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This is the segment of the show where we dissect the claims of popular personal care products. We try to help you understand what the claims really mean, how the company might go about proving that these claims are really true, and whether or not the claims are important enough to persuade you to buy the product.
Today we’re talking about a product I spotted on the shelves of my local Walgreens: Dial’s Moisturizing Body Wash with vitamin complex Amazing B. I even tweeted a picture of the label with the slightly snarky caption “It’s not just vitamin B it’s AMAZING vitamin B. Nice job, Dial.” We’ll talk about what “amazing” means in this context but I also think it’s important to explain what having vitamins in your body wash really means.
As usual, we start this kind of discussion with a review of the exact claims the company makes. That’s important because it’s easy for companies to use carefully crafted claims to IMPLY their product does something without directly saying it. And that’s one way you can be tricked into buying something that may not really be worth the money.
Dial Moisturizing Body Wash claims
Remember that the name of the product itself can be a claim in this case it’s “Vitamin Boost Amazing B Lotion Infused Body Wash.” So already we see a claim that has something do to with vitamins and boosting. We also see that something about the product is allegedly “amazing” and that the product is “lotion infused.”
Next, the label asks if you “Want healthy, soft skin?”
And, presuming your answer is yes, it instructs you to “Give it a Vitamin Boost, every time you shower.”
Additionally we’re told that “This lotion-infused formula has a moisturizing Vitamin Complex that actually helps draw moisture directly to your skin.”
They also tell us that you should use this product “So it [your skin] can look as healthy as you feel.”
And then they reiterate that the product is “with Vitamin Complex Amazing B.”
There’s some duplicate language here so let’s condense it down to the core claims.
…is a “lotion infused body wash.”
…has a moisturizing vitamin complex that actually helps draw moisture directly to your skin.
…gives skin “a vitamin boost.”
…contains something called “Amazing B.”
…makes skin look “healthy” and soft.
How could these claims be true?
Let’s start by discussion the idea of a body wash being “lotion infused.” The most direct way to satisfy this claim would be to put lotion ingredients into the body wash. The key ingredients in most lotions are fatty alcohols which make skin feel smooth, occlusive agents (like mineral oil, petrolatum or silicones) that coat the skin and seal in moisture, and moisturizing agents like glycerin or hyaluronic acid that attract moisture to skin.
When we look at the ingredient list (see below) we don’t see any fatty alcohols or occlusive agents. We do see glycerin and Sodium PCA both of which are moisturizers. Personally, I think it’s a stretch to say the body wash is “lotion infused” but it certainly does contain the kind of moisturizing ingredients used in lotions.
Moisturizing vitamin complex
It’s important to note the exact wording in the claim. They talk about a “moisturizing vitamin complex.” When companies talk about a “complex” it often means they mixed a couple of ingredients together so they can talk about the ingredients that sound “sexy” (like vitamins in this case) but actually provide functionality with other ingredients. So I’m guessing that the “moisturizing vitamin complex” consists of glycerin, Sodium PCA, tocopheryl acetate (which is vitamin E), and Panthenol (which is pro-vitamin B5). There is data showing that Panthenol can moisturize skin and hair.
To be honest, this is kind of a mute point because these ingredients are only effective when left on skin, like when they’re applied from a lotion. Body wash is only on your skin for a few seconds and then it’s rinsed away which means these ingredients will do virtually nothing.
So does that mean that Dial is lying when they say that this body wash “has a moisturizing vitamin complex that actually helps draw moisture directly to your skin?” No, not at all, because it’s TRUE that the vitamin complex itself (when left on skin) will actually help draw moisture to skin. They’re simply stating a property of the ingredients themselves they’re NOT making a claim about the finished product. This is a little sneaky but it’s done ALL THE TIME in the cosmetic industry.
What is a vitamin boost?
