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What Cosmetic Claims Actually Mean and How They May Have Deceived You

The beauty and cosmetic industry is a tough competition. Many new products are emerging every year and each has their own way to stand out from the rest. To any cosmetic product, cosmetic claims are important marketing tools because of their role in buyer decision process. As consumers, you should know that cosmetic claims are not always the accurate description of the product and will always have underlying “buy me” intentions.

Let’s talk about these cosmetic claims and what they actually mean.  It will surprise you how most of them can be very deceiving.

100% Natural / Made with NATURAL Ingredients

Claims of "natural" products

Claims of “natural” products

Let’s start with the most commonly abused cosmetic claim: natural. It wants to imply that product contains ingredients  from nature and hence, safe.

Media has bamboozled the public in to believing that natural is better. But, what do you really mean by “Natural?”. The term is hazy because of its diverse definition and that’s where the problem comes from. Is it devoid of preservatives? How do they control bacterial contamination then? Is it free from “processed” ingredients? How do they get rid of impurities then?

The word “natural” on cosmetic labels is not regulated by any governing authority. Companies can easily misuse them.  This does not guarantee a product to be better than ones that are not marked “natural”.

Organic/ORGANICS

Natural / Organic Products

Same with the word natural, there is no concise definition or standard for “organic” label on cosmetic products. It’s presumably stated to showcase their product as safe and free from artificial chemicals. In the Philippines, Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS) is the only government authority that approves or rejects organic labels but these are applicable only to food and agricultural products.  Food and Drug Authority Philippines (FDA) does not regulate “organic” as cosmetic claims as of time of writing, so anyone can use it.

CRUELTY FREE / ANIMAL FRIENDLY

Cruelty Free/Animal Friendly products are products that do not perform any test on animals. Personally, I admire companies who care about the welfare of animals. Consumers who support animal-friendly advocacy may opt for products that says “cruelty free” or “not tested on animals”. However, here are things you should know before you grab these products:

  • Products that do not test on animals may mean that there is nothing innovative about their formulation or their ingredients. They will have to rely on available standards on cosmetic formulation that have already been proven to be effective and/or safe through guess what? – most likely by animal testing.
  • If the ingredients or formulation is new and a product claims they don’t test on animals, well maybe their suppliers already did
Cruelty free bunny

Cruelty free bunny by PETA

Anyone can use this cosmetic claim except for logos of organizations like Leaping Bunny and PETA which requires a screening process before being listed on their database of cruelty-free products.

Animal testing is not the only available method to test cosmetic products. There is a continuous development of alternative methods. You can read them here.

 

ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY

Ecofriendly claims

Eco-friendly claims

“Green Beauty” is slowly becoming a trend and there has been an influx of new products promoting eco-friendliness and sustainability.

Maybe they cant win it with superior formulation, so they bank on environmental advocacy to stand out.” – this is just my inner demon talking every time I see products with these claims. This doesn’t always have to be true. Though companies that have sincere intentions to preserve the environment are truly admirable, I remain skeptical about this claim not until I do my research. It’s difficult to determine how “environmentally friendly” they are when there is no third-party verification (in the Philippines) of the company’s methods in conserving the environment.

There is a growing environmental awareness in our society so companies want to present their product in a way that adheres to the sentiments of environmentally-conscious consumers. Environmentally friendliness is executed in multiple ways and mostly have nothing to do with how the product perform for its intended use.  Some cosmetic companies use biodegradable packaging, some give percentage of their profit to environmental projects and other philanthropic efforts. If you really want to support products with environmental advocacy, it is best to check their website and do some research to make sure your purchase is in harmony with your intentions.

 

Chemical Free

A funny sarcasm meme from sweetytextmessages

Unless your jar of night cream contains pure energy or complete vacuum this claim is just… so wrong.

 

HYPOALLERGENIC

hypoallergenic

How many products have you bought because they’re “hypoallergenic?”

It literally means “below” or “less” allergenic. These are claims that tell consumers that it will less likely to cause allergic reactions.  Though it sounds to like one, “hypoallergenic” is not a medical term.  Any company can use this claim and it will be up to them how to validate this. In 1975, USFDA attempted to regulate this term but was challenged by big cosmetic companies. The latter turned out victorious and ruled that the regulation was invalid.  Today, anyone can tell their product is hypoallergenic and free from chemicals they deem as allergens.

