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The Pitfalls and Burdens of Claims

By: Marie Alice Dibon, PharmD
Posted: February 2, 2010, from the February 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 6 of 9

To illustrate, consider how short the time line has become for an NGO-raised issue or grievance to be resolved.

In 1990, I wrote my thesis on the possible alternatives to animal testing. I did this while completing an internship at Chanel. The brand was worried that it would become targeted by animal rights activists against animal testing. PETA’s actions were violent, and they had already organized a very high profile boycott of Revlon’s products. They were also organizing protests against L’Oréal products. No one at Chanel wanted to take the risk of seeing the famous store on Paris’ Rue Cambon taken over by people spreading pig’s blood. Alternatives to animal testing were already available. The debate was well underway, but it took another 14 years for the ban to be enacted in Europe on finished goods and another five for it to include ingredients.

Now consider, between the date of the publication that fueled the parabens debate (2004) and the review of those products by an ad-hoc commission at the French FDA, only six months passed. In the last five years, even major brands have been removing parabens from their formulas, regardless of the fact that every report that has come out ever since has exonerated the straight chain parabens from being risky for human use at the recommended and usual doses. If the industry doesn’t react or keeps using the short-term gain strategy that play to the NGOs’ game, those products might be entirely banned from cosmetics formulas at some point.

It is urgent for the industry to start rethinking the way it deals with those crises. A positive crisis communication strategy must be created for the industry as a whole. The industry must not continue to bury its head in the sand when a crisis does arise, focusing on making money short-term while shooting itself in the foot.

In the case of parabens, the fact is that most brands started to pull them from formulas, implying that they tacitly approve the rumor that parabens where/are indeed harmful to their consumers. This may increase sales for the short-term, but when the industry takes this path, it basically secures that fact that these unproven comments will become the rule in the long-term.