In Australia in early May 2007, where an astounding five top cosmetics manufacturers were ordered to withdraw advertisements after complaints to Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration. (TGA)
Brands included in the complaints were Lancome, Clinique, Estee Lauder, L'Oreal and Payot.
The TGA's complaints panel established that the advertised creams, peels and serums were only cosmetics, however the companies were making claims that led consumers to believe that they were therapeutic formulations that would make a physiological difference.
Claims Vs Reality
In the case of Estee Lauder, the company argued that because they were known as a cosmetics company and their product Perfectionist Correcting Serum was being advertised in a fashion magazine "readers could not reasonably expect the product to have a therapeutic use".
They also testified to the TGA that the product used optical technology among other methods to blur the effect of wrinkles. This revelation was despite advertising promising that their AUD $160 product could fill in and smooth out expression lines instantly and "helps the skin amplify its natural collagen production".
The TGA complaints panel concluded it was unable to accept the claim was merely cosmetic and had "no doubt" it was intended as a therapeutic claim. This was due to the fact that consumers would reasonably believe that the expression lines would be instantly removed by biological means.
"Optical Technology" is all about masking the appearance of imperfections rather than making physiological changes"
In the case of Payot, the TGA panel said it was concerned about the comparison they had made between its AUD$175 Payot Rides Relax to injections of the wrinkle-relieving toxin Botox.
The panel subsequently ordered Payot to withdraw its claims that the serum was "wrinkle correcting".
In Europe, cosmetic manufacturers and marketers have been facing similar scrutiny over advertising claims, with direct selling leader Avon being reprimanded in early 2007 by the UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) over a misleading advertising campaign for an anti-aging face cream that claimed to be a face lift in a jar.
In a ruling published by the ASA, they stated that the claims were unfounded and the company did not have (or could not provide) any comprehensive scientific evidence to support the claim, despite carrying out a consumer study.
In another case, cosmetics giant Clinique was investigated by the ASA for displaying misleading content regarding their anti-ageing treatment, Repairwear. In the advert, Clinique stated that the cream enabled the skin to steer hearty cells to the base of wrinkles, thus triggering the skins own natural collagen production.
An expert at the ASA testified that Clinique had not tested the product on consumer's skin and therefore the accuracy of the claim was not valid. The tests had been in fact undertaken in a laboratory environment.
The reprimanding of cosmetics giants for misleading claims is not new. Back in 2005, L'Oreal had a number of complaints against a series of adverts featuring celebrity model Claudia Schaffer promoting anti wrinkle and anti cellulite products upheld by the UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA).
In the wrinkle cream advert, it was claimed that 76% of users had reported a visible reduction in expression lines over a three week period and that wrinkles could be reduced in the space of just one hour, an assertion that was considered by the panel to be extreme because the product could be reasonably understood to have a 'physiological action with a cumulative effect'.
Claims about the product's inclusion of Boswelox to counteract micro contractions was also investigated, and after consulting its own experts in the field, the ASA concluded that L'Oreal's specific reference to the product's effects on expression lines were unsubstantiated - a key point that was emphasised by Schaffer pulling a variety of different faces in the advert.
With the anti-cellulite product, the agency upheld complaints made against a product called Perfect Slim specifically claims that 71 % of women in a study had said it had visibly reduced the appearance of cellulite.
In upholding the complaint about the study, an ASA expert had examined the results of the trial but had found no evidence to support the claims, as it had been open and used no control or blind testing. Further details also proved that half of the individuals taking part in the study had not registered the improvement claimed.
Why the FDA is not holding accountable big cosmetics corporations false claims?
In the U.S. we have cosmetic companies using estrogen as ingredients and they don't have to list it on the ingredients list!
Also in the U.S. many "paraben free" products actually HAVE PARABENS but yet nobody goes after these cosmetics companies and the public and some misinformed skin care professionals are misled.
What you can do
There is fierce competition between cosmetics companies to continue to innovate new products, and this is good for all of us. Much of the research and experimentation for department store brands is used by professional skin care manufacturers, and with hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of researchers worldwide looking for the next big thing in a skin care breakthrough, it ultimately means that we have access to high-tech skin care products at affordable prices.
Perhaps it is time to start marketing your own treatments using cues from the mainstream cosmetics companies.
Start compiling case histories of your most positive client outcomes, and use them to promote the real differences you can make. Ensure every client is prescribed appropriate take-home care products with detailed instructions on their use. More importantly, don't give them a reason to go elsewhere to buy department store skin care.
Please share your thoughts.