Decoding the claims of beauty products

February 14, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The anti-aging business is booming with $2.9 billion in sales in 2011. But beware of those carefully crafted claims on cosmetic labels -- like brightening, lifting, and organic.

The saying goes, beauty is only skin deep. But it's the only skin you've got! So taking care of it is a big priority for women of all ages.

Daisy Mata told ABC30, "I use moisturizers every day, especially right now during the winter, because the air really affects my skin."

But as you browse the store shelves, the product claims on the labels can get confusing.

Jacquesha Lowder added, "Beautiful or amazing, it always has the big terms like this is awesome."

"Some things just don't work," Bibiana Urbina said. "Ever been disappointed by some of your products? A lot of times, most of the time, yeah they're disappointing."

A lot of us buy creams and lotions based on what the labels say they'll do. For example this says it'll brighten and smooth imperfections. But Consumer Reports says a lot of these claims are meaningless because they aren't regulated. So essentially it's money down the drain.

In fact cosmetics giant Lanc?me was recently warned by the FDA, that it had gone too far with claims about several of its antiwrinkle products. The letter said sales could be halted if the company didn't tone them down. That's why Consumer Reports' Shopsmart Magazine wanted to get to the truth in beauty. In this recent report editors decoded the claims.

Jamie Kopf said, "It's just good for consumers on our side to kind of have an idea which of these terms have an actual definition and which of these just sound good, so you're not being had."

One well-regulated term is "broad spectrum" as seen on this Olay lotion with sunscreen. The FDA requires any product with broad spectrum on its label to provide protection against both UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays.

The term "organic" is used on a wide variety of beauty products. But only ones with the USDA's organic seal, adhere to the government's strict standards for the term.

But don't always believe labels that say 100% natural or 100% pure, which imply the product, is made of safe ingredients from nature. Unlike organic, the term natural has no regulatory definition. And just because something isn't man-made doesn't necessarily mean it's safe.

Hypoallergenic implies the product won't cause allergic reactions. But the FDA has no federal standards for this term either. So it means whatever a particular company wants it to mean. Claims of refining and restructuring come close to biologic statements that aren't allowed for cosmetics.

Jamie Kopf said, "So what you normally see among cosmetics is they stay just on the safe side, of claims so that there's an implication that something's gonna happen but they're not stating outright that you're really gonna see a change in your skin itself."

But Kopf says some claims, like "lifting" are downright misleading. We spotted it everywhere - on Loreal Revitalift, Garnier Ultra-Lift, and Olay Regenerist to name a few. Dermatologists agree saying none of those creams can reverse sagging or drooping.

"When you hydrate the skin you can get the appearance of lines softening, wrinkles softening, a little bit of firming," Dr. Behr said. "But it's probably not a permanent change."

Which brings many frustrated patients in to Dr. Kathleen Behr's North Fresno office. For actual lifting and tightening, Dr. Behr uses Ultherapy, a machine which tightens the skin with ultrasonic heat. While these and other laser treatments can be effective, they can cost thousands of dollars. Far cheaper, preventing damage in the first place.

"A good sunscreen is the best anti-cancer, anti-aging product we can use."

Dr. Behr says another claim to take with a grain of salt: dermatologist recommended. A company can put that on a label if even just one dermatologist out of 20 responded to a survey that accompanied free samples of the product.


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