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Ethics and Personal Care

By: Steve Herman
Posted: August 11, 2009, from the August 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Perception of a brand as ethical can have a significant impact on that brand’s sales.

The creation of CAAT, through its initial funding by CTFA (now the Personal Care Products Council) was an ethical decision prompted by concern for public opinion. The creation of the Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary, another action undertaken by CTFA, also had an ethical dimension. Strengthening the case for continued self regulation of cosmetics was one reason for the dictionary’s existence, and the resulting increase in transparency to the consumer also had an ethics outcome. Whether actions are taken from an internal motivation or as a response to external forces, they still are founded on ethics.

Real World Ethics

Here’s a not too uncommon scenario:

A senior chemist in the lab makes a new cosmeceutical base with a cocktail of potent new actives that have never been animal tested. The product is then handed to an assistant, who is asked to take it home and try it for a few days to see if any improvement is apparent in facial wrinkles and proffer an opinion on how the base feels. Ethical issues? You might say it happens all the time and that it’s no big deal. It is very hard for the assistant to refuse, so it is essentially a product with an unknown safety profile being forced on a human test subject.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is the classic example of a human testing experiment with questionable ethics. Conducted from 1932 to 19723 on 399 subjects who were mostly poor African-American sharecroppers, the study sought to shed light on syphilis treatments that were not very effective in 1932, and part of the study involved detailed understanding of the progression of the disease. By 1947, penicillin had become the standard treatment for syphilis, but the Tuskegee researchers continued the study, withholding penicillin and information about it. Victims included men who died of syphilis, wives who contracted the disease and children born with congenital syphilis. Only a leak to the press ended the program.