Tommie Copper Lawsuit: Overstated Claims or Intentional Misrepresentation?

According to a recently filed class action lawsuit, Tommie Copper, one of the most popular manufacturers of copper-infused compression wear, is being sued for “not provid[ing] the benefits that are advertised,” specifically related to claims that their “PRO+IONIC copper fabric releases ions, which may help reduce the oxidants in the body and is a natural, permanent anti-bacterial agent with skin benefits.”

The lawsuit alleges that, “scientifically, copper can't permeate the skin unless combined with a peptide. Tommie Copper deceived “millions of customers” with its false advertising but still pocketed the money from selling the clothing.”

If consumers understood that Tommie Copper products provide the same general level of compression as something similar from a local sporting goods store, but at a much lower price, they’d likely lose a significant number of sales.

In other words, Tommie Copper often claims that the copper contained in their garments can provide additional pain and swelling relief, above and beyond that of traditional compression sleeves. And it’s this claim that the lawsuit is calling into question.

The Copper Wear Industry

But the truth is that Tommie Copper isn’t the only manufacturer guilty of overstating—or completely fabricating—many of the benefits associated with copper. After all, the company is reported to have raked in $60 million in 2013 alone, which has paved a very profitable road for other companies to enter the market, such as Copper Wear and Copper Fit.

In fact, copper-infused clothing and sportswear represents a behemoth of an industry, which has spawned to encompass a seemingly endless array of products—some of which are downright silly—including Copper Pajamas, Copper Step, Copper Fit Gel, and even Copper Tape. But compared to their “standard” (e.g. non-copper infused) counterparts, these products can represent a 300%+ markup, so there’s clearly a huge incentive to sell as many units as possible.

However, as we can see with the Tommie Copper class action lawsuit, sometimes this focus on sales can lead to making unsubstantiated claims. Let’s take a closer look at what we mean by this.

Why Copper Fibers Won’t Provide Additional Pain Relief

Not too long ago, we wrote an in-depth article about copper-infused compression wear’s ability to provide pain relief. In it, we covered 4 primary points:

  • Copper is a necessary chemical element for many important biological processes.
  • By itself, copper can provide anti-microbial benefits by causing the cell walls of bacteria to rupture (who knew copper was so violent?).
  • As such, the copper-infused fibers in copper wear products can reduce bacteria buildup and prevent unpleasant odors.
  • The compression provided by sports sleeves (e.g. knee, elbow, etc.), whether infused with copper or not, may help increase blood flow to a specific region, and thereby reduce recovery time after physical activity (we’ll talk more about this in a moment). 

However, other than preventing bacteria buildup, the copper in copper wear products serves no purpose. In other words, it will provide zero added benefits.

And here’s where the genius (depending on your viewpoint) of marketing comes in.

Selling by Omission

Interestingly, as of the time of this writing, the PRO+IONIC fabric noted in the class action lawsuit isn’t mentioned anywhere on the Tommie Copper website, which may have been removed because of the legal action (it was mentioned on their website when we wrote our original Tommie Copper review). In fact, at that time, Tommie Copper even claimed their products could “neutralize free radicals.”

However, as more and more scrutiny has been placed on Tommie Copper’s claims, it seems like the company has made them increasingly vague. As such, regardless of the product you’re looking at, the company currently doesn’t specifically state that copper can provide any additional benefits, outside of its inherent anti-microbial properties. 

Here’s the only thing mentioned in their FAQ:

“100% of our proprietary fabric is copper and zinc infused. CopperZnergy™ eliminates odors caused by microbes on the fabric and offers UPF 50+ protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays for skin health benefits.”

With this in mind, unless you were to purposely visit Tommie Copper’s FAQ page, you might be sold more on what’s not said than what is. In other words, selling by omission.

Exhibit A

Why? For example, the following image was taken from one of Tommie Copper’s January 8, 2015 tweets:

A tweet by Tommie CopperAn example of Tommie Copper’s vague—and easily misleading—claims.

As you can see, after reading an ad like this, the average consumer could reasonably believe that 1) the Copper Znergy fabric provides comfort and, 2) the copper compression provides support and promotes muscle recovery.

