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Ingredient Truths: Beauty Product Claims - Fact or Fiction?

by kelly / June, 10 2015 01:30

We all want a miracle drug that can completely reverse the signs of aging and make our skin look 10 years younger.  And there are a lot of beauty and cosmetic products out there that market to that desire.  But we've all heard the line that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck.  This week in our Ingredient Truths series I'm going to give some real talk about how these companies maybe making you over-pay for many false promises and how the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is getting involved.


Drugs vs. Cosmetics

See how I used the word "miracle drug" up above?  The operative word in that sentence is "drug".  There are major differences between drugs vs. cosmetics / beauty products.  Below is how the FDA explains the key distinctions:  

  • A cosmetic is a product designed for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.  
  • A drug is a product designed for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease or intended to affect the structure or any function of the body.

This issue is that many cosmetic / beauty product claims can sound like drugs claims in that someone could infer that these products can potentially alter the structure of skin.  Of course we are not FDA experts but that seems to be the issue at large and the FDA has flagged some companies - as you will see in the next section of our post.

Another significant distinction is that drugs and their claims require approval and validation by the FDA to go out to market while cosmetics do not. According to Linda M. Katz, M.D., MPH, director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors:

“These products [drugs] must be evaluated by FDA as drugs before the companies can make claims about changing the skin or treating disease.”  

So the net here is that claims on beauty products, unlike drugs and the FDA considers all sunscreens a drug, are not validated by a centralized, independent regulatory agency like the FDA with standards that are used across all products.  According to Katz:

"Consumers need to know that these drug claims have not been proven to [the] FDA when they are making a decision to purchase one of these products.” 

That's not to say that beauty product claims have not been tested - I mean how many times have we all seen advertising use statements like "clinically tested" or "dermatologist approved".  But the difference here is that we have no idea who is validating/approving these claims, what are their standards and is it completely honest if a company is paying directly for these tests?  Now we can't say these tests are invalid either, what we can say is it would be nice to know more about how they were conducted and even better to have a central independent and unbiased agency to verify the tests.


How Do I Not Get Fooled By These Claims?

All is not lost in this highly gimmicky world of beauty.  The FDA has begun clamping down in recent years on these drug-like claims by beauty companies and began issuing warning letters. Actually the FDA publicly posts all their warning letters here.  Unfortunately you will see a lot of the major brands on the page.  

For example in 2012, the FDA issued a warning against the claims made by Lancome's Génifique, Absolue and Rénergie lines as appearing to be promoted as drugs.  The letter to Lancome stated:

"The claims on your web site indicate that these products are intended to affect the structure or any function of the human body, rendering them drugs under the Act. The marketing of these products with these claims evidencing these intended uses violates the Act."

Here are some of the claims made by Lancome that the FDA felt were in violation:

“[B]oosts the activity of genes and stimulates the production of youth proteins...improve the condition around the stem cells and stimulate cell regeneration to reconstruct skin to a denser quality...Immediate lifting, lasting repositioning. Inspired by eye-lifting surgical techniques"

I believe that Lancome has now removed these claims from their website.


What Can I Do To Prevent Skin Aging Then?

At Block Island Organics we promise to be upfront - our motto is that good skin care is about good suncare.  Yes I am plugging sunscreen and you might think selfishly but sunblock is actually considered an over-the-counter (OTC) drug and regulated by the FDA.  

There are specific labeling requirements for all sunscreen and the FDA actually allows broad spectrum sunscreens to put the following claim on their packaging:

"If used as directed with other sun protection measures (see Directions), decreases the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging caused by the sun."

So while our sunscreen can't reverse the signs of aging - it can definitely help prevent skin aging!

Additionally there are other ingredients like Retinol, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Hydroxy Acids, Coenzyme Q10 and Niacinamide to name a few that can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines but they will not change the structure of your skin or make them go away.  For example the Mayo Clinic lists these ingredients and states:

"The effectiveness of anti-wrinkle creams depends in part on the active ingredient or ingredients. Here are some common ingredients that may result in slight to modest improvement in the appearance of wrinkles."

Our Organic Revitalizing Night Cream contains some of these anti-aging ingredients like Vitamin C and E but we openly admit that the FDA has not tested our product (of course because you now have learned that most creams are cosmetics instead of drugs) and we will not claim that our night cream will change your skin's cell structure and reverse skin damage.  But I think personally it will make your skin feel good and appear better Laughing


Hope you are ok with my honesty.  I know the truth can hurt sometimes but I also hope it helps.  So the next time you see or hear about these claims you can decipher between fact and fiction.  Check out more of our Ingredient Truths series here.

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