Revealing Unilever and its Brand’s Lifebuoy Handwash Soap

In 2015 a market analysis carried out by OC&C Strategy Consultants declared Unilever the fourth largest and strongest of all fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies; having earned $66.1 billion in sales throughout the previous 2014 year alone (Consultancy U.K., 2017). Unilever’s brand Lifebuoy – which offers a range of germ protection soaps –, on the other hand, is at the moment considered to be the number three FMCG brand of the world according to a brand footprint analysis carried out by the Kantar World Panel in 2016 (Kantar World Panel, 2016).

Behind the colossal corporation

AXE, Becel, Cup a Soup, Dove, Knorr, Lipton, Magnum, and Rexona are merely an insignificant amount of brands that stand below monstrous Unilever’s umbrella, which now holds over 400 leading brands. Listed by Fortune Magazine within the Global 500, ranked at number 150 (Fortune, 2016), Unilever loudly affirms that its purpose is “to make sustainable living commonplace” (Unilever, 2017). Whatever that means. Furthermore, the multinational corporation says that its mission is to live up to “the highest standards of corporate behavior towards everyone they work with, the communities they touch, and the environment on which they have an impact” (Unilever, 2017). Lately, Unilever has committed to transitioning to electric vehicle fleets by 2030 next to IKEA, Heathrow Airport, Deutsche Post DHL Group and a few others (Sustainable Brands, 2017). The colossal corporation has also recently disclosed previously concealed fragrance ingredient information for 100 of its products (Lovell, T., 2017); in addition to buying (so far) organic and ethically-sourced tea brand Pukka as a move to offering sustainable and healthy products to its costumers (Cox, J., 2017).

Nonetheless, Unilever has often been tied to controversy and altercations given that they generally not practice what they so-preach. In 2006 a group of Indian factory workers and their families sued Unilever, declaring that they had been poisoned while working with mercury at one of the corporation’s facilities (Kottasova, I., 2016). The multinational corporation was also asked to take responsibility when it came to cleaning the mercury-contaminated soil in Kodaikanal. In 2012 Unilever united around 2,500 British employees on a strike against its decision to closing the final salary pensions (Morris, S., 2011). Meanwhile, the corporation’s CEO Paul Polman was earning a salary 280 times greater than that of the average employee (Unite the Union, 2012).

More recently Unilever has not only been accused of fraud and negligent misrepresentation for advertising shampoo and conditioner products as ‘natural’ when they were made with synthetic materials (Torres, M., 2017); the giant has also been linked to the illegal destruction of rainforests in the Leuser Ecosystem, Indonesia, in company with Nestlé and Pepsico (Neslen, A., 2017).

A deep look into Lifebuoy Total 10 Germ Protection Handwash

Lifebuoy offers a variety of body wash soaps, bar soaps, hand sanitizers, and hand wash soaps. Lifebuoy’s hand wash soaps come in six different variants, namely, Mild Care Handwash, Cool Fresh Handwash, Nature Handwash, Kitchen Fresh Handwash, Color Changing Handwash and Total 10 Germ Protection Handwash (Lifebouy, 2017). For the purpose of this review, however, we will be evaluating three of Lifebouy’s Total 10 Germ Protection Handwash ingredients. This product is made up of 26 main ingredients, consisting of the following:

Lifebouy Total 10 Germ Protection Handwash Ingredients List
Myristic Acid
Lauric Acid
Potassium Hydroxide
Potassium Chloride
Palmitic Acid
Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Glycol Distearate
Cocamidopropyl Betaine
Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose
Tetrasodium EDTA
Silver Oxide
Pentasodium Pentetate
Etidronic Acid
VP/VA Copolymer
DMDM Hydantoin
Benzyl Acetate
Butylphenyl Methylpropional
CI 45100


BHT or butylated hydroxyanisole is a synthetic antioxidant usually used as a preservative in care products. Whereas this substance can lead to allergic reactions in the skin, one of the major concerns is that long-term exposures to high doses of the substance have caused liver, thyroid and kidney problems to mice and rats (David Suzuki Foundation, 2014). Due to its moderate to high potential to bioaccumulate in aquatic species, BHT has also been listed respectively by the United Nations Environment Program.

DMDM Hydatoin is another preservative commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products. Worries generally linked to this substance are mostly related to its formaldehyde properties that basically create an unfavorable environment for microorganisms (Truth in Aging, 2017). Formaldehyde is, too, classified as a human carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as well as by the National Toxicology Program (National Cancer Institute, 2017).

Butylphenyl Methylpropional, also known as Lilial, is a synthetic ingredient frequently used to provide scent. Although it has been associated with allergies and contact dermatitis, this substance causes concern due to its possibility of being a human immune system toxicant and due to its link to endocrine disruption (EWG’s Skin Deep, 2017).

Immediate impact on the natural world

On top of the previously mentioned negative impacts Lifebouy’s Total 10 Germ Protection Handwash has the additional drawback of being packed in plastic. As many people might already know, plastics are associated with tons of health and environmental issues. Not only do plastics not biodegrade like organic materials do; many different kinds of plastics are also not even recyclable. Consequently, plastics have managed to invade and contaminate our soils, waterways and oceans in the past few years. A situation that has proven to be extremely detrimental to marine life while posing a serious threat to us human beings too, as these materials release toxic chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer that often end up in our food and our drinking water (Harris, W., 2017).

Safer and healthier options

The healthiest and safest substitutes to commercial handwash soaps are without a doubt homemade ones. By making them yourself, you don’t only have control over the ingredients you use, but also the container in which you put them. Ingredients regularly used to make handwash soaps are water, liquid Castile soap, olive or almond oil and essential oils. Now a days, many websites offer easy instructions on how to make and use these homemade recipes.

For those who find themselves not having enough time for dipping into the endeavor of making their own handwash soaps there are still brands that offer good quality natural soaps. Method, Nature Clean, Seventh Generation and DHC are amongst the companies that offer healthy and safe liquid soaps; with the only disadvantage being their plastic packaging. Alaffia, Fresh, Garden Botanica, Dimpleskins Naturals and many others, however, offer bar soaps with little to no carton packaging.

Call to action

As customers we have the inherent right to knowing what we are exactly buying and who we are buying it from; especially if that which we buy ends up in our natural surroundings and eventually inside our bodies. Only by knowing about the ingredients, processes, actions and values that stand behind the products we buy, can we know if we are giving our money to the right companies. So let’s continue to strive for supporting those products that respect ourselves, our natural world and the magnificent creatures that inhabit it. Let each and every one of our purchases become a vote for life.


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National Cancer Institute “Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk” (2017) About Cancer: Cancer Causing Substances. National Cancer Institute, 2017. Web. 19 September 2017.

Neslen, A. “Pepsico, Unilever and Nestlé Accused of Complicity in Illegal Rainforest Destruction” (2017) Environment. The Guardian, 21 July 2017. Web. 19 September.

Sustainable Brands “HP, IKEA, Unilever Among First to Commit to All-Electric Fleets by 2030” (2017) News & Views: Cleantech. Sustainable Brands, 19 September 2017. Web. 19 September.

Torres, M. “Unilever Sued Over ‘Natural’ Claims” (2017) Stories. Legal News Line, 26 May 2017. Web. 19 September.

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