brands now say free from to be a part of reassuring their customers their products are ‘safe’ with ‘no nasties’ when these materials aren’t necessarily nasty, to begin with,”​ Carli went on to say.

If competing names present free from claims and consumers are “scared to believe or trust anything different”​, then the ability to compete becomes uncertain. These brands with alternative positive messages may feel they are alienating themselves from where the market leaders are heading.

Overcoming mistruths

For Belinda Carli, Director, Institute of Personal Care Science, this approach to detailing free from claims is at odds with her industry expertise and ethics: “I got into training on formulation and regulations because I want to teach people the truth and provide them with the knowledge and tools to research the truth for themselves.”

The current problem facing formulators, researchers, scientists and experts such as Carli is that her “story is not as eye-catching as the misinformation and fear that is spread on the internet”​.

Previous links

Media reports exasperate this by instilling fear. Carli highlights how the perceived link between breast cancer and parabens is one such example of this. Several studies, including one in 2009,1​ have explored the relationship between these two factors. These papers have reviewed the link between using underarm perspirants/deodorants and breast cancer, due to their potentially harmful ingredients.

Despite the link between parabens and breast cancer being “unproven by many governments, fear wins out”​. And, therefore, this leads some to believe that it is this fear campaign that presents more danger than the chemicals, ingredients or procedures themselves.

Knowledgeable and reputable organisations, such as the American Cancer Society​, are helping to change this narrative by providing factual information. By answering questions that have been delved into during research studies but that may fail to reveal the full picture,  such efforts can start to address this misplaced fear.

Several other trusted studies exist, offering “good and balanced science”​ that “prove parabens are safe”,​Carli highlighted. These help to build consumer confidence, yet must be entered into the public domain to do so.

Regulations and safety

In today’s cosmetics and personal care spheres, regulatory agencies are quick to analyse and stamp out dangers to maximise safety.

While  this is “not to say we won’t discover other issues in the future but right now, where there has been significant consumer concern, governments and regulatory agencies step in and make the proper investigations to protect consumer health – both in disproving the concerns and setting limits to ensure safe use,”​ Carli assured.

The plan to ban microbeads in a bid to protect the environment demonstrates this: “Despite a significant percentage of microbeads being from laundry rather than personal care, these bans still affect personal care products to protect our environment.”

Positive claims

Alternatively, brands focusing on positive packaging claims and messages, like Korea where companies list the percentage of good ingredients in their products such as 70% coconut water, are valued and help to prevent the spread of fear.

“It would be great to focus on that too but the reality is there is still a growing majority of consumers believing the ever spreading untruths,”​ Carli concluded.

Examining water, for example, Carli points out that “when water is inhaled, it is fatal 100% of the time”​. Naturally, that statement would likely invoke fear, “yet it’s perfectly safe, and necessary, to drink, around 2 litres a day”.

This is the current state of the cosmetics industry and sadly "presenting the scary side of an ingredient is far more attention grabbing than the truth”, ​Carli concluded.

1. Darbre PD. Underarm antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer. Breast Cancer Research 2009; 11 Suppl 3:S5. doi: 1186/bcr2424Exit Disclaimer.

2. European Commission. Parabens, underarm cosmetics and breast cancer. Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General. Directorate C - Public Health and Risk Assessment. http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/04_sccp/docs/sccp_o_00d.pdf

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