Saturday, January 28, 2006

Shampoo pseudoscience

Some time in the early 90s I saw a TV commercial for shampoo, plugging an additive called Nanosphere Complex. Apparently, this was something that was really good for your hair in some unexplained way. Since then, I have often exclaimed "But does it have Nanosphere Complex?!" when subjected to silly adverts with pseudoscientific terminology. And they never do have it. Because Nanosphere Complex didn't in fact represent a dramatic advance, or any advance at all, in the science of hair care. It was just a marketing thing (as Hannah observes).

Shampoo is really just liquid detergent with perfume and a bit of hair oil. And then there are the magic ingredients that are supposed to give the stuff an edge on the competition. In the 60s it was chlorophyll. The latest one I've come across is Phyto-Dorphine™ Skin Booster, an additive to L'Oréal's "Happyderm skin exhilarating cleansing mousse". Note the trade mark symbol. It tells us that this is not a scientific term, but something dreamed up by the marketing people. I guess in this case they want to allude to plants and endorphins while sounding scientific. How exhilarating.

Anyway, I'm certainly not buying any Happyderm until they put Nanosphere Complex in it. Don't they know anything?

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Anonymous lambic said...

The same is true of skin care products. One that sticks in my mind has an ingredient called something like Boswollocks which seems to be just a made up word that sounds a bit like Botox.

16 February, 2006 14:54  
Blogger Clark Bartram said...

In a like fashion, I once saw a commercial for a cleaning product for which the big breakthrough was that it was not a compound. I was of course confused and called the company to see if in fact this product was entirely made up of a single element. The woman on the other end of the phone could only repeat the phrase "it's not a compound!" with what I'm sure was a vacant and empty look on her face that only ignorance can cause.

16 February, 2006 17:34  
Blogger Martin said...

Haha, yeah, sometimes you hear claims that a product contains no chemical substances! I wonder, do photons passing through vacuum, or quantum foam in said vacuum, count as chemical substances?

16 February, 2006 18:59  
Anonymous Stevel said...

No doubt there is plenty of marketing sales speech (spleech?) winding through our advertisement laden culture (advulture?), but I hate to see you throwing out the dishes with the dishpan hands…

Actually, my partner works in the hair care industry. For one of those manufacturers that deliver sophisticated wet-line products (i.e. shampoos, conditioners, and styling products). In particular, they use a liposomal delivery system manufactured by a company that, apparently, used to make the “nanosphere” for L’Oreal (and maybe still does).

Nanosphere is real, at least it refers to a real skin / hair care technology. True, the spheres are not nano-sized, but they are much smaller than the I-Pod Nano. Also, from what I’ve seen they’re not spheres; they’re more like tiny lumpy bean bags, except with some other payload other than beans.

Don’t get fooled by marketing spleech – it’s mostly garbage, but it’s not all garbage. In fact, I wonder how you might market a consumer product that uses tiny bags made of fat isolating bio-active enzymes from the rest of the product. Perhaps you, too, would spleech out “nanosphere complex.”


27 February, 2006 22:35  
Blogger Martin said...

Thanks for inside info!

I wonder how those enzyme-filled lipid micro-bladders were tested. Whether actual people would see a difference in what their hair looked like with nannies.

I guess we'll never know, now that the nannyspheres have been supplanted by new stuff. Oh well.

27 February, 2006 22:45  
Anonymous Stevel said...

Nanospheres are still in use, if not in name, then in kind. (For example, google on "LIPOSOMAL DELIVERY", although the reported links are primarily pharmaceutical.) Probably their manufacture has been improved since L'Oreal first introduced the spleech term under consideration, but the idea remains.

As for how they were tested, I have only my small slice of direct experience: at some later stages in product development they use real people. Didn't seem highly controlled to me, but I was just a neighbor to the lab area. I also liked the lead chemist (we shared a dislike for the VP Marketing).

Perhaps I can convince my partner to share on this topic. At least I might be able to get some official statements from the company (e.g. it's name 8-}

Stay tuned...

28 February, 2006 01:37  
Blogger mengus said...

Of all the great and technologically advanced products, I have two favourites between which I can't really choose which one i like better: "The Toothpaste" and "The Razorblade"

Every six months those guys "renew their technology", stating that their old product actually sucked but this new one is the greatest... ever!

Two bladed razorblades were *the* revolution. And then gilette came up with the greatest idea ever: "Let's put.. three blades!" [a great silence followed.. marketing people were shocked..]

I don't even want to talk about toothpastes.

Oh and, in Turkey there was an ad about a detergent with "Smart Molecules"!

16 March, 2006 06:59  

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