I am not religious, but I was struck once by something a Catholic priest said on the radio. He was talking about a seminar they had just had on morality. “It’s easy to agree on principles. The arguments start when you get into the details.” Well I don’t know about morals, but that is certainly true when it comes to cosmetic claims. The principle is pretty simple. You are only allowed to sell your product on the basis of legal, decent and truthful declarations. No argument there. The problems start when you actually start making those claims.
One way I try to keep abreast of this kind of thing is by reading judgements made by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) here in the UK. I am sure there are other similar bodies around the world. If you don’t like an advert and think it is being dishonest you can contact them and make a complaint. They publish the rulings they make as a result so you can see what their thinking is and get a feel for what is and isn’t acceptable.
A particularly interesting one popped up today. It was to do with claims made for rosemary water – or an aqueous extract from it. Rosemary has a long use as a medicinal herb, and there is some evidence that it has some properties which might be beneficial. It is rich in antioxidants. It has some antibacterial properties. And most intriguing of all, it has been shown to have some way of enhancing memory. (I have blogged about rosemary enhancing memory before.) So that’s all good – though none of those things are really very great in effect. Based on what has been discovered so far it is pretty unlikely that rosemary would perform well enough in a clinical trial to match the performance expected of a licensed pharmaceutical.
But nonetheless, ingesting some rosemary can’t do any harm and might do you some good. At £3.95 for a 750ml bottle it strikes me as expensive. But people spend that kind of money on unpleasant cups of coffee, so it isn’t that out of line price wise for a drink.
The problem was the claims made for it. The makers stated or implied that it would be effective against cancer, could prolong your life and that it was proven to improve your memory. To back this up an Italian village where people live a long time was namechecked. They also named a scientist’s whose research has identified some of the benefits of rosemary.
Nice try guys. But for the ASA this all went too far. These claims are medical in nature and can’t be made without a drug license. You also can’t name people or places as endorsing your product when they haven’t.
This is quite a good ruling to read if you want to know what sort of claims are acceptable. If you want to know my opinion, I think rosemary water might well very marginally do some of things claimed for it. But I doubt it will do enough for those effects ever to be measured. It is quite reasonable to believe that taking antioxidants will help your body in its continual struggle against free radicals that are trying to break it down. But the amount of antioxidant you will get from a tiny proportion in a drink of this nature isn’t going to be very great. But you have to drink something so why not?