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Justifying Skin Care Claims

By: Imogen Matthews
Posted: February 6, 2009

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The claims brands make vary from country to country. For example, it is easier to make stronger claims in the U.S. than the U.K., which has the toughest regulations of any country. In the U.K., advertising is regulated through the independent body Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which, in the past two years, has become much more active in scrutinizing cosmetics. The type of claim a brand can make in the U.K. is “softer” than elsewhere. For example, a skin care brand can claim to reduce wrinkles in U.S. advertising, but in the U.K., it must talk about reducing “the appearance of” wrinkles.

“Claims are the same, in principle,” said Chris Gummer, director of U.K. consultancy Cider Solutions Ltd. “It doesn’t stop a brand making global claims. The ‘rule’ is that if you can say it in the U.K., you can say it anywhere.”

However, brands must also be aware of what they imply. For example, L’Oréal Paris was reprimanded by the ASA for its Telescopic Mascara advertisement, which implied that spokesmodel Penelope Cruz had created her implausibly long lashes by using the product. L’Oréal admitted she was wearing false eyelashes in the TV and print ads, and the company was forced to include a disclaimer in future campaigns. These days, skin care brands go to great lengths to superimpose text onto U.K. ads to ensure they meet the ASA’s stringent criteria.

Gummer points out that although it may seem easier to make claims on the U.S. market, brands still need to have data to support what they say, and marketers remain responsible for juggling claims and where they are made. “Until other countries have similar controls as the U.K., then there will be different claims for products,” affirms Skinnovation’s Ferguson.

Evolving Claims and Endorsements

Cider Solutions’ Gummer does not think that claims have changed much over the past 20 years, despite companies having large R&D operations and data that can be a challenge for regulators and watchdogs alike. The problem is that many skin care studies do not go far enough to prove product efficacy, often because the number of people used in tests is quite small. “They can do it if they really want to,” says Gummer, “but no one is prepared to step out of line.” Perhaps the reason is that if companies make stronger claims, they may step over the line into the area of pharmaceutical oversight. If that were the case, they would not be allowed to market their products as cosmetics.