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Deception, recent report on cosmetics from USDA Journal

Date: 2017-03-18

A report from US Journal of Global Fashion Marketing: Bridging Fashion and Marketing analysed the level of deception in cosmetics advertising claims and found the majority to be either false or unsubstantiated and therefore potentially deceptive to consumers.

The report, titled Deception in cosmetics advertising: Examining cosmetics advertising claims in fashion magazine ads, studied close to 300 full-page ads in magazines including Vogue and Glamour for make-up, skin and body care products among others. People judging the research then categorised all the claims into four groups – ‘outright lie’, ‘omission’ (meaning the claim fails to include important information needed to evaluate its truthfulness), ‘vague’ (containing a phrase too broad to have a clear meaning) and ‘acceptable’. Perhaps unsurprisingly to some, 621 of the 757 claims were deemed either a lie, omission or vague, and just 136 were acceptable to judges.

Some of the often-unsubstantiated claims highlighted range from the common, such as ‘dermatologically tested’ and ‘natural’ to the slightly more far-fetched, like ‘beautifies’ and ‘soothes the senses’.

Particular concern was given to cosmeceutical products, or those that are defined as having both aesthetic and medicinal properties. Though the authors say that though consumers often treat these with extra scrutiny, the category is unregulated and somewhat of a grey area in terms of the related claims that are made around it, things like ‘backed by science’ and ‘clinically proven’. The authors said: “There is usually no substantiation of these claims, and those who back the claims with scientific evidence and consumer testing often use questionable methodologies for their substantiation.”

Rather than try to warn consumers, the authors of the research know that many beauty shoppers are already well aware of the minefield that is sorting through the claims and promises sold by cosmetics advertising, and are actually more likely to be defensive and avoid these products as a result. They explained: “We might argue that consumers (at least as represented by our judges) are already sceptical of such claims and are likely to designate claims like these as lies, omitting important information and/or presenting vague claims. As such, our findings are consistent with past research on ‘defensive consumers’.

The research concludes that it is in the advertiser’s best interest to give consumers clarity and evidence to support a product’s claims. When it comes to scientific claims, “The concrete evidence of ingredients, the scientific research processes used and lab results should be provided in laymen’s terminology,” advised the authors

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