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Who is the fairest of all?
Concert Trust, promoted by the Consumer Association of India, has been rendering a welcome service in analysing the claims of a range of consumer products.

The Trust has undertaken an initiative to build awareness among consumers on products of daily use. The Trust cautions consumers to check the claims.

A dark skinned girl looks at the mirror after being rejected by a boy. She then applies a fairness cream. Lo and behold! Her marriage takes place soon!

A familiar advertisement, isn’t it?

Actor Rajnikanth uses a familiar brand of fairness cream to become fairer for his ladylove in the movie ‘Sivaji, The Boss.’ 

In a tropical country like India, where dark skin is natural, there is a craze for fair skin. In films and TV fair-skinned are in high demand; it is almost rare to see dark-skinned performers. People are pushed to believe fair is beautiful.

The race for such creams was pioneered by Hindustan Unilever with its product Fair and Lovely. It attracted the niche market of women by kindling their desire of getting their man of their dreams. Then a flurry of brands like Emami, Nivea, Himalaya, Sandiva, CavinKare, and Godrej joined the race. The creams were initially targeted at women, but later on, they have emerged essential products for men too. Emami’s ‘Fair and Handsome cream for men was launched in 2005 with SRK as its brand ambassador.

Companies that manufacture fairness creams promote their products with a promise of skin whitening that can be achieved by continuous use. One such product is Fair and Lovely Advanced Multi Vitamin that makes the claim of ‘daily fairness expert’ on their labels. But, have they ever provided proof of the result as shown in the TV ads? If these products can do the magic they proclaim, can they prove it by a clinical trial on a dark skin native of Asia or Africa?

In today’s fast moving world, people are unaware of the dark secrets of the fairness creams. The Concert team conducted a comparative test on 14 brands and made recommendations to the consumers and the regulators. They insist mandatory clinical tests, regulated advertisements and printing, in both English and vernacular, the ingredients used.

Parabens is used as preservative in fairness creams. Parabens can easily penetrate into human skin. A study on breast tumors by Dr. Philippa Darbre, from the University of Reading in the UK has led to suspicions that parabens could cause cancer. The Concert research team recommended that Parabens be avoided.

The consumer survey has revealed that consumers prefer brands based on advertisements, offers, advice of friends and relatives and price. It has also brought out the fact that inspite of awareness on the side effects of the creams, people prefer to use them for psychological boost and the feel good factor. Ironically, while dark skinned people prefer a fairer skin tone, Westerners try bronzers, to get a sun-tanned look!


Trendy food shoppers’ convenient menu

It is rare to see ads encouraging children to eat fresh vegetables and fruits. Whenever we switch TV channels on, there are ads of cup noodles, rava-idly instant mix, fish pickle, Lays potato chips.. In today’s nuclear families where both parents go to work, convenience foods have become part of daily menu. The list of convenience foods starts from the breakfast menu of idly, dosa to instant mixes for fish curry, aloo mutter, palak paneer, etc. When instant mixes are easily available, why spend time in the kitchen?  Little wonder, today’s couples make a beeline for convenience foods at stores.

Ready to eat (RTE) foods was first introduced as canned food products for the warfighters. Now, these find an important place in the lunch box of school kids. RTE foods lack the freshness, hygiene and quality of home cooked food. They lack health standards as they use a lot of preservatives. On prolonged exposure to the atmosphere, these foods may spoil fast or lose taste and flavour. The Concert team tested convenience foods to verify if they fell short on nutrition and contained harmful additives. The brands of dal makhani, mutter paneer, pongal, palak paneer, wheat meals dessert and wheat payasam and non-vegetarian food items were tested on standards of packaging and labelling, quality and health and safety.  MTR Pongal, ADF Soul Palak Paneer and Saras Sterilized Wheat Milk Dessert were found to be gas formers. It also revealed that some of the products, inspite of low protein content, were priced high! Though convenient and time saving, these foods prove to be hazardous to one’s health.


Drug cocktail

Whether it is fever or pain, the first tablet we search for is paracetamol. Pharmacists have become Good Samaritan doctors, who readily prescribe medicines for our common ills. But care should be taken before consuming the drugs. Though generic medicines provide the same therapeutic relief as branded medicines, common man must be aware of what they get for their money. Paracetamol is sold by a range of manufacturers under different brand names. Neglecting the special instructions printed on the labels like shake well before use and storage conditions, may lead to  harmful effects.  Watch for the expiry date of the drug.

The Concert team carried out tests on generic tablets of paracetamol on labelling, warning legend, quality, potency and efficacy. Endoven, Paracip 500, Locost and Pararite 500 were identified as generic by the pharmacists.  When a generic drug is available in the market at Rs 0.24, due to lack of awareness, people prefer to buy other branded drugs like Metacin, Calpol and Crocin Advance at much higher prices. Paracetamol is a safe and effective painkiller when taken in correct dosage. Don’t forget, too much of anything is good for nothing.


Face washout of detergent cakes

‘Pahle istemal karein phir vishwaas karein (Use it first and then believe it),’ ‘Adds brightness to whites,’ ‘Complete satisfaction’…… these are the punch lines of detergents. When several fabric aids like bleach, ultramarine, fabric conditioners are available, detergent cakes, soaps and powders top the list. For years, claims of whiter than white maintaining the white shirt brighter than someone else’s, is the driving propellant of detergents.

The major everyday challenge of today is removing the stain in uniforms of school children, workers and sportsperson. There is a common mindset that costlier products are more effective.

Concert team carried out tests on 18 detergent brands from four states on parameters like packaging labelling and quality.  But, the test results of washing efficacy showed that there was not much difference in the efficacy of the high priced, high grade or the cheaper, low-grade detergent cakes.

All of us love clean clothes, but we should also love to have a clean planet. Chemicals in the detergents are harmful to the environment. Phosphate, the vital component in every detergent pack, is a major cause of water pollution and a destroyer of aquatic life. The ingredient used in detergents for fragrances can cause rashes and skin allergies. To hide their chemical cocktail, detergent companies brand themselves as eco-friendly, not by proving their ingredient usage but by criticising the chemicals used by their rivals.

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