Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A YouTube ad for Wild, a deodorant manufacturer, and two pages on their website, seen on 2 December 2022:
a. The YouTube video, posted from Wild’s account and titled “Wild Natural deodorant – Sustainable & 100% Effective”, featured shots of a model applying and then throwing aside a series of spray-on deodorants while appearing itchy and uncomfortable. The Wild product’s packaging then appeared on-screen, and the model was seen applying the product before smelling her armpits and smiling. The accompanying voice-over stated, “You’re giving yourself bad B.O. when you don’t even realise. I’ve tried just about every traditional deodorant you can buy. Turns out most deodorants block your body from being able to sweat properly. Your pores get clogged with all the sweat and toxins that your body is supposed to release, so you can end up with itchy armpits, and rashes and body odour … Wild uses natural ingredients that absorb odour so your body can sweat like it’s supposed to and smell fresh all day long. It’s not sticky and it lasts all day, and it really does stop body odour even after a sweaty workout … It doesn’t matter where I’m going, I know I’m gonna smell great. If you’re looking for a deodorant that is better for your body … then this is your sign to go Wild.” On-screen text and emojis that mirrored what the voice-over stated were superimposed over the ads’ visuals. The video’s caption included “No Aluminiums or other harsh chemicals”.
b. A page on the Wild website, www.wearewild.com, was headed “What is an ‘aluminium-free deodorant’ and should I be using one?” Under the subheading “Aluminium vs Aluminium Salts”, text stated “Many mainstream antiperspirants contain a synthetic group of aluminium salts. This is what is being referred to when deodorants, such as Wild, are labelled ‘aluminium-free’. The function of these synthetic salts is to reduce or even stop sweating by temporarily blocking sweat glands in your underarms. By preventing perspiration, there is less opportunity for the growth of odour-causing bacteria which thrive when sweat lingers on the skin. It's effective, but perhaps not the safest option ... There are various studies linking aluminium salts to some undesirable side effects on health, based on the impacts of these salts being absorbed into the body and upsetting some fine-tuned hormonal balances, for example within the endocrine system. Further research is needed to generate more concrete evidence and accessible explanations, however we do not wish to use them in our deodorant, as the initial findings and research currently available suggest it may not be worth the risk! What we are 100% sure of is that sweating is a natural and healthy process that regulates our body temperature, and we're keen to develop products which work WITH your body's natural functions, rather than AGAINST them.”
The complainant challenged whether the following claims were misleading:
1. in ad (a) that most deodorants prevented the body from expelling harmful toxins, worsened body odour, and were linked to health problems like rashes or itchiness; and
2. in ad (b) that antiperspirants containing aluminium salts were potentially harmful to users, including by interfering with hormone balances in the endocrine system.
1. & 2. In relation to whether conventional deodorants were linked to health problems or prevented the body from expelling toxins, Wild Cosmetics Ltd t/a Wild understood that the scientific evidence available in 2023 was inconclusive regarding the status of such claims. For that reason, they stated that they had not intended to directly give the impression that conventional deodorants were certainly harmful. Instead, they had intended for ads (a) and (b) to reflect growing concerns over the possibility that deodorants with synthetic ingredients, or pore-blocking antiperspirants containing aluminium salts, could be detrimental to health. They felt that such concerns were justified by on-going research and reporting into the contents of deodorants and antiperspirants from large manufacturers.
They believed that many deodorants or antiperspirants in the UK market contained chemical compounds that could be toxic to people and the environment. They considered aluminium salts, the function of which was to prevent perspiration by temporarily blocking pores, to be an example of such compounds. In addition, they cited a study from a US-based independent laboratory which led to product recalls after it detected high levels of benzene in antiperspirants from several leading brands. They added that the use of parabens, a type of synthetic preservative, was widespread across the UK cosmetics market. They understood that parabens could enter the body and mimic the activity of oestrogen, a hormone that played an important role in the male and female reproductive systems, and that, in doing so, parabens risked causing breast cancer. While they acknowledged that the available scientific evidence was inconclusive in relation to whether that was the case, they considered it likely that stronger evidence would emerge as soon as the issue received sufficient attention. They also understood that many deodorants and antiperspirants contained petrochemicals, which they believed were linked to inflammation, various diseases, and skin irritation. To support that petrochemicals were linked to inflammation, they referred to the website of a US-based distributor of oleochemicals, which were compounds derived from animal or vegetable fats. The page stated that petrochemicals were “skin irritants” in a section that discussed “the benefits of oleochemicals over traditional petrochemicals”.They provided a copy of a report supplied by a third-party consultancy agency, which compared the impact of Wild deodorant on the environment and human health to that of a competing product from a larger manufacturer. The report stated that, excluding fragrance, Wild deodorant’s ingredients, were all vegan, naturally derived, and were not carcinogenic or mutagenic. In contrast, the competing product was found to contain organic compounds derived from petrol and highly processed synthetic ingredients, including butane, which it stated was carcinogenic. Wild added that every ingredient used in their product had been listed as "green" by Skin Deep, a cosmetics safety database managed by the Environmental Working Group, a US-based non-profit organisation. They explained that those ratings denoted a high level of safety, which had been confirmed through a review of the scientific and regulatory literature.
