Not Clinically Proven: How Cosmetics Try To Look Better Than They Are

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Not Clinically Proven: How Cosmetics Try To Look Better Than They Are
Not Clinically Proven: How Cosmetics Try To Look Better Than They Are
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Text: Christina Farberova, author of the telegram channel "Chris Prints"

Cosmetic companies promise us new skin in seven days, allergy-free creams and nature-created products. We expect a miracle from cosmetics, as well as firm guarantees that this miracle will happen - and marketers are always ready to promise us this. But is there anything behind these promises? With the help of experts, we decided to figure out where clinically proven effectiveness ends and beautiful words invented in the marketing department begin.


Dermatologist Recommended

After reading this phrase, it seems as if a group of dermatologists from a serious scientific institution have tested the product and are recommending it based on a large research sample. This is not true. More often than not, such a promise is based on the recommendation of hired dermatologists who have been given cosmetic products for review. Neither Russia nor the United States has an organization that would require cosmetic companies to provide data on how many dermatologists tested and what their qualifications were.

“This is a voluntary marketing label,” explains Lyudmila Belova, head of the contract manufacturing department at NTS Gradient. - A cosmetic manufacturer can submit product samples, for example, to the National Alliance of Dermatologists and Cosmetologists. After the examination, he will be given an opinion and permission to apply the appropriate badge. There is another option - to contact the first dermatologists who come across, who will conduct tests, give an opinion and their personal approval of the product."


It is believed that cosmetics with such labeling do not cause allergic reactions. But neither Russia nor Korea has a federal standard or definition for the term "hypoallergenic," and in the US, cosmetics manufacturers are not even required to submit test results to the FDA (an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services). Studies confirming the hypoallergenicity of a particular cosmetic product are often impossible to find. "Hypoallergenic" products usually simply do not contain substances that are known to cause irritation - otherwise, marketers cross their fingers.

“The label“hypoallergenic”came to the mass market from the world of pharmaceutical cosmetics for atopic and sensitive skin. This is a classic marketing technique that inspires consumer confidence: hypoallergenic means safe, reliable, - explains cosmetic chemist, co-founder of the InnSkin and SKINIO brands Victoria Sharapova. - In fact, this implies the absence of fragrances and dyes, aggressive surfactants (for example, SLS / SLES). Also, this word means "unnatural" cosmetics. Organic cosmetics cannot be hypoallergenic, since essential oils and extracts are the main allergens."

Each person may have an individual intolerance to any product or component - from chicken meat to niacinamide. And even ingredients considered safe can cause allergic reactions, especially in people with sensitive skin.

Not tested on animals

In the European Union, cosmetics and ingredients have not been tested on animals since 2004, while in Russia manufacturers have a choice - toxicological studies on animals or on alternative biological models. In China, testing of imported cosmetics on animals is mandatory. There is no ban on testing in America, but the FDA emphasizes that the labels "cruelty free" and "not tested on animals" are not legally binding.

Even if the finished products have not been tested on animals, this does not mean that the raw materials themselves were not tested on animals many years ago when they were first obtained. But it is important to note that testing cosmetic products on animals (and generally testing anything on them) is long and expensive.Therefore, for example, the production of any medicine requires so much time and money. Unfortunately, most of the time cosmetic companies are deterred from testing on animals is a matter of price, not ethics or legislation. Instead, cosmetics and ingredients are tested in cell cultures.


Patented formula

This wording is designed to make the buyer think that the patented product is more serious, and its creation is based on a scientific approach, which means that it works better. The truth is that more often than not, a patent is obtained for manufacturing technology, and not for a particularly miraculous result. In addition, anything can be patented. Including - any chemical formula.

Balanced pH

Gabriella Bucky, PhD chemist and co-author of Introduction to Cosmetic Formulation and Technology, emphasizes that any cosmetic product is formulated in a pH range that is compatible with the skin of the face, scalp, underarms or other parts of the human body. Cosmetic brands that claim to be "pH balanced" try to emphasize the superiority of their product over others in this way. But almost any cosmetics for home care has a pH value of five to nine, it can be safely used - compatibility depends primarily on the properties and type of skin. Therefore, instead of such marking on the packaging, you can write something like: "Yes, this is normal cosmetics" or "This cream, in general, can be used."

No preservatives

Again, this marketing label was created to convince the buyer of the safety of the product. But here's the thing: there are preservatives in cosmetics that contain water (which is most of the products on this market). And that's okay: preservatives are protection against the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast in the mass. Without them, creams, serums and cleansing gels will not last more than a day and will be unsafe. One of the few FDA requirements for cosmetics sounds like this: the product must not contain "dirt" and microorganisms. In fact, this means that if there is water in cosmetics, then, according to the law, there must be preservatives in it.

