by Sandra Williams, Owner, Puresimple

I am an inveterate label reader. And when I come across an ingredient I don’t recognise, I look it up. Why? Because it is important that we understand what’s in the products that we are consuming – whether it be the food we eat, the clothes we wear or the personal care products we use on our bodies and in our homes. Sad to say but a lot of the time it is a case of ‘let the buyer beware’. I regularly come across products with no ingredient labels or incomplete ingredient label lists especially in the micro business sector.

Some examples
  1. Glycerine soap, easily recognisable as the pretty coloured transparent soaps: Most often the front label will state ‘100% pure glycerine’ and provide no ingredient label or list only glycerine and fragrance. Glycerine is a clear sweet sticky liquid with no soap component at all. So combining glycerine and fragrance will only give you nice smelling glycerine. But now if you do an internet search, you find that the most common ingredients are sodium laureth sulphate, propylene glycol, sorbitol, glycerine, synthetic colour and synthetic fragrance. So you ask – why does this happen. Well, it’s very simple really. People who make and sell glycerine soap don’t actually make the soap. They buy the readymade soap, melt it, maybe add a minute percentage of a special butter or oil and pour it into a mould and allow it to harden. Hey presto – soap.

  2. Bodywash, especially the thick creamy high foaming gel washes: The label will proudly declare ‘100% natural ingredients’ and then proceed to list countless unpronounceable ingredients. So, again if you do an internet search and discover that ¾ of the ingredients are synthetic man-made ingredients. And then you ask again – why do they do this? More and more people are wanting ‘natural’ products and unscrupulous suppliers are happily supplying these products knowing full well that most shoppers either won’t bother to read the label or will simply accept the label statements as true.

And then we move on to my personal favourite – product and label statements. Those short catchy phrases one sees on labels, adverts and online shopping pages.

Some examples
  1. 100% of all ingredients are of natural origin. Fabulous statement, but what does it really mean? Well sadly, it means absolutely nothing – it is a completely meaningless nonsense statement. Why? Because everything on this planet started out as a natural substance. The questions I always ask are ‘how far down the food chain was it natural?’ and ‘what has been done to it on its journey from start to finish? Other similar and equally meaningless statements are ‘derived from nature’ and ‘derived from coconut oil’. The important thing is not where it started but where it ended.

  2. Nature identical. Another fabulous statement. The wording gives the impression that it is identical to the same substance as found in nature i.e. natural. It is, in fact, exactly the opposite. It is a man-made substance manufactured to resemble the natural substance, but without any of the original properties. An internet search provides this example of Nature Identical Flavours ‘Due to the high cost or unavailability of natural flavour extracts, most commercial flavourants are "nature-identical", which means that they are the chemical equivalent of natural flavours, but chemically synthesized rather than being extracted from natural source materials.

We as consumers need to become informed, conscious, conscientious shoppers who seek out ethical manufacturers and micro businesses. Unethical labelling (or as I like to call it – creative labelling) needs to be challenged or it will just continue. If a supplier is less than honest regarding their label declarations, what else are they not disclosing? There are two ways that someone can lie to you (1) lie to you directly and (2) don’t tell you what they don’t want you to know. Honest ethical businesses should be rewarded and you can do this simply by buying their products.

Sandra Williams is the owner of Puresimple, a micro business specialising in handmade bath, body and homecare products.
info@puresimple.co.za     /     www.puresimple.co.za     /