I cannot even count anymore how many upstarts have come into the beauty industry game with little to zero knowledge on what they can and cannot say in regard to marketing claims. They are consistently pushing the envelope for trying to make claims on their cosmetics that would be tantamount to being categorized as a drug. Basically trying to gain any edge over their competitor even if it means s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g the truth.
The war is waged it seems within our industry as those who defend synthetics battle with the organic / natural crowd, until one day there will be a winner, and it may be our government with overreaching, onerous regulation founded on misnomers, beauty claims, and non scientific rhetoric. Many in the beauty industry will come out the loser, and it will be in part, for the types of marketing claims they are making, including negative campaigns on certain ingredients. This area should not be black and white, because you can combine science with nature to create great products using all types of ingredients to achieve excellence. It doesn’t have to be an either or scenario. Us against them is detrimental to our industry as a whole. We should all be on the same team and work together to continue to create safe beauty products.
Furthermore, many claims that are made by beauty insiders are way over the top or are without any sense to the claim….basically, it just isn’t a logical statement.
However, this is not isolated to newbies in the market, but is also being propagated by those in business for 10 years or more, or by well meaning beauty bloggers…… because they can. Just because the FDA or FTC has not rapped on their proverbial door, doesn’t mean what they are doing is valid, legal or proven.
The multitude of claims some of my fellow beauty entrepreneurs make without scientific evidence to prove their claim, hurt us as an industry and are part of the reason we have the EWG and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics breathing down our necks. They instill fear through ignorance, which then foments to hate, all based on theory or an ideology by their target market.
However, with that stated, the EWG and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics lose credibility when they use these claims made by the indiscriminate beauty professional to create their scare campaigns with little to zero evidence of said claim to support their assault on many different ingredients. Unfortunately, watchdog groups gather strength to try to create new legislation out of the unsubstantiated claims made by the beauty industry. So we have no one else to blame to an extent, but ourselves when things go awry.
An example: A beauty product, once upon a time, made a claim as to 60% of the product is absorbed for the nourishing, age defying benefit of it’s lovely ingredients. Basically instilling in the potential customer, that their exceptional product will feed and replenish aged skin, restoring it to it’s youthful appearance. However, toxic chemicals that can be absorbed into our blood stream, and there is no denying they are out there, such as chemical pesticides, and can even affect our nervous system, should not extrapolate to those used in cosmetics or be lumped into the ideology, “it is a chemical, therefore we absorb it.” All chemicals are not created equal.
However, based on this simple marketing proclamation, the CFSC and EWG played on this hook and have used it throughout their literature as to supporting that 60% of all chemicals, harmful or otherwise, are absorbed through the skin into our blood stream. This has been totally misrepresented and has been regurgitated by…. oh so many bloggers, and there is no evidence to support this, other than taking a marketing claim and spinning it to the detriment of us, and the benefit of the argument goes to the opposing team, EWG and CFSC. The Beauty Brains had a similar open discussion about how “5lbs of chemicals are absorbed by the skin every year”…..c’mon now, does this seem logical to you? Can you or I even utilize that much product in a year?This type of ideological proclamation is a primary example of what our industry has to deal with on a regular basis. Fortunately, more and more individuals are seeing through the facade of these types of claim.
Through the use of different types of penetration enhancers we can achieve great things, not only with skincare products, but with pharmaceuticals. So penetration enhancers aren’t necessarily the enemy as EWG and CFSC would paint all of them with a broad brush. However, factual studies have shown that various penetration enhancers will only go so deep and something designed to deliver medicine through the skin to the bloodstream, will not typically be utilized in a beauty product.
Penetration Enhancers – Friend or Foe is an article I wrote, providing the science in regard to how they work and the incredible, even problematical factors it requires for an ingredient to penetrate our otherwise impermeable barrier, the skin. Basically it requires a ‘perfect storm’ to create the advantage for which they are used.
Ten Most Common Claims Which Also Reflect Myth
- Free From~ This statement has become the mantra for large commercial brands, with the smaller brands following suit as a way to convey that their product is somehow safer than their competitors.
- Danger of Claim: It can reinforce the idea that if something is “free from” a certain ingredient, that the missing ingredient is somehow “dangerous.” And what was once part of the formula has since been removed, when it may have never been in the product in the first place. This is marketing to the consumer that has been led to believe natural is better and everything else will kill them. Example: Parabens, sulfates, etc. get a bad rap, when there is actually scientific data that shows these are perfectly safe for personal care use in the recommended dosages within the cosmetic formula. Or if it is a leave on or rinse off product will also determine ratios. Any chemical in its full strength has the potential for causing harm, yet these are not offered to the end user, ever.
