Ever noticed how there seems to be a product for everything — even stuff you didn’t realize you needed? Five years ago, no one walked around with teeth so white they could glow in the dark. Today, “whitening toothpaste” is everywhere, along with “whitening strips”, “laser bleaching” and numerous other products that promise to brighten those pearly not-so-whites.
And how about bottled water? The water’s fine to drink out of almost every tap in Canada, but companies have convinced us we need to pay for it. That somehow, their product is better than a resource that’s actually free! Creating a need and then offering up a product to meet that need is a money-grabber that’s been around since the dawn of time. So at Marketplace, we call that marketing tactic “The Sin of Creation.”
And nowhere has this marketing technique been used more than with cleansers — dishwashing liquids, shampoos, body scrubs, detergents and plain ol’ soap. Now, all those products have morphed into a multi-million dollar industry for all things “antibacterial.” Seems the old-fashioned cleansers — that are usually cheaper — are no longer good enough. But do you really need to spend money on new products that can cost more?
To find out, we put anti-bacterial soap to the test against plain old-fashioned soap. First, we tracked down some school children and swabbed their grimy hands. Then, half the kids washed with anti-bacterial soap, the other half with the regular soap. We swabbed their hands a second time and sent the samples to the lab.
Our test found no benefit to using anti-bacterial soap. That’s no surprise to Rolf Halden, an environmental scientist at Johns Hopkins University. According to Halden, “there is very limited benefit, according to scientific studies.”
And not only that, many health agencies are warning against using anti-bacterial products, because they could lead to dangerous bacterial resistance. But you won’t see that listed on any label.
So next time you feel the sudden urge to buy a “new and improved” product, reflect a moment before you reach into your wallet. Maybe you can avoid becoming a target of “The Sin of Creation.”
– Erica Johnson is a journalist and co-host of CBC News: Marketplace, Canada’s award-winning consumer affairs show. CBC News: Marketplace airs each Friday night at 8:30 p.m. on CBC Television.