What's in a word?
October 3, 2000
It sounds like a medical term, it looks like
a medical term - but does it actually mean anything
medically or otherwise?
word is used prominently used in sales pitches
from hand cream to jewelry to watch straps.
we quizzed thought the word meant the product
wouldn’t irritate their allergies.
wanted to find out where the word came from
and exactly what hypoallergenic does
and doesn't mean.
investigation took us to the offices of dermatologist
Dr. Kevin Smith.
not a word I've ever seen in the medical literature...except
if someone is writing a critique on the subject,
making fun of the concept," Smith told
quest to get to the origins of the word took
us to the
of Toronto medical library. Two of the most used
medical dictionaries there show no entry for
hypoallergenic. The word does, however, appear
in the Oxford English Dictionary. The venerable
publication describes hypoallergenic as "a
diminished potential for causing an allergic
of T librarian Carla Hagstrom told us the word
is in the OED for one simple reason: it's in
word was invented by advertizers who used it
in a cosmetics campaign in 1953.
consultant Marty Myers sees no harm in that. "I
don't think it's a great harm. It's amusing,
but it's not going to put anyone in a box.
At least I hope not."
the doctors we spoke to said because the word
has no medical basis, there's no standard for
what it is and no way to measure whatever it's
supposed to do.
Canada has not set any standards that a "hypoallergenic" product
is supposed to meet. The US Food and Drug Administration
says, "There are no federal standards or definitions
that govern the use of the term hypoallergenic.
The term hypoallergenic means whatever a particular
company wants it to mean."
cosmetics industry told us it has been trying
for years to establish exactly what hypoallergenic
means. But that would force companies to ensure
that they meet such a standard. One company
we talked to said that would lead to higher
prices for cosmetics.
to Dr. Smith, using the word "...distracts
the public from more important issues like
the effectiveness of the product, the price
and other things that have true meaning."