Lifebuoy can advertise that its soaps offer protection from skin infection causing germs.
  • The packaging on Lifebuoy’s soap can continue to claim that it protects from infection-causing diseases, South Africa’s ads regulator has ruled.
  • In the latest soap battle, the makers of Protex, Colgate-Palmolive complained that Lifebuoy’s claims suggest that their soaps have medicinal benefits.
  • But the Advertising Regulatory Board has said the advertising makes no such suggestion.
  • Soap manufacturers have been battling each other before the regulator over various claims.
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Lifebuoy may continue to advertise that its soaps offer protection from infection-causing germs, after the makers of Protex, Colgate-Palmolive, failed to convince a regulator that the claims suggested the soaps have medicinal properties.

In its complaint lodged with the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB), Colgate Palmolive said Lifebuoy's use of the word "infection" on its packaging created the impression that the Unilever products have medicinal properties.

The dispute is the latest one between soap manufacturers around various matters, including copyright, advertising claims, and copying branding.

Protex, made by Colgate-Palmolive, is itself fresh out of a dispute with the makers of Dettol products, Reckitt Benckiser, where it was told to drop claims that its soap boosts natural antigerm protection because of flaxseed ingredients in its soaps.

The latest dispute was on Lifebuoy's Tea Tree Oil soap, which promises to offer protection from skin infection-causing disease, implying that the consumer's skin would be protected against germs that have the potential to cause a skin infection.

Protection from skin infection causing germs.

The ARB ruled that it was not likely that the claim would suggest that the soap can prevent bodily illness.

For some of its products, Lifebouy claims that its soaps can protect from 10 infection-causing germs and uses the phrasing "10 infection-causing germs, 1 protection".

In a July 2020 ruling, the ARB stopped Lifebouy from saying that its products "Protects from 100 illness-causing germs". In  its latest complaint, Colgate-Palmolive said the use of "infection" on its packaging is inherently similar to the previous phrasing.

"The new claims made by Unilever convey an impression that the use of Lifebuoy Hygiene Soap protects from germs which cause skin diseases, and as such, that the product possesses medicinal properties," Colgate-Palmolive argued.

ARB said that the "infection-causing germs" claims, which have been used on Lifebuoy's packaging for several years now, have always played a secondary role to the soap's primary cleansing and cosmetic function and further added that soap does, in fact, function to prevent germs from entering the body during the process of washing.

"At worst, it claims 'to protect' against 'germs' that could cause 'skin infection' and/or 'infection' (which is not typically regarded as a disease or illness, but a potential precursor thereto, if left unchecked). Pertinently, it does not claim to heal a skin infection once it is established," the ARB said.

"The Directorate is not convinced that the current claims, which refer to offering protection from 'infection-causing germs' are communicated in a medicinal context," it said.

It added that current advertising does not make use of the word "illness", makes no reference to preventing illness, and does not suggest healing or curative properties or even that the soap would offer "relief of a disease condition".

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