I think this approach of having a moisturizing vitamin complex is also how they support the claim about giving your skin “a vitamin boost every time you shower.” It sounds like they’re claiming this body wash increases the vitamin content of your skin. That’s one reasonable take away. But boost can be interpreted different ways. The dictionary defines it “as a source of help or encouragement leading to increase or improvement.” So they have to establish this body wash improves skin in pretty much ANY way. They can certainly do that by showing it makes skin cleaner or feeling softer. In fact, the product does contain mild surfactants that can do just that. So they establish the product can “boost” skin and that it contains vitamins – so they’re taking a little creative liberty by saying it gives you a “vitamin boost” but they can do that without having to prove your skin has more vitamins on it.
What does “Amazing B” mean?
How would you support something like amazing? The answer is…you probably don’t. Amazing could fall into the category of what is known in the industry as “puffery.” Puffery essentially means that a claim that is so exaggerated that it is clearly not meant to be taken literally. A claim like “moisturizes your skin better than any leading brand” is a very specific claim that would require data. A claim like “it’s best smelling body wash in the universe” is so over the top that no one would really expect you to actually prove that. So they may be using amazing in this context.
Now having said that, claiming puffery is not really a defense. You can only get away with that if whoever is responsible for adjudicating the claim agrees with you. So you can’t just stick the word amazing or incredible in any regular claim and then argue that you don’t have to do any testing. It doesn’t work that way.
Remember making a claim is sort of like suing someone. You can sue anyone for anything you want you may not win when you go to court. It’s the same way with these claims you can put forth what ever argument you choose to no matter how ridiculous it is but chances are you would lose in a court of law if it ever came to that. Some of the best claims I’ve seen sound impressive but have a simple explanation.
Healthy skin claims
Lastly, what about this idea that the product offers “healthy, soft skin” and lets skin “look as healthy as you feel”?
Making skin soft is certainly not an issue as we’ve already said. And they idea of making skin “look healthy” is very easy to support and it’s used all the time in the industry. You will ALMOST always see a “healthy skin” claim qualified by “look” because if the claim is about appearance then it’s just a cosmetic claim. If you say that your product actually makes skin healthier there’s a MUCH greater burden of proof and it may even be a drug claim. So there’s nothing special here in this regard.
Should these claims influence you to buy the product?
Absolutely not. Consider the claim about moisturizing and nourishing skin. There’s no way you’re going to rely on an inexpensive body wash like this to be the primary moisturizer for your skin. You’re only really going to get that through some sort of lotion or other leave on product. Then there’s the vitamin claim. As we just discussed that’s not meaningful at all due to the amounts used in the product and due to the fact that it’s a rinsed off detergent product.
What should convince you to buy this product?
There are four things. First does the color and fragrance appeal to you. If you like the idea of how kiwi’s smell then the graphic on the front of the package communicates both of these. The detergent system is also important (this appears to be a reasonably mild product based on reading the ingredient list.) And finally the cost. This is a very reasonably priced body wash – depending on where you shop, you can get it for as little as 37 cents per ounce. That’s pretty cheap.
You just shouldn’t be expect it to do anything extraordinary for your skin. If are just looking for it to smell nice, get your skin clean and leave it feeling soft, then you’ll probably be very satisfied with it regardless of how AMAZING it says it is.
Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-8, Fragrance, Glycerin, Polyquaternium-7, Sodium PCA, Tocopheryl Acetate, Panthenol, Actinidia Chinensis (Kiwi) Fruit Juice, Averrhoa Carambola Fruit Juice, Mangifera Indica (Mango) Juice, Cocamide MEA, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, PEG-200 Hydrogenated Glyceryl Palmate, Sodium Benzoate, DMDM Hydantoin, Citric Acid, Sodium Chloride, Yellow 5, Blue 1
We played another game of Improbable products this week. Can you guess which of these products is the fake? Listen to the show for the answer.
1. A device similar to the Keurig coffee machine that makes instant skin treatments.
2. A sunscreen for dogs with thinning hair
3. A new perfume made with vegetables like kale and pea pods.