What Tommie Copper doesn’t clarify (which may or may not be intentional) is that the copper isn’t providing any of this comfort, support, or muscle recovery—it’s only the compression. But if consumers understood that Tommie Copper products provide the same general level of compression as something similar from a local sporting goods store (but at a much lower price), they’d likely lose a significant number of sales. 

As a result, it’s hard not to believe that the company purposely maintains this “information void” in order to keep you buying, although we’re not necessarily saying this is the case.

A Note About Compression

As we outlined in our The Science of Compression Wear article, compression garments have been used for decades in medicine to support muscles, improve blood flow, and increase oxygenation to specific areas of the body. These garments typically require a prescription to purchase, and range from slight to severe compression levels.

More recently however, consumer-grade compression products have entered the market, many of which are claimed to not only boost circulation and oxygen flow, but to also improve performance. But is there any science to support this?

A screenshot of a section of Tommie Copper's website​Here, we can see where Tommie Copper claims that some of their products can not just help in recovery, but can also boost performance.

In short, there is some fairly solid clinical evidence showing that consumer-grade compression products can help reduce recovery time and muscle soreness after intense physical activity, although there is very little (essentially none) showing that it improves performance in any way.

But how in the world can you cut through all of this hype and figure out if Tommie Copper, or any other type of copper or compression wear, is making legitimate claims?

How to Avoid Marketing Hype (for Copper Wear or Anything Else)

Talk with Your Doctor

First and foremost, if you’re thinking about purchasing copper wear products, or anything else that’s claimed to provide pain relief, the first person you should speak with is your physician. Not only will they be able to recommend products based on your specific diagnosis, but they also might be able to give you better insight into those products that are based more on hype than real-world benefits.

Put On Your Thinking Cap

Second, be wary of big claims. In other words, if a company claims to help you relieve pain and increase your comfort using something that’s never been seen before (e.g. copper-infused fibers), be sure to put on your thinking cap. And keep in mind that because companies like Tommie Copper don’t claim to treat any medical condition (similar to nutritional supplements), they’re not subject to FDA oversight before hitting store shelves. As such, don’t be lured into thinking that their claims are necessarily proven or clinically substantiated.

Also, just like weight loss advertisements, copper wear manufacturers will often include images of young, attractive, fit models on their websites, which might subconsciously make you think that their products can help you achieve a similar look. Obviously this isn’t the case, so make sure your decision is based more on information than emotion.

Do Your Research

Last, but certainly not least, be sure to seek out legitimate consumer reviews for any products you’re thinking about purchasing (HighYa is a great place to start!). After all, if there’s an inherent problem with a product, it will soon be uncovered through customer feedback, regardless of any of the manufacturer’s spin.

With this in mind, among 180 HighYa reader reviews for Tommie Copper, the company has an average rating of 3.5 stars, although only 53% of these consumers would recommend their products to friends or family. Interestingly, despite this rating, Tommie Copper’s feedback appears to be almost perfectly split between 1 and 5-star reviews.

Here, common compliments appear to revolve around reduced pain and comfortable fit. In fact, more than one reviewer claimed that Tommie Copper “changed their life.”

On the other hand, some of the most popular complaints referenced failure to provide any benefits, poor quality, and high price. A couple reviewers also stated that they experienced allergic reactions to Tommie Copper products, including skin redness, swelling, and even peeling skin.

With all of this said, what’s the ultimate lesson here? What can we learn from the Tommie Copper class action lawsuit?

Becoming an Informed Consumer is Your Responsibility

As we’ve outlined across dozens of articles and hundreds of reviews, after everything is said and done, it’s up to you to learn how to tell the difference between legitimate companies, and those who are more than willing to sell you a lie (or at the very least, a misunderstanding). And between products that will work as advertised, and those based almost wholly on hype.

But the good news is that by following some of the tips (and reading the full articles at the links) above, they can go a long way toward helping you avoid regretting your next purchase. And don’t forget; sharing this article with your friends and family can go a long way toward making everyone a more informed consumer! 

Derek Lakin

With more than a decade of experience as a copywriter, Derek takes a detail-oriented, step-by-step approach to help you shop smarter. Whether it’s nutritional supplements or new scams, he believes an informed consumer is a happy customer.

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