The claim that there are no preservatives in cosmetics can be based on various reasons. Perhaps this product does not contain water, and therefore no preservatives are needed - which makes sense when it comes to body oil or oil-based lip balm. The product may also contain preservative enhancers (such as rosemary oil), and the manufacturer hopes that this is sufficient. That is, if the bottle says "no preservatives", most likely, there are simply no substances in the composition that are only responsible for preservation. Instead, this function is performed by ingredients that have other properties as well.


100% Organic

In the US, natural ingredients are not FDA certified in any particular way, but there is an Agricultural Marketing Service that issues certifications for personal care products and products. If the packaging says "100% organic", then such a cosmetic product should contain only natural ingredients, if it says "organic" - then 95% of natural ingredients, if "made with more than 70% organic ingredients" - up to 70%. But choosing ingredients from sources that the manufacturer deems "organic" or "natural" does not guarantee their safety. Chemist Gabriella Bucky cites the example of cyanogenic glycoside, a poison found in apple seeds and apricot pits. The amount in one apple or apricot is usually not enough to harm a person, but a portion of the seeds can be fatal. Bucky elaborates: “It's worth remembering that if a product's packaging contains a 'natural' ingredient - for example, aloe juice - it is not a fact that it is derived from aloe. Most likely, it is synthesized: it is much cheaper, and the name itself is indicated on the packaging."

According to Viktoria Sharapova, the bona fide certified product will have the seal and mark “COSMOS ORGANIC” on the packaging.The certification body and the percentage of organic and natural components should also be indicated.

Paraben free

One of the commonly used preservatives is parabens. Cosmetics labeled "parabens-free" entered the market following research in which scientists linked parabens to breast cancer and endocrine disorders. In fact, there is nothing wrong with parabens: unlike other preservatives, they are effective even in low concentrations, although they can cause allergic reactions in people with sensitive skin. However, they do not cause cancer. Research has not confirmed the potential health hazards of parabens.

If the packaging says “parabens-free”, it means that there are no parabens in the cosmetics, but other preservatives have been added to the composition instead. “It’s good that methylparaben is being rehabilitated,” says Victoria Sharapova, “because the preservatives that replaced it during the years of exile (such as thiazolinones, benzoates, sorbates and phenoxyethanol) require higher concentrations and only increase the risk of allergies.”

Clinically proven efficacy

Cosmetics, unlike drugs, do not require clinical trials - therefore, if they are carried out, it is rather in order to write about it on the label. This means that the sample can be very small (fifteen or thirty people, not thousands), and the design does not stand up to any scientific criticism. In 2014, the US Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against L'Oréal: the cosmetic giant overestimated the scientific content of its products Lancôme Génifique and L'Oréal Paris Youth Code, promising in advertising “noticeably rejuvenated skin in just seven days” and stating that it was “clinically proven. " The promo said, “Genes make specific proteins. Their activity decreases with age. So make your genes more active and stimulate the production of proteins. " The Commission did not like such a pseudo-scientific promise, and it began to check. As it turned out, the effect of the product L'Oréal Paris Youth Code did not correspond to the declared one.

For a “clinically proven” marketing label to carry any weight, you need a large sample of users, independent research, and detailed information on how it was conducted. How many people participated, what condition their skin was in, how long they tested the product, how often they used it, whether they used something else during testing, and many other factors. But the details of clinical testing are usually not provided.

How to figure out the tricks

Who, then, to believe? To yourself. Before spending your money on a new serum or lip gloss, do your home research. Open the website of the manufacturer and see what ingredients the product consists of, whether it is indicated where they were obtained from. “Don't be fooled by trickery. If the first ingredient in the list is “water with infusion”, then a huge list of extracts will follow. This is just a gimmick, and it means that the product is based on water, to which extracts have been added in small concentrations,”explains Lyudmila Belova.

Victoria Sharapova adds that it would be good to understand your own needs and have a basic knowledge of the properties of active ingredients. “It will be useful to remember that hyaluronic acid moisturizes, vitamin C is an antioxidant, and if the skin is sensitive, then it is better to postpone the serum based on essential oils. Unfortunately, only a cosmetic chemist who has developed a specific formulation can judge the effectiveness of a product. A person who is well versed in compositions can only judge the theoretical functional action. And, of course, we all have the right to call the manufacturer's office and demand certificates and test reports, but how the manufacturer will respond to such a request will already be a good indicator."

Photos: GrasePhoto -, ruangrit19 -, Mavka -

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