Monday, June 30, 2008


You have to admire clever marketing. Whether it's the Chick-Fil-A cows, the Budweiser Clydesdales, or the Coca-Cola polar bears, brand image is a big part of why people are attracted to one company over another. Of course the product itself counts for something, or does it?

Like any chemist, I'm a compulsive label reader. "This gets out stains- How?" Sometimes I'll make the decision to buy or try a product based on a new formulation or method that I've never seen before. So when I went to the supermarket to buy some cleaning supplies I noticed this little gem:

Okay it doesn't seem that strange at first glance, but I looked at the active ingredient and I became apoplectic with both admiration and envy. Admiration because of the sheer, utter, deviousness of it. Envy because it's such a racket. I didn't have my camera on me so I brought it home. I paid three dollars (Okay, $2.99) for this:

For those unversed in the chemical, sodium hypochlorite is the formal name for bleach. In other words, take about two or three large drops of fairly concentrated bleach and place it in a container. Now add a liter of water to it. Bingo, you've now created, for a teeny-tiny fraction of the cost, the same exact thing. I even spritzed the air to see if contained any fragrance. Nope, I'm pretty sure the "Other Ingredients" is just water. Though some manufacturers go so far as to call it "Aqua".

It's amazing what people buy when they have no basic knowledge of what they're buying. How do they make their decisions? I must assume on packaging and, interestingly enough, inconsequential stuff as well.

Take vitamin E for example. It's there in your shampoo, even generic brands sometimes, either as "Vitamin E" or the less recognized "Tocopherol". There is no scientific evidence that it will do anything for the proteins already in the hair. Your hair is technically "dead" and no amount of cajoling will fix damage done. At best you can add water to the structure or use a chemical to simulate the role of natural protective secretions (conditioner).

Now of course not everyone should have to be an amateur chemist to know what to buy, or understand the roles and names of various chemical compounds, but general knowledge is always helpful, and this stuff isn't hard to remember. Chemistry is your friend.

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