Would you knowingly pay £3.99 for a branded painkiller when you could basically get the same active painkilling ingredients for 56p? Or pay £7 for a spray that’s just water (sorry, thermal spa water)?
It would be nice to think we’re one step ahead of the pharmaceutical industry in deciding which products are worth our money, and our poll at the end of last year showed that 88% of you buy cheaper own-label drugs as opposed to expensive branded drugs.
But – as someone who’s bought numerous products (anti-viral tissues and anti-ageing moisturiser spring to mind) without really thinking just how they might work – it’s not always obvious what we’re being sold and what the evidence base is.
£3.99 for paracetamol and ibuprofen
The Advertising Standards Authority recently challenged a pharmaceutical company for breaching advertising codes. Its TV ad for painkiller Nuromol showed scientists in white coats and a voiceover talking about ‘taking years to create a new, unique painkiller combination’, suggesting a wonderful new pain relief ‘when regular painkillers don’t provide the relief you’re looking for’.
However, the ad was successfully challenged by ex-medicinal chemist Dr Frank King who believed the company’s evidence didn’t stack up.
You can buy unbranded paracetamol (40p for 16 tablets) and ibuprofen (16p for 16 tablets) at a fraction of the price of Nuromol (£3.99 for 12 tablets), which – quite simply – is a combination of the two. Does it really take years to combine two existing active ingredients? Plus, scientific research found that Nuromol doesn’t work significantly better than the recommended dose of ibuprofen alone.
Expensive ‘thermal spa’ facial sprays
The Sun also recently reported that so-called ‘hydration sprays’ to cool your skin in the heat – sold by big brands like Evian and Vichy – are just water, but apparently cost up to 60 times more than petrol. For example, Evian’s Brumisateur facial spray costs £3.57for 50ml, or £71.41 a litre. And Vichy’s Thermal Spa Water Spray costs £7 for a 150ml bottle.
And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a product packaged up with a long list of dubious claims and a price tag to match. It’s easy to say ‘look at the label’ and indeed we do need to become savvy consumers who – as science myth-busting charity Sense About Science remind us – ‘ask for evidence’.
But should we have to put up with companies trying to trip us up with pseudo-science? We’re looking for examples of over-the-counter products where the evidence just doesn’t stack up – so what have you spotted?