Sunday, May 12, 2013

"Rosa arctica" - the Kiehl's plant that doesn't exist

Rosa Arctica cream.
© Kiehl's, fair use
Instead of using the wrong name for a plant, you can invent a new scientific plant name to help you market a new product. This is the case for Kiehl's recently released products named ROSA ARCTICA, based on the 'resurrection flower', a rare plant named Haberlea rhodopensis in the African violet family (Gesneriaceae) and used as an anti-aging ingredient. This plant has nothing to do with roses, and the genus Rosa. There is no species previously named Rosa arctica, but Rosa is the rose genus, and arctica stands for being from the Arctic (which this plant is not from). And there is no ingredient derived from real roses in the product either.

 It appears that the naming of this product is a total marketing scam and misrepresentation, and an attempt to come up with a scientifically sounding product name that is also attractive to buyers.

I guess Haberlea rhodopensis didn't sound too great to the PR department, so they just invented a new name - which you can't really do in science. In marketing, sure, but I would consider this false marketing since Kiehl's are using an irrelevant and incorrect scientific name.   But it works, and Vanity Fair likes the name, since they wrote:

"[...] Kiehl’s scientists have taken this flower and made a
fabulous cream with it, aptly named Rosa Arctica."

What is so aptly with a name that doesn't represent the source plant? Imagine if it had been a name of a chemical name that had been changed into a new name similar to a harmless chemical and used for marketing. 

This case is also similar to the renaming of Patagonian Toothfish to Chilean Sea Bass to boost sales, except in this case they adopted the highly regulated scientific naming system for species for their marketing name - Kiehl's didn't just invent a new common name, which would have been much less disturbing.

Here is Kiehl's website ad for ROSA ARCTICA:

ROSA ARCTICA, skin cream by Kiehl's.  Image © Kiehl's, fair use
The flowers in the foreground in the ad are supposed to be Haberlea rhodopensis, I assume, but the flowers in the ad are not very similar to the actual flowers of the plant (see photo here from Dave's Garden website). Not much is known about this plant, also called Resurrection Flower, found in the mountains of Greece and Bulgaria.  It can survive for a long time, over two years, without much water, and then 'come to life' again when watered.

Extracts from the plant has been shown to help human skin (reference link), but at least some of this research was done by the company, Induchem, that is selling the extract, not by independent scientists.

On the official ingredient list on the product packaging, the extract from the plant (listed as 'Haberlea rhodopensis leaf extract', correctly according to INCI) is in or near the very end of the ingredient list, meaning that it is the ingredient with the smallest concentration in the final product. However, the inaccuracies continue, because on the Kiehl's website, the ingredient is listed as "Rosa Arctica (Haberlea rhodopensis)", which is totally inaccurate.  There is nothing called this name in nature, nor in INCI's official list of plant-derived ingredients.  And the reason is, of course, that Rosa Arctica does not exist, except as a marketing ploy for selling more of Kiehl's products.  It might work great on your skin, but there is no logical or ethical reason why this product should have a fake scientific name.