Ad (a) featured the claim “You’re giving yourself bad B.O.” alongside a shot of a model applying spray-on deodorant. It then referred to “just about every traditional deodorant” before featuring the further claims “most deodorants block your body from being able to sweat properly”, “your pores get clogged with all the sweat and toxins that your body is supposed to release” and “you can end up with itchy armpits, and rashes and body odour”, which were variously accompanied by shots of the model appearing uncomfortable while scratching her armpits or reacting to their odour. The ASA considered that consumers would understand those elements to mean that many competing deodorant or antiperspirant products clogged users’ pores by preventing the release of sweat, and for that reason, caused rashes or itchiness and worsened body odour. We further considered that consumers would interpret the reference to the retention of “toxins the body is supposed to release” as implying that such products interfered with a bodily function that was important to human health, and therefore that there was a possibility that such products’ negative impact could extend beyond the health conditions specifically referenced in the ad.
The ad did not explicitly indicate which “traditional” competing products, or competing product types, were the subject of the claims. However, we considered that, because of the emphasis placed on the product’s naturalness and its lack of interference with perspiration, together with the caption’s claim “No Aluminium or other harsh chemicals”, consumers were likely to understand the ad as making a comparative claim that attributed the negative effects on health and body odour it mentioned to any antiperspirant or deodorant product that inhibited sweating, or contained ingredients that were, in general, more synthetic than those of the advertised product.
We therefore considered that the advertiser needed to hold robust scientific evidence to not only substantiate that the use of all such competing deodorants or antiperspirants had a negative impact on health and body odour in the ways claimed, but also that, in light of those risks, the advertised product was a safer alternative to those products.
The comparative report that the advertiser provided assigned the advertised product and a single competitor product with a “Human Health Impact Score”, which was intended as a relative measure that accounted for the health benefits and risks associated with each product. While the advertised product’s score was higher than that of the competing product, the report did not give details regarding the calculation of each score. Instead of stating exactly which health risks had contributed to each product’s score, it gave general examples of what might be classified as a major or minor health risk and outlined the overall framework through which scores would be calculated. The report did state that some organic compounds used in the competitor’s product could cause mild skin irritation, including the aluminium salt aluminium chlorohydrate, as well as alpha-isomethyl ionone, hydroxycitronellal, and linalool. However, it did not support those assertions by citing the findings of clinical trials conducted on people, nor did it account for the concentration of the competitor product’s ingredients. We understood that factor would necessarily figure into any accurate assessment of the product’s effect on skin. In addition, the website page that linked petrochemical compounds to skin irritation did not state which of such compounds, if any, were commonly found in deodorants or antiperspirants, and did not support its assertions with the findings of clinical trials conducted on people.
Further, neither the website nor the report referred to the potential of competitor deodorants or antiperspirants to worsen body odour, or to negative health effects specifically linked to such products’ sweat-inhibiting action. In relation to their impact on health, we understood the scientific consensus was that sweating primarily served to regulate body temperature and that, while trace amounts of some metals and other chemicals could make their way into sweat, the body was in no way dependent on perspiration for the expulsion of toxicants. That was because other mechanisms, such as those of the excretory system, fulfilled that function.
For those reasons, we considered that the claims in the ad that all deodorants or antiperspirants with synthetic ingredients, or whose action inhibited perspiration, worsened body odour and were likely to have a negative impact on users’ health, including by irritating skin, had not been substantiated. We concluded that ad (a) was misleading.
On this point, ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.7 (Misleading advertising), and 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
Ad (b) featured the claim that antiperspirants containing aluminium salts that inhibited perspiration were “perhaps not the safest option”, as well as that “there are various studies linking aluminium salts to some undesirable side effects on health, based on the impacts of these salts being absorbed into the body and upsetting some fine-tuned hormonal balances, for example within the endocrine system”. Further text stated that “further research is needed to generate more concrete evidence” before the ad went on to feature the further claim that “the initial findings and research currently available suggest that it may not be worth the risk”.
We considered consumers would understand those claims to mean that, although the issue was not yet clear-cut, health concerns about the impact of antiperspirants containing aluminium salts on bodily functions reliant on the distribution of hormones were supported by a significant body of preliminary evidence. For that reason, we considered that the ad also encouraged consumers to regard those health concerns as a reason to choose the advertised product, which did not contain aluminium salts, over competitor products that did.
We considered that the advertiser therefore needed to hold robust scientific evidence to substantiate the claim that antiperspirants containing aluminium salts harmed users by interfering with bodily functions reliant on the distribution of hormones.
However, the advertiser had not provided any evidence consisting of clinical trials conducted on people that supported the claim. We concluded that the claim had not been substantiated and therefore that ad (b) was misleading.
On this point, ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.7, and 3.33 (Misleading advertising).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Wild Cosmetics Ltd t/a Wild to ensure that their future ads did not feature claims that competing deodorants or antiperspirants, the action of which inhibited perspiration or that contained synthetic ingredients including aluminium salts, that were linked to health problems such as hormonal imbalances, itchiness, rashes, or body odour.