Protection from skin infection causing germs.
  • In the latest soap battle, the makers of Protex, Colgate-Palmolive, succeeded in their attempts to rebut Lifebuoy's claims suggesting that their soaps have medicinal benefits.
  • It previously failed to stop it making those claims when the ads regulator gave it the green light to continue using the phrase in question in May.
  • After intervention from a number of stakeholders, the ads regulator now agrees that the use of the word 'infection' on the packing is flawed.
  • Soap manufacturers have been battling each other before the regulator over various claims.
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After multiple attempts, Lifebuoy's close competitor Colgate-Palmolive has succeeded in barring the soap makers from claiming that its soaps offer protection from infection-causing germs.

In a ruling published by the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) last week, Unilever, which makes Lifebuoy soap, was ordered to drop the claims from all advertising stating that their product protects against infection-causing germs.

In a May ruling, South Africa's advertising regulator dismissed a complaint by Colgate-Palmolive, the makers of Protex soap.

In its complaint lodged with 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 in relation to 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.

In its complaint, Colgate took issue with the phrases on the wrapping of the soaps which claim to protect from 10 skin infection-causing germs

In a later ruling, the ARB rejected Colgate's contention of the use of the word "infection", citing that it is not necessarily akin to "illness-causing".

"The Directorate accepts that "infection" and "illness" are not synonymous. In short, an "infection" occurs when germs are able to enter the body, whereas "illness" or disease conditions occur when the body's immune system is weakened or compromised as a result of the infection," the ARB had said in its ruling.

It said that at the time 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.

But in its appeal, Colgate maintained that the claim creates the impression that Lifebuoy possesses medicinal properties, suggesting that the product does more than just protect the skin against germs.

It also argued that reasonable consumers would not only believe that they would be protected from germs when using Lifebuoy, but would also be convinced that they would be protected from getting certain infections caused by germs.

In its view, the wrapping of the Lifebuoy soaps should have stated that it offers "protection from germs" and that "Lifebuoy protects from 10 germs".

Colgate relied on the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association of South Africa (CTFA) for its appeal. In its report, it said that the word "infection" failed to respect the definition of a cosmetic, stating that the product in question created the impression that it "provides medicinal benefits like healing or curative properties

"The effect is aimed at treatment or relief of a disease condition," the CTFA said.

Colgate also relied on the MRA Regulatory Consultants (MRA), independent experts in the regulatory environment for medicines, health products, and cosmetics.

"According to the main presentation and characteristic highlighted therein – the products are promoted with the purpose of protecting against infection; which is not a cosmetic purpose," the MRA said.

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