Saturday, May 10, 2014

specimens of the literature of Sweden: bottle of shampoo

This is an everyday shampoo. "Swedish hair-care tradition from Dalarna", says the bottle. The county of Dalarna, romantically rural but not too remote from Stockholm, has desirable connotations and is often thought of as the home of folksong; a sort of hyperreal heart of the Swedish nation, as exemplified by the painted wooden horses (dalahästar) that you find in airport souvenir shops, or the idyllic domestic paintings by Carl Larsson that you find on calendars. Here these idyllic connotations are helped along by the fanciful floral design on that very traditional Swedish shade of grey-blue. In Sweden there is, or is imagined to be, a continuity between nineteenth century folk art and tasteful modernist design: in the UK the discontiuity is felt to be stark. This sense of integration with the folk-past has very profound implications for Swedish life and for its economy. It is one of the main stories that Sweden sells to the world. It sells it to its own people too.

The claim is literally accurate. This shampoo is made by CCS in Borlänge, a town in SE Dalarna, also the home of our good friends Bo and Gunilla. Borlänge does not have much to do with the hyperreal Dalarna of legend. It is a down-to-earth working town that expanded towards the end of the nineteenth century because it was on the new railway line and a natural goods depot for important industrial concerns in the neighbourhood. With over 40,000 inhabitants Borlänge actually makes it onto the list of the 30 biggest cities in Sweden; in other words, it is merely ordinarily beautiful.

"Wackra" is a re-spelling of "Vackra", which means "beautiful". The Swedes, like the Brits, are very intrigued by exotic letters in their alphabet. Just as in English-speaking parts of the world letters like X and Z have a particular frisson which makes them attractive to youth culture and branding, in Sweden a certain magic attaches to the letters C and W. These days Swedish girl's names are very commonly spelled with a C; thus our cousin Monica and her daughter Annica. (As expatriates we are more nostalgically conservative, so my own sister is Annika). The letter C is considered smart, modern, and glitzy. W is a rather different matter, because it once appeared frequently in old-style Swedish names  (e.g. Wizelius) and also in spellings before the language was standardized; hence its appropriateness to the folky connotations of this product.

Of course for a product like mainstream shampoo you want to balance folky localism with the reassuring cleanliness of international modernity. So on this bottle we find a couple of decorative English words too: "Shampoo" (in contrast to the standard Swedish spelling of "schampo"), and the unexpected preposition "by" ("BY CCS") - this tagline is something of a brand staple and is used on other CCS ranges.  ("Shampoo" ultimately derives from a Hindi word meaning "press":  it originally referred to massage, but around 1860 became transferred to applying soap to the hair.)

On the rear of the bottle you can see the "swan symbol". This is an ecolabel, but it does not mean that the product is what we wholefood-shoppers would think of as "kosher", i.e. green or organic.  (A "green" shampoo would not contain sodium laureth sulfate.) What it does mean, approximately, is that the product is "best of breed" in terms of environmental stewardship, e.g. responsibly minimizing energy and waste in the product life cycle. Manufacturers wishing to display the swan symbol are inspected each year by a state-owned team of eco-inspectors and assessed against standards that are constantly being tightened up. The team maintain numerous standards relevant to different product ranges.

The swan symbol seems like a good idea inasmuch as it encourages continuous improvement in mainstream industry. The downside is, if you want to know what particular criteria were met by this particular bottle of shampoo, then you'll be looking a long time.

The concept was proposed by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 1989, but its ideas are not binding on member governments and at first Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden were the only signatories. That, apparently, is why the swan has only four wing-feathers. Denmark joined up in 1992. You can read more about it here:

The Nordic Council was founded after WW2. Some of its intended functions were in effect obviated by EU/EEA membership, especially when Sweden and Finland joined the EU after the end of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless it remains an important forum. There is speculation that Scotland will join the Nordic Council if it declares independence from the UK.


CCS point out that Wackra contains no parabens, silicones or mineral oils.

Ingredienser / Ingredients: (with my Google-researched annotations)

(Cosmetic ingredient lists are written in a standardized international language, mostly chemist's or botanist's Latin. Words from living languages are avoided where possible. English is nevertheless influential - e.g. "Sodium" where other languages (such as Swedish) would have "Natrium". )

Aqua (water)
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (aka SLES, detergent used to soften and lather; it is considered less irritant than the related Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS); but is frequently flagged as a health concern, now usually because of potential contamination by the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane, which is a by-product of the ethoxylation process used to produce SLES (but not SLS). The ingredients of SLES, chiefly lauryl aclohol, may come from coconut oil or may come from petroleum; but it doesn't make any difference to the end product, which is emphatically a synthetic.)
Sodium Chloride (salt, used to thicken shampoo)
Capryl/Capramidopropyl Betaine (hair conditioning agent - anti-static and surfactant)
Glycerin (aka glycerol, used for smoothness and lubrication)
Coco-Glucoside (surfactant, foaming agent, conditioner, emulsifier; used to reduce the irritant qualities of SLES)
Glyceryl Oleate (water-in-oil emulsifier)
Sodium Benzoate (natural preservative to increase shelf life)
Behenamidopropyl Dimethylamine (surfactant)
Lactic Acid (relaxes and smooths hair making it more manageable)
Parfum (perfume)

[The best discussion of SLS / SLES that I've seen is here:


Above, an advert for the Wackra range. The text says:

We wanted to realize a dream. To make something like we were ourselves. Just Swedish raw materials and clean water. Developed to suit our Nordic skins. Our Swedish skincare tradition from Dalarna. It became Wackra by CCS. 
I'm not sure what to make of the claim about Swedish raw materials. Could this refer to using Capramidopropyl Betaine, which can be derived from goats' or cows' milk, rather than the more usual Cocamidopropyl Betaine, which is derived from coconut oil?

The image invokes matter-of-fact Carl Larsson-style nudity, as in his painting of the model writing postcards:

[Studying the CCS company website, I get the feeling that the Wackra range, introduced in 2010, may have already been phased out. Things change pretty fast in the haircare market.]

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