Brands are significant things in the personal care world. Huge sums are invested in creating, promoting and protecting them. The effort made by the guys in the lab who formulate them is a tiny fraction of the time, care and money lavished on the marketing.
The motivation for the company owning the brand is obvious enough. The better known their brand is the more units they’ll sell. Kerching. What the consumer gets from the deal – which after all they are ultimately paying for – is less obvious. But I suppose you could argue that the marketing activities at least inform you that you are buying from a serious company who take their products seriously and can therefore be relied on to meet their normal standard of quality. It also allows you to take advantage of the consistency inherent in the branding process.
One way this works is that most of the time international brands use the same formulation worldwide. Cosmetic regulations do vary a little from country to country, but these differences are not really significant and most products can be sold just about anywhere on the planet. So your Pantene in America is going to be identical to what you buy in Europe most of the time.
This is particularly useful if you have a strong reason for brand loyalty. For instance if you are say allergic to the preservative Methylisothiazolinone, you might want to stick to Simple. Simple does not use this preservative and so that solves your problem quite neatly.
Or so I would have thought. However, somebody took the time to let me know that Simple had just introduced this preservative to their products in Canada. I was a bit surprised, but I checked it out online and there it was. The formulations on sale in Canada were different to those on sale in the UK. Here is an example. This is the UK’s Simple Vital Vitamin Day Cream with Sun Screens ingredient list, preservatives in blue.
Aqua, Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Paraffinum Liquidum, Glycerin, Glyceryl Stearate,Cetyl Palmitate, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Cetyl Alcohol, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Dimethicone, Sorbitol, Potassium Cetyl Phosphate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Panthenol, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, PEG-100 Stearate,Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Allantoin, Borago Officinalis Seed Oil, Bisabolol, Dichlorobenzyl Alcohol, Methylparaben, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Hydroxide, 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, Pantolactone, BHT, Citric Acid
And here is Canada’s Simple Vital Vitamin Day Cream SPF 15.
Active ingredients:, Homosalate, Octisalate, Avobenzone, Octocrylene, Inactive ingredients:, Water (Aqua, Eau), Glycerin, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Silica, Pentylene Glycol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Panthenol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Steareth-21, Steareth-2, Arachidyl Alcohol, Polyacrylamide, Caprylyl Glycol, Behenyl Alcohol, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Disodium EDTA, Xanthan Gum, Cetearyl Glucoside, Arachidyl Glucoside, Allantoin, Bisabolol, Laureth-7, Triethanolamine, Methylisothiazolinone, Phenoxyethanol
I know the names aren’t absolutely identical, but you would certainly expect them to be the same product more or less.
Now there is nothing illegal or even immoral about what Simple are doing here. They may well have good reason to want to sell a different formulation in a different country. And I can see why they might want to switch to methylisothiazolinone. Despite its reputation and the very real problems I am constantly getting reported to me, it is not a preservative that causes a high percentage of skin reactions. The problem is that because it is used so widely the small number of people who react to it are very likely indeed to come into contact with it.
For this reason I think it is good that some brands make a point of avoiding the most widely used preservatives, the parabens and the isothiazolinones basically. This gives consumers an alternative that some of them really need. And any of us can develop an allergy any time, so while this is definitely a minority problem it is a minority than none of us can rule out joining some time.
So I am disappointed that Simple have taken this decision. I hope it isn’t part of a general roll out and the UK will be following suit in the near future. It is also a shame that the people who manage the brand haven’t appreciated one of the benefits that some of their consumers get from their efforts. Simple do have a very distinctive approach with their fragrance free colour free offering. Colours actually aren’t a problem, but a lot of people appreciate the lack of fragrance. Avoiding the mainstream preservatives would have fitted in nicely with this. What a shame.
Here are the two products about which I am specifically talking.
25/1/17 Update. The link to the Canadian product no longer works, so this story may no longer be up to date. If anyone has any current info I’d love to hear it.