 

DERMATOLOGIST- APPROVED

This claim means that the product has been reviewed by a dermatologist, a medical professional for skin, scalp and nails. However, contrary to most consumers think, this claim doesn’t necessarily mean that a clinical trial has been made and a panel dermatologist approves it. Who knows, all that have happened was that a dermatologist tested the product, and found out it didn’t burn their skin and so did not object its release in the market. As consumers, we can never tell.

Here are the things that comes to my mind when I see a product that is dermatologist approved:

  • What are the affiliation of these dermatologist? What if the dermatologist is the company’s employee?
  • At what standards are these products “approved?”

This is not to discredit dermatologist because they are skin professionals and than most others, they know better. It’s just that this claim is not strictly regulated so there’s never really a way to know how it was approved. Know more about the product and its ingredients. Don’t rely on this claim to decide if it’s the best product for you.

 

DERMATOLOGIST TESTED

Dermatologically Tested logo

Random Dermatologically Tested logo

Here’s what comes in to my mind when I see products that are dermatologist tested: “ So uhm, is it good or bad?”

Who knows how the test went. There is no protocol on how tests should be performed and no regulating body on how these claims are used. So to me, these claim really doesn’t mean anything.

 

Does not Contain Paraben

Parabens

Parabens are perceived by public as harmful

Parabens have been used for decades in cosmetic products as preservative. Without preservatives, your jar of night cream will be infested with bacteria in weeks time after opening. FDA has stated clearly that it does not pose any danger to humans when used as preservatives in cosmetic products.

Products that claim to not contain parabens intend to showcase their superiority by not having an ingredient that is perceived as harmful. However, paraben is legal and this claim should not vilify other products that contain it.

This claim doesn’t really tell anything about the other ingredients that it contains besides on what it doesn’t have. This cosmetic claim should not be the basis to generalize that all products containing parabens are unsafe.

 

Alcohol Free

Too much alcohol

The type of alcohol referred by “alcohol free” products is ethyl alcohol, the type that made Kermit drunk.

Consumer tend to believe that “alcohol free” products are better because they believe it can dry out their skin. These products do not mean alcohols in general but they are actually referring to ethyl alcohol. True, ethyl alcohol may cause dryness but it depends on its relative amount in the product.

Alcohols are a large family of chemicals and not all alcohols can cause dryness. Cetyl, stearyl and cetearyl alcohol has very different properties with ethyl alcohol. They improve product’s skin feel/texture. This claim may deceive you in a way that you think all alcohols are bad for you- of course not.

 

Take Home

Yes, it is a wilderness out there and sadly some companies treat labels as a marketing strategy more than a statement of factual information.  But how do you know the good products then?

Be informed

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That’s why blogs like these and many reputable sources out there are here for –to inform consumers. Also,  many reputable products substantiate their claims in their website.

 

Patch Test

patch test

patch test means applying product only to small area of the skin to minimize damage of adverse reactions

If in doubt, patch test. If you are not sure if your night cream will not irritate your skin, apply a small amount in a small area for 3 to 4 consecutive days. Well, if it does not suit you, atleast a small patch of red and irritated skin is better than a massive ripe tomato sitting on top of your neck.

 

Read the product ingredients

Read product Ingredients

Ingredients list is important because the law requires to disclose them on labels.  Products can claim whatever they want but all truth boils down to what their ingredients say. If a product says it contains aloe vera but it is in the last few items in the product ingredients, then it gives you an idea aloe vera in the product is too little to give noticeable effects.

 

This is not to tell you not to buy products that bear these claims but rather encourages you to be a wiser consumer. Many products are presented in a way that invoke emotion that will drive us to buy them. Remember, there is no better judge of product’s quality than you.

 

 

Any cosmetic claim you wish to add on this list? Let me know 🙂

Article written by:

Anne Porter

Hi! I’m Anne. I am a chemical engineer from Cebu, Philippines. I created Zarins Beautylab because of my love for cosmetics, skin care products and all other stuff that makes me (and you) look and feel beautiful. My semesters of chemistry courses come in handy as I explain the science behind different beauty products: which works and how it works. Well, Sometimes its science and sometimes its just good ol’ common sense.

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