English is a very weird language, and one of the weirdest things about it is that the exact same word can have two entirely different meanings. The word ‘egregious’, for example, can mean both ‘outstandingly bad’ or ‘remarkably good’; a person who is ‘nonplussed’ can be either ‘surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react’ or ‘not disconcerted; unperturbed’. Weird!
But there is one particularly divisive conversation happening right now, and that is the question of ‘tear’ vs. ‘tear’, and its usage in the context of shampoos for kids. When it says “no tears” or “tear-free” on the bottle, does that mean tears, as in crying because you got shampoo in your eyes, or tears, as in rips in the hair, as in breakage — and why are people up in arms about making the distinction?
It all started when popular Instagram account Fuck Jerry shared a screenshot of a Tumblr conversation in which someone recounted the no-doubt exaggerated experience of “going blind for like three days” after squirting no-tears L’Oréal Kids shampoo in his or her eyes. Another person responded to explain that "no tears" meant no tears in your hair, as in, no tangles.
Herein lies the outrage: “MY LIFE IS A LIE,” once person wrote. We all thought — all this time! — that a shampoo promising “no more tears” for use on children was, indeed, to protect the delicate eyes of the young from harm while washing their tiny heads, when meanwhile, it just meant it would prevent tangles. A kind of lie by omission, a misleading claim, a linguistic trick that led trusting kids of reading age to squirt shampoo in their eyes en masse.
But everyone can relax: “The ‘no more tears’ means the product won't sting if gotten in a baby's eyes,” Trisha Bonner, Manager of Research & Development at Johnson & Johnson, tells us. “You’ll notice if you put your hand near a baby’s face, they won’t really blink — that’s because baby’s blink reflex is not fully developed.”
If a baby can’t blink, it can’t protect its baby eyes from falling shampoo suds during bathtime, so chemists adapted the products accordingly. “Our formula uses large molecules," explains Bonner. "It is harder for large molecules to penetrate the skin versus small ones, which makes those products mild to the eyes (and skin).”
So everyone: You’re fine. Your eyes are fine. Your baby’s eyes are fine. Your fragile sense of self and your childhood reading capabilities is fine. Your age should not determine whether or not you should squirt shampoo in your eye. And if that tear-free claim did, in fact, lead you to do so, well — if you could read about it in the first place, you were probably old enough to have known better.