- Chemical Free~ Another claim that bears no reality in truth or common sense. Nothing formulated can be without chemicals as all things are chemical….natural or synthetic, makes no difference, it is just the manner in which they are derived or created. Again, shamelessly used for SCARE tactic marketing.
- Danger of Claim: This connotes the idea, all things chemical are hazardous to our health…..think of water, essential oils, olive oil, etc…..these appear to be benign now don’t they? However, from the point of view of the overstated 60% absorption claim, these are all potential penetration enhancers. This claim also overlooks the fact of what the product is packaged in. There is no getting around the chemical processes that goes into creating the packaging, such as a jar or tube, technically.
- Hypoallergenic or Noncomedogenic~ These terms are not even recognized by the FDA and there actually isn’t any proven data in clinical trials, and has yet to be tested by the US Food and Drug Administration as to the validity of such terms.
- Danger of Claim: Any ingredient could cause a problem for any individual and this connotes that it won’t cause a problem….sorry, but trial and error only, unfortunately. Up to 10% of the population can and will have a reaction to something the majority of the population won’t have. This includes a developed allergy after using an ingredient for years. Our bodies are ever changing. Those with acne may have a similar reaction. What won’t cause acne on one individual may be horribly occlusive to another.
- Dermatologist / Clinically Tested~ This is a claim that can be made based on a single doctor trying it out on themselves or a patient. Based on this perception it is theorized by the end user, it must be a proven product. A clinical study performed by the manufacturer on a small number of people will not constitute nationally, what can occur if millions use the product.
- Danger of Claim: Gives the perception that it must be safe and work because a doctor or a clinical study said so, but is not necessarily the reality. Safety and efficacy data will change as high volume of users join the pool, and this is PURE marketing!
- Anti-aging Formula~ This ties into penetration enhancers being utilized within a skin cream and are designed to assist beneficial ingredients in penetrating into the otherwise impermeable surface layers of the skin to restore soft, supple skin with more elasticity.
- Danger of Claim: EWG and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have underscored this message as a penetration enhancer being the carrier of chemicals to the blood stream. When in reality, penetration enhancers for the purpose of cosmetics are only skin deep and are not geared toward penetration through the dermis layer into the blood brain barrier as would be the desired effect with a topical drug. Permanent change does not occur with any cosmetic, and only maintains the skin as long as the product is being used.
- Non Toxic / Harmful Chemicals~ What does this even mean? Who and what entity is deciding what is toxic or not? This is yet to be determined and will continue to be debatable since EWG and CFSC think anything, other than naturally derived, is toxic to our bodies. The majority of scientific research does not support the validity of this marketing claim. Plus, too much of anything natural or synthetic can cause issues for some.
- Danger of Claim: This statement plays into the fears of the consumer and reinforces the CFSC’s campaign rhetoric against beauty industry leaders and their products. Such as lead being added to lipstick which is categorically FALSE and is considered a contaminant, which is found also in drinking water and the foods we eat that are grown in the ground.
- 100% Pure / Natural / Organic~ This connotes that only natural chemicals are safe for the body and that synthetic chemicals are the bane of our existence and will give us cancer or worse. There is no human scientific data to support this claim. And animal studies do not extrapolate to humans despite how hard watchdog groups try to convince us.
- Danger of Claim: Beauty products labeled as natural are less tested and scrutinized than are synthetic products and pharmaceuticals. In fact, most compounds as they exist in their natural state cannot be formulated into skin care products. They first must be chemically altered before they can be incorporated into cosmetics, thereby negating the claim of being pure and natural.
- FDA Approved ~ This marketing claim gives the unwitting consumer the idea the product is endorsed by the FDA, and the product must have been tested by the FDA to show proof of the companies claim of safety and / or efficacy.
- Danger of Claim: This is outright FALSE and is actually in violation of FDA regulation. FDA does not approve any finished product for the end user in the cosmetic and beauty industry. Only prescription and OTC drugs and medical devices are FDA approved for their intended purpose.
- Does Not Contain Fillers~ This marketing claim is designed to intimate that their product is formulated with nothing but pure and essential ingredients only, and that no fillers are used to create a less than desirable product, supposedly.
