What Does “Dermatologist Tested” Or “Clinically Proven” Really Mean?

Really?!…..

After dealing with a head cold this past week, I spent many waking hours staring at the T.V. since sleep wasn’t as important as trying to breathe. Thank goodness for nasal sprays!

Of course, what is on during the wee hours of the morning is the inundation of beauty and skincare products, weight loss programs, and the ever bubbly effervescence of exercise gurus. It is enough to turn your mind to mush and place you in a drooling stupor.

And when it comes to skincare and cosmetic claims…well let’s just say, “if I had a dollar for every “clinically proven” or “dermatologist tested” claim I have seen, I would be retired right now, laying on a beach with a mai tai in my hand!”

The claims abound and the promises are made with so many different medical terms, convincing us we have just tuned into the next best thing since the sleeping pill. Sometimes the claim is so outlandish, I can’t help but to bust out laughing.

The Ever Professional “Dermatologist Tested”

The definition of this term invariably means nothing, but is used to give credence to the claims of the product and to provide credibility to those who are selling the latest in their skincare invention. This presents that the product is the best and safe for use on all skin…… Now that’s a broad term!

The term creates an illusion in the customers mind that a medical panel of dermatologists somewhere, has investigated the products thoroughly, and perhaps tried it over a period of time before coming to the conclusion of their endorsement.

However, literally all that may take place or is needed to state this claim, is a single dermatologist tests the product on their own skin or perhaps a patients skin, and if they don’t have a reaction, they may endorse the product. If there is a reaction, well this would probably be chocked up to an assumption of being an oddity and would never be conveyed to an audience.

There is no panel of experts making this declaration…….Also, in many cases doctors may actually have a stake in the product they are supporting or they are a paid endorsement. This is something which is behind the scenes, so the consumer has no way of knowing the actual validity of the claim….but at least there is no LIE…since a dermatologist did test it….however subjective that opinion may be.

Oh, and by the way, be mindful of the endorser who sports the Ph.D. after their name…..yes they are a doctor with the earning of this title, but the question is, a doctor of what. The advertiser rarely makes this distinction to the audience.

A single study does not an accurate test make! As many of us know and have been victims of these ad campaigns, when we get the product delivered at our door, the eager anticipation overwhelms us. Then after a week or so we start to have a reaction or a breakout, only to end up returning the product once again when we discover the claims are bogus.

No ingredient can be 100% in not causing a skin reaction since everyone is different. There are skincare ingredients with a long history of being gentle for the majority of the population, but even then, some will still have a reaction. So unless the products were tested on a wide majority of the populace over an extended period of time, “dermatologist tested” is just more hyperbole in a jar!

But It Is Clinically Proven

Now this is a bit more of an insidious term. This gives the illusion there were product trials in some clinic, somewhere, at some time, proving the results they claim….Okay, let’s go with that.

Now here is the challenge: Was it a double blind study?…..how many participants were in the study?….was a placebo used?….was it an independent study?

This is again another term which means absolutely nothing in the above questioned context.

Double Blind Study: a scientific experiment where some of the persons involved are prevented from knowing certain information that might lead to conscious or unconscious bias on their part, invalidating the results.

Number Of Participants: numbers are important to a study in order to see the best results and learn the percentages of those showing improvement or not. Some products make claims like in 65% to 80% of women, they saw a visible improvement…etc. What kind of improvement?….and 65% to 80% of 10 women or 10,000 women. Numbers mean everything when dealing with this term since percentages may drop drastically when spread out over vast numbers.

Using A Placebo: without the use of a placebo, it can never be shown whether the perceived results may have been an emotional reaction rather than an actual result to the product. Many people can believe they see improvement, when in actuality nothing has taken place except in the minds eye of the participant, and it is why this type of testing is used in the creation of new drugs.

Independent Study: Peer review is most important to determining actual validity to the claims made. Best studies are performed by those with no financial gain or interest in the product being promoted….such as a leading University or independent lab for an extended period of time.

This last point is a type of study (experiment) in humans which evaluates a diagnostic or therapeutic product. Typically clinical studies go through Phase I (safety), Phase II (initial efficacy and dosing), and Phase III (large scale studies assessing both safety and efficacy and may represent a pivotal study that provides exacting results. This type of clinical study is similar for a new drug coming to market and is FDA approved.

By this terminology here, it is clear to see the costs incurred would be huge and why drug companies for instance spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring a new pharmaceutical to the market. A cost most beauty and skincare product companies are unwilling to incur, but the term “clinically proven” sure drives the point home since this is what we equate this statement to represent in the last example.

The truth of the matter is, most studies are controlled and performed by the brands own lab researchers or the products namesake, which means, the studies can be limited in order to create the desired effect the brand seeks.

More Shill Than Fact

When dealing with the scenarios I laid out, it is clear to see how these two descriptive terms will invoke the emotion which drives us to purchase. But the reality is, it is all marketing hype and many of the participants shown are the very best test subjects they found to convince you of their products ability to do incredible things…..and the underlying motivation of those that participate is unknown and anyone’s guess…but in most cases it is a monetary one, and in others, perhaps it is to get their 15 minutes of fame.

