Today’s interesting tidbit comes to you, dear readers, courtesy of Acowlyte Essence De La Grenouille who I’m sure will not mind being affectionately referred to as Froggy.

Froggy’s local news source carried this rather intriguing advertisement which promises the delights of an Australian skincare product called MooGoo, an unguent which, the makers say, is ‘adapted’ from a cream used on dairy cow’s udders ‘to keep them in good condition for milking’. For reasons which are not entirely clear, this gives it excellent credentials as an effective skin treatment for humans.1

Apparently MooGoo is ‘an Australian phenomenon’. It’s not phenomenal enough to have reached my ears, but I guess I’m not really in the target market so maybe it’s not overly surprising that I’ve never even heard of it. The MooGoo makers like to wax lyrical about the product’s use of ‘natural’ ingredients. Here, let me quote from the text of the MooGoo advertisement in Froggy’s newspaper:

[MooGoo] is made from only natural ingredients including edible oils such as almond oil, olive oil, rice bran oil and lots of other skin repair ingredients…

Well, not really much news there if you know anything about skin creams. In essence, MooGoo is selling a compound based on vegetable oils rather than on the petroleum-derivative oils that some other skincare products use.2 Since there are about, oh, a BILLION skincare concoctions that use vegetable oils, the main selling point of MooGoo basically still comes down to the cow udder thing.

Of course, being the good researcher I am, I visited the MooGoo site. It’s pretty harmless as these things go. They make a big deal about how their product is ‘natural’3 and harp on rather a bit too much about their lack of gimmicks. I think they must own a dictionary that has a different definition of the word ‘gimmick’ to mine, because I’m not really all that sure what they mean when they say things like:

MooGoo does not use gimmick ingredients and marketing…

You can, perhaps, see my amusement here: using vegetable oil ingredients is no big thing for a skin lotion, so the main point of difference between MooGoo and other similar products is the marketing angle that this marvellous substance comes from a treatment for cow udders. Which is, by any account, a gimmick.

As part of the MooGoo ‘we’re completely natural’ pitch, the front page of the MooGoo site features a video which claims to show ‘how most moisturisers are made’. It’s light-hearted and funny, but when the pretty-but-amiably-goofy spokeswoman starts talking about the evil that is in products-that-are-not-MooGoo, it becomes deceitful.

She gives us a demonstration of how sorbolene, commonly used in a variety of cosmetics, is made from paraffin oil, water and an emulsifier. But, she warns us sternly:

Paraffin oil is actually a flammable petroleum oil. Let me demonstrate.

… and then sets fire to a wick saturated with paraffin, which burns obligingly.

You’ve gotta wonder how many people are aware that those nicely packaged creams are made from a flammable petroleum oil. I’m sure that if they did know, they wouldn’t be very comfortable putting this on their skin, let alone their baby’s.

You’ve gotta wonder how many people fall for the old ‘scare-them-with-hellfire’ ploy.

Ms MooGoo continues:

We aren’t saying this cream is dangerous…

Really? Then it’s a little perplexing as to the point of the fiery demonstration and the conjoined images of a burning wick and a naked baby that follow. The implication is, by any reckoning, that the stuff you find in ‘other’ skin care lotions is related to petrol and therefore ouchy burny. MooGoo, we learn, is made from much less threatening stuff – like sweet almond oil, evening primrose oil and olive squalane.

Let’s see now… would that be the same sweet almond oil that is not merely combustible, but poisonous and a highly dangerous eye irritant? Or the evening primrose oil which is, like most hydrocarbon-based substances, also combustible? Or perhaps the olive squalane which, aside from also being a flammable hydrocarbon, is a saturated analog of squalene, a biochemical precursor to steroids? Would you be comfortable putting these on your baby’s skin? If that’s not scary enough, MooGoo almost certainly contains DHMO (Dihydrogen monoxide) a substance which can be highly toxic to humans.

Did you see what I did there, Acowlytes? I selectively chose negative consequences of the substances concerned and presented them as the most important aspects of those substances. I mixed my argument with conflated associations and a little scary-sounding scientific language et voilà! – a picture of MooGoo that makes it sound as daunting as the products it derides. In the same way that the MooGoo video is careful to not actually lie, nothing I wrote is untrue. It’s just couched in such a way as to give the reader a strong unfavourable image.

As these things go, MooGoo is a pretty harmless example of flim flam. I really have nothing against this kind of product. It probably works as well as anything else you could buy of this nature. What annoys me, though, is the way the makers of MooGoo claim to be different to (and superior to) the other products they compete with, but then go and use pretty much exactly the same hocus pocus as everyone else to sell it. The fact is that every single one of these kinds of ‘moisturizing’ products, be they derived from paraffin or olives or almonds or turtles,4 works on the exact same basic principle – putting oil in your skin. Aside from a thousand relatively trivial differences, the major thing that differentiates one from another is the hyperbole and sleight-of-hand that advertisers use to sell them.

  1. This falls in the same category as the ‘Baby’s Bottom’ analogy. It’s an advertising ploy that works on the principle that if it’s kind to a baby’s bottom/cow’s tender udder, then it must be gentle on your skin! []
  2. Petroleum derivatives are essentially vegetable oils anyway, formed as they are from the compressed deposits of million-year-old plants. It’s all just carbon semantics in the end. []
  3. The use of the word ‘natural’ in relation to these kinds of products is banal and stupid, and a pox on our modern sensibilities. The definition of mineral oil that makes it ‘unnatural’ also renders evening primrose oil unnatural. They both ultimately come from plants, and are acquired through a mechanical process. In the same way that it’s not wise to drink a glass of mineral oil, it would be inadvisable to drink a glass of evening primrose oil. Likewise, a dab of evening primrose oil on your hand is likely to have about the same consequences as a dab of paraffin. []
  4. Oh yes… []