- Danger of Claim: This insinuates that somehow a filler ingredient is cheap and makes another product substandard. Unfortunately, this bears no weight in actual truth. Those that claim their ingredients are the ultimate and then claim fillers as bad, are also ingredients that are used as filler. Mica for instance is not only an essential ingredient to the formulation of the majority of mineral makeup, but it is also a FILLER ingredient. By definition a filler ingredient is used for finish of product, bulking agent, or any ingredient utilized for the desired effect for smooth application. There is no actual separation of the two. Water can be considered a filler ingredient, since it is not typically essential but makes up the bulk of many skin care products.
- Non Irritating~ This gives the end user of a product the assurance that their otherwise sensitive skin, will not have any problem with the product. This expands on item 3.
- Danger of Claim: The problem with this claim is everyone’s skin is different. There are ingredients that have a long standing history of safety and efficacy, yet there will be the small percentile that will have irritation when using it. Mineral makeup for instance works well for the majority of women, Bismuth Oxychloride excluded, but for a small number, no matter how much they hope, they will always have an irritant reaction and can never wear minerals, no matter its’ popularity. We disclose this fact, by using only ingredients with known lower irritant risk factors, but still, only the end user will determine what is right for their skin or how they’ll react through testing it on themselves. It may not be a single ingredient, but when used in combination with another or its presumed ratio, is where the problem lies. So by not purchasing something because one may see a certain ingredient of concern, they may be missing out on what otherwise could be fantastic for their skin. Always TEST…TEST…TEST the product for absolute certainty.
The American Academy of Dermatology wrote an excellent article on Cosmeceuticals and addresses in a common sense language, how and why skincare is devised for providing actual benefit to the end user. They further establish the premise of many claims and what is reality versus marketing puffery.
There Is No Getting Around Marketing Claims, Though Less Common
The term “cosmeceutical” is often used in cosmetic advertising and may be misleading to the consumer. In fact it connotes that it might be similar to a pharmaceutical product, so they conclude that cosmeceuticals are required to undergo the same testing for efficacy and safety as required for medication or OTC drugs. The perception by the customer is this has more intrinsic value so this is why they cost more, when in reality, may actually be less effective and/or have substandard ingredients.
However, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act “does not recognize any such category as “cosmeceuticals.” A product can be a drug, a cosmetic, or a combination of both, but the term “cosmeceutical” has no meaning under the law.
Additionally, the FDA states that: “Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act defines drugs as those products that cure, treat, mitigate or prevent disease or that affect the structure or function of the human body.While drugs are subject to an intensive review and approval process by FDA, cosmetics are not approved by FDA prior to sale. If a product has drug properties, it must be approved as a drug.”
To avoid inquiry and punitive action by the United States Federal Trade Commission, cosmeceuticals which do not intend to be regulated as drugs by the FDA, are carefully labeled to avoid making statements which would indicate that the product has drug properties. Any such claims made regarding the product must be substantiated by scientific evidence as being truthful.
Besides, it is to the financial gain of the manufacturer that their products are not regulated by the FDA as drugs, because the FDA review process for drugs can be very costly and may not yield a legally-marketable product if the FDA denies approval. However, to further expand on item 8, the reputation of the product may be falsely enhanced if the consumer incorrectly believes that a “cosmeceutical” is held to the same FDA standards as a drug.“Pharmaceutical Grade” buzz words also used to describe many cosmetics, including some mineral makeup companies, is no different. This is pure marketing hype, insinuating that the product will perform better than others on the market and the connotation is, it will do something for the skin, such as heal or cure something. Also in violation of FDA since if this claim were true, without the proper studies and / or drug monograph including all the warnings provided on the label, this product would be considered mis-branded. Another reason to pay close attention to labels. I also wrote an article as it relates to FDA approved Sunscreens and their respective SPF. All equates to being an OTC drug which includes the FDA required drug monograph.
So don’t get caught up in the mumbo jumbo of marketing finesse with claims that “sound to good to be true” because they usually are. I do feel however, that it is important to let the customer know what a product “does not contain” such as gluten, and in this context we offer it as a quick reference to check for any allergic or sensitivity issues. But of course always read the full ingredient list to make sure nothing else might cause problems for your skin.
And to further stipulate, when represented as a reference for making sure nothing is in the product to pose a possible problem, it will not create the same concern that “FREE FROM” can, and doesn’t connote that the ingredients listed are somehow “unsafe”, but rather, they are an ingredient we have chosen not to add to our products based on two parts, personal preference and consumer demand.
And if we can all get on the same page as an industry, we won’t all be standing around scratching our heads in confusion and surprise, uttering the word……………………………….