Proving My Point: I actually witnessed a woman using a liquid makeup on the shopping channel and when they placed it near her eyes with sponge application, her eyes began to tear and flowed down her face like an endless stream. They quickly tried to dry it up with a tissue, but her eyes just kept flowing….

Camera – pan right – to the snake oil salesperson who now distracts the audience (hoping the audience didn’t notice, I’m sure) with her now completely unbelievable hype, while the woman with the reaction gets replaced with a new model. So much for “clinically proven” or “dermatologist tested”….as clearly this one woman had a severe and immediate reaction to something in this cosmetic….and it only takes “one” and shows that not a single product on the market is 100% perfection. But on a side note, I found the whole presentation became disingenuous when there was no concern for this stoic models apparent discomfort….ugh…it’s all about that sale!

Equate This To Drugs

If all this testing really occurred to the level of a drug study, then you would see the cosmetic then be transformed into an OTC (over the counter) drug and their monographs would be represented as such through the FDA. This would be label declarations of “active” ingredients, dosage, side effects and warning labels.

But of course this is never the case for these products on early morning television or on your favorite shopping network….and most have the disclaimer, “results not typical” or “results may vary”. Only on an infomercial are these statements ever present. If the results were truly unequivocal to being fact, then these statements would not be necessary since they essentially have created a drug in skincare or a cosmetic product, and the manufacturer would shout it from the rooftop, along with the claims flashing on the t.v. screen in red, I’m sure…..I know I would!

Furthermore, the FDA does not recognize these two terms and gives no weight or merit to them. Short of the FDA approved clinical studies, this sales pitch is nothing more than product fluff!

The Only Declaration That Matters: American Academy of Dermatology

Headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy), founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 16,000 physicians worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. The Academy does not endorse or recommend any products or services. The AAD SEAL OF RECOGNITION® recognizes over-the-counter products with review of independent testing results by an independent scientist and a panel of dermatologists to verify that the products meet stringent, evidence-based criteria. For more information, contact the Academy at 1-888-462-DERM (3376) or www.aad.org.

Their recognition is the only one that matters in dealing with the stringent guidelines for providing excellence and supporting marketing claims of over the counter drugs. Their main focus is on skin cancer and sunscreen products.

Take Heed

So now you have the undeniable facts behind these two statements and hopefully will be a bit wiser when making a future purchase based on the next “fountain of youth” product claim.

Even I have been advised by marketers when introducing my skincare or mineral makeup line to market, to master the art of technological verbiage to promote my products….and believe it or not, I cringed when I heard their ideas….I simply cannot go there and bluster or espouse overblown terms to make my products seem more innovative than they are, even though most of our formulations are unique.

I love my products and the benefits they offer to my customers’ skin. I made sure the ingredients I selected had a history of safety and efficacy, and then tested the finished products on volunteers (no animal testing here) to make sure the risk of irritation factors were minimal to non existent…again nothing is 100%. However, the proof is in the proverbial pudding, and that is only shown through the unpaid testimonials of those that have tried them and seen for themselves how they actually benefit their skin.

Base your opinions on the trial you see for yourself from any product….and if the ingredients look excellent, don’t tend to pose an allergy risk for you, are beneficial, and it makes your skin look and feel better, then that is the only end result one is looking for….. and no hype or sales pitch will ever replace the actual results….good or bad.

  • Philippe Papadimitriou

    Dear Katherine,

    Thank you for this informative post. It is a pity to see things are so badly framed by the authorities in the US.

    Be aware this is not the case in Europe (+Switzerland ! – this country being in the European continent, but officially out of the European Union).
    On these territories, every claim must be proven. Authorities do not accept proofs internally made or by people outside one company getting paid for doing one. Studies are ALWAYS independently conducted and countries do have a system of selecting which companies may be accredited to conduct studies.

    Besides, it is important to note that any study on 10 or less volunteers may not be considered acceptable or even simply valid, as statistics inform us that it is highly improbable to get significance on such a low number of subjects.

    Whenever referring to a study or to measured values (lenght of wrinkles, percentage of favorable opinion, etc.), brands should by law also shortly inform the customer about the method followed (in vitro vs. in vivo, number of subjects, duration of the study and so on) on marketing supports mentioning such claims.

    I hope the US will somehow follow such regulations, if the situation is indeed as decieving as you write here.

  • http://twitter.com/fit2bmama Bethany Learn

    This was awesome information! I now know to look for the AAD seal. Never knew that before.

    • http://www.sterlingminerals.com/ Katherine

      Actually Bethany the American Academy of Dermatology does not endorse any products so looking for their seal would be futile and frustrating. They provide independent research in regard to ingredients and products which reach OTC status. You will not find this with skincare products on the market unless they have provided the FDA approved clinical trials and then only might their products be reviewed if it was an advancement toward curing, healing or prevention of something harmful to our health. The AAD’s main focus is on sunscreens and skin cancer and they do not concern themselves with cosmetic improvements to our skin and the claims made as such.

      Hope that clarifies things!