When I think of the term ‘hypoallergenic’, I think of Ben Goldacre. When he passes on, we will be heading the campaign for beatification. For it was Goldacre that wrote a wonderful book called ‘Bad Science’, bemoaning the mainstream reporting of health issues. In particular, how all sorts of people are let get away with outlandish claims and not held to account. My favourite line relates to a chapter on a renowned Scottish TV diet guru and self-styled “doctor” whom he introduces as “Gillian McKeith, or to give her her full medical title, Gillian McKeith”.
Hypoallergenic, or whatever you’re having yourself
It is in this spirit that I want to talk about the term ‘Hypoallergenic’. If you are a new mum, you’ll almost certainly have come across the word ‘Hypoallergenic’, particularly where baby mattresses and bedding are concerned. Now, you probably didn’t think too much about it. It sounds kind of impressive and like it must be good – anti-allergy and all that. Sounds medical and reassuring. In fact, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tell us on their website that ‘the term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean’.
Hypoallergenic is a marketing, not a medical, term
Several respected information websites say it is a term that was invented by an advertising company back in 1953 and that since then companies have been using the term rather loosely and in a way that suits their needs in order to convince consumers that their product is safer than others and it is a term most especially used by cosmetics and textiles manufacturers. So it would seem that it was purely conceived as a marketing initiative to promote products to consumers. However, it is a term many dermatologists say has very little meaning.
Companies producing products such as lotions, clothing, and even baby mattresses, have been using the claim that their offerings are “hypoallergenic” for many years now. They may use other phrases too such as “safe for sensitive skin” or “allergy tested” implying that their products are less likely to cause allergic reactions compared to their competitors.
They may even say that testing has been carried out by laboratories on their behalf when they make these claims, but people buying the product cannot be totally assured that it will be less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Where is the independent, scientific testing? Some may just be paying money to a charity for their endorsement, but again, there is no independent testing involved.
The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America have a good article on their community blog in relation to this topic titled "Hypoallergenic: Science or Marketing Hype" . It starts by saying "It’s common to see the term “hypoallergenic” on many products and services. It’s a word many consumers have become comfortable with. It makes some believe anything with this label is better for them and less likely to trigger asthma and allergy symptoms." In Pure Zees opinion it is well worth reading so click on the link to it.
Who can you trust?
To help consumers who have concerns with allergies, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (the leading patient organization for people with asthma and allergies, and the oldest asthma and allergy patient group in the world), together with Allergy Standards Ltd (a leading global independent research organisation), have prepared tests and standards for a wide range of products to declare their suitability for people whose lives are affected by allergies and asthma.
They created a certification mark to help consumers identify products that they can trust in the knowledge that they have been subject to rigorous independent scientific testing to determine their suitability.
So, rather than looking for the word hypoallergenic on products, it is hoped that more and more products will carry this certification mark and make it easier for people to make a better and more informed decision.
If you or your partner suffer from asthma or allergies, then there is a higher chance that your new baby will go on to develop asthma or allergies as well. So it makes complete sense for you to opt for a baby mattress, for instance, that has been scientifically tested and proven to be more beneficial for allergen reduction.
However, if you or your partner have never suffered from asthma or allergies, it still makes sense to opt for the product that has been tested for chemicals and is proven to reduce exposure to allergens as asthma and allergies are lifelong conditions that are on the increase worldwide.