A product information page for Nivea Men Sensitive Moisturiser, seen on nivea.co.uk on 24 February 2017, showed an image of the product packaging which included the claim "0% alcohol* - no burning". Information under the "Product details" tab said "The improved formula with 0% alcohol* is fast absorbing and helps prevent that burning feeling". Neither asterisk appeared to link to additional information. Further down the page text stated "LIST OF INGREDIENTS" and below that, in bold text, "Does not include Alcohol (Ethyl Alcohol)". The full list of ingredients followed, which began "Aqua, Ethylhexyl Cocoate, Cetearyl Alcohol ...".
The complainant, who noted that the product ingredients listed cetearyl alcohol, challenged whether the claim "0% alcohol" was misleading.
Beiersdorf UK Ltd acknowledged that neither of the "0% alcohol" claims in the ad were linked to the text in the product ingredients list which stated "Does not include Alcohol (Ethyl Alcohol)". They said they had added a disclaimer which stated "no Ethylalcohol" in the product description tab and had linked that to the claim, so as to avoid any confusion, even though they believed that it was clear to consumers that the claim "0% alcohol" meant there was no ethyl alcohol in the product.
They explained that in chemistry the term "alcohol" referred to a broad variety of organic compounds in which the hydroxyl functional group (-OH) was bound to a carbon (-C). Such compounds were common in nature, and their names often ended in the letters 'ol', such as 'ethanol', 'paracetamol' or 'cholesterol'. They pointed out that there were more than 700 different substances which belonged to 'alcohol group' listed on the European Commission database for information on cosmetic substances and ingredients.
They said that alcohols were widely used in cosmetic products and referred to several examples, including a description of their properties. In relation to ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, they said it was a colourless, volatile liquid that was also found in alcoholic beverages. In cosmetic usage, it improved the sensory properties of a product and could help to make an emulsion become lighter and fresher. It also helped to give the scent of a product more room to develop and supported a product's microbiological stability. Ethyl alcohol could cause a feeling of stinging or burning on the skin, redness or mild irritation. Nivea Men Sensitive moisturiser had been formulated without ethyl alcohol to be gentler on sensitive skin. Ethyl alcohol was widely used in other Nivea Men products with concentrations of up to 45% in some of them.
They said cetearyl alcohol, which the product contained, was a fatty alcohol and solid substance which was used as an emulsifier to stabilise an emulsion.
Beiersdorf UK believed that "without alcohol", "alcohol-free" or "0% alcohol" in relation to cosmetic products was commonly understood to mean the absence of ethyl alcohol. They said the EU Cosmetic Products Regulation, which governed cosmetic products in the UK, required that all cosmetic ingredients be labelled on the packaging with the substance's name according to the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI). They explained that the INCI name for ethyl alcohol was 'Alcohol' or 'Alcohol Denat' and they provided the relevant extract of INCI which showed that. They also pointed out that not all the different types of alcohols used in cosmetics had the word "alcohol" in their INCI names.
They said that usage of the claim did not exclude the presence of other substances (such as cetearyl, benzyl or lanolin alcohol) which belonged to the same class of alcohols but had very different effects on the skin. They asserted that position was endorsed by the UK's Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) and the USA Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and provided links to their websites.
They provided several reasons for using 'alcohol-free' claims on cosmetic products, including: to inform consumers with sensitive skin that the product might be more suitable for them because ethyl alcohol could cause redness, irritations or have a drying effect on the skin; to inform consumers who had irritated skin because of shaving or due to conditions such as eczema, rosacea or psoriasis, because ethyl alcohol might further aggravate irritation or symptoms; and to inform consumers who avoided alcohol for cultural or religious reasons. They said they had researched the market and had found that 'alcohol-free' claims were commonly used in cosmetics advertising and packaging and that, in the examples they had seen, the claim related to the absence of ethyl alcohol in the formula. They said many products claiming to be 'alcohol-free' contained other alcohols. They understood that was also the case for other pharmaceuticals, such as cough syrup, and beverages, such as alcohol-free beer.
The ASA noted that the "0% alcohol" claims in the ad were standalone claims that were not linked to explanatory text. However, we also noted that the claims appeared alongside text which stated "- no burning", and "helps prevent that burning feeling".
We noted that the ad would be seen by a general audience. We considered that the average consumer, to whom the ad was directed through its content, was someone who believed they had "sensitive" or "easily irritated skin" or who might suffer from a "burning feeling" in their skin when using products containing ethyl alcohol – the type of alcohol that was most likely to cause a reaction or burning feeling in sensitive or easily irritated skin.
We understood that cetearyl alcohol, whilst also an alcohol compound, had different properties to ethyl alcohol and different effects on the skin. Whilst we acknowledged that it was possible for someone to be allergic to the ingredient, cetearyl alcohol, we considered that the context in which the claim was made, in particular the references to “no burning” and “helps prevent that burning feeling”, was that by using the product, consumers with sensitive skin could help avoid the irritation or discomfort that the type of alcohol associated with such reactions in sensitive skin (ethyl alcohol) could have, rather than implying that the product did not contain any alcohol compounds that could cause an allergic reaction in some people.
We also noted that the INCI name for ethyl alcohol was "alcohol" or "alcohol denat", and that was the name used for that ingredient on products' packaging, whereas the INCI name for cetearyl alcohol was "cetearyl alcohol".
We considered that those to whom the ad was directed would interpret the "0% alcohol" claim, in the context in which it appeared, to mean the product did not contain the type of alcohol that they would associate with causing a reaction or burning feeling in sensitive or easily irritated skin (i.e. ethyl alcohol). We noted that the product did not contain ethyl alcohol and therefore concluded that the claim "0% alcohol" was not misleading.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.