Friday, May 25, 2012

Top Ten Most Misleading Cosmetics Claims: 5th Installment

Understanding "Helps" Claims

There are two categories recognized for cosmetics; cosmetics and drugs.
  • Cosmetics- products intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness or altering the appearance.   
  • Drugs- products intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease in man. 
 A drug product is subject to registration, testing, labeling and packaging requirements that a cosmetic product is not. Since by definition a drug product is intended to treat something the claims that can be made on a drug product are substantially different than a cosmetic product. A drug product has an active ingredient that is recognized as a treatment for a disease or condition by FDA. For example, acne treatments. Here are the claims for Neutrogena Rapid Clear Acne Defense Face Lotion:

Contains maximum-strength acne-fighting medicine with botanical extracts to fight existing acne, help prevent future breakouts and leave skin feeling soft. This lightweight, daily lotion fights the multiple symptoms of acne. A powerful formula contains soothing natural botanicals to help prevent irritation, peeling or dryness. Powerful Salicylic Acid fights acne fast, penetrating deep into pores to unblock dirt and oil while sweeping away dead surface cells that can cause future breakouts.

The monograph for the active ingredient- salicylic acid- defines what you can say about the product. Salicylic acid is recognized as a treatment for acne and it functions by exfoliating the skin of dead skin cells which can block pores and cause acne. Botanical ingredients are not recognized as a treatment so any claim related to them must include the word helps.

Of course cosmetics companies want you to believe that a cosmetic (not drug) product is going to do something for you otherwise why would you buy it? So they couch their claims with words like "helps" and "reduces the appearance" and this is where it gets misleading. Here are the claims for Estee Lauder Time Zone Line and Wrinkle Reducing Creme:

Now you can take more than 10 years off the look of your skin in just 4 weeks and dramatically reduce the look of wrinkles. We can prove it. In fact, this anti-wrinkle moisturizer is so powerful, every single woman tested showed a reduction in the look of wrinkles.

That sounds great, right? If you read carefully, they only claim a reduction in the "look" of wrinkles not and actual measurable reduction in the number or depth/ length of wrinkles.

In 2005, Strivectin introduced their "better than BOTOX" stretch mark and wrinkle creams. These were cosmetic products but they were literally COVERED in claims. They claimed things like:
  •  Decreased the actual length of striae (stretch marks)
  •  Decreased the depth of indented surfaces
  •  Actually reduce the size of saddle bag thighs
  •  One problem area at a time, until you've literally melted the fat and molded your body into a more pleasing shape
And so on. It was ridiculous. No drug does the things that they claimed let alone a cosmetic. But it sold their product. Then the customers did not get the results that they claimed and they were understandable mad because these were not cheap lotions. FDA sent them a warning letter http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2005/ucm075254.htm and forced them to withdraw all of the false claims from the market. StriVectin reformulated (or repackaged I don't know for sure) but their claims are much more subdued now because they are just selling lotion and no mater what the package says- there are no miracle lotions.

Read the packaging carefully and critically. Don't be a sucker for a pretty package that says great things.