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originally posted April 16, 2019
updated September 1, 2020
If the promises sound too good to be true, they probably are just that – too good to be true.
Most of us were victims of deceptive marketing strategies from cosmetic companies at one time or another. The labels boast youthful results. They prey on our insecurities and encourage us to purchase expensive products. Can scientists validate these claims?
Dr Fayne Frey, board certified dermatologist and a frequent contributor to 50Plus-Today, says no. In the 4/14/2019 issue of The Doctor Weighs In, Dr Frey implores skin care product manufacturers to engage in responsible marketing based on truthful information. As per Dr. Frey,
“The industry is in need of true transparency.”
“Don’t get me wrong” she says. “There is a portion of the skincare industry that manufactures personal care products that are effective. These products truly benefit consumers’ health and well-being. Unfortunately, the good actors are drowned out by the marketing frenzy created by the “beauty” industry as a whole.”
Dr Frey states that the cosmetic industry, currently valued at 500 billion dollars and growing, withholds important information from the consumer, promises eternal youth and offers unproven solutions to skin health. In fact, much of the industry makes “deceptive claims that neither science or personal experience can validate”.
The benefits of skin care products
We know science can validate the health benefits of moisturizing the skin. For example, many skin conditions, such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, improve with the use of moisturizers. But choosing between products that improve skin hydration and those that do not is not easy. How does the average consumer know which product actually works?
The health benefits of applying daily sunscreen are also well-documented. Getting in the habit of using sunscreen regularly promotes both long term improvement of skin appearance and the prevention of skin cancer.
Unfortunately, research does not back up other claims made on skin care product labels. Advertisements boldly claim their product will eliminate wrinkles, fade age spots, and make your skin look younger and brighter. In Dr. Frey’s opinion, this type of marketing is unethical and exploits consumers.
Tricks of the Trade
Adding to the confusion are deceptive repackaging practices. According to Dr. Frey, cosmetic companies sometimes repackage inexpensive and commonly used moisturizing lotions in small tubes, then sell as expensive hand creams. The products contain the exact same ingredients, just the marketing is different.
-Seductive claims of anti-aging
Scientists have yet to find a single ingredient that can slow or reverse aging. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could? Facial products labeled with terms like “anti-aging” or “age-defying” are not to be trusted. These products may be beneficial as moisturizers, but they can’t actually change the skin. If that were the case, FDA approval would be required by law.
-The eye cream myth
Eye creams are just moisturizers and the skin around your eyes is no different than that on your cheekbone. As per Dr. Frey, under a microscope, samples from each area when compared look the same to a dermatologist. Are eye creams really needed?
-Night creams that are also day creams
Night creams are one of Dr. Frey’s pet peeves. “Do you think your skin knows the time of day?” she asks. Night creams are generally packaged in smaller containers and are more expensive than day creams, but the ingredients and function are the same.
-Other products you don’t need
Exfoliants, masks, scrubs, toners, astringents, and products with “natural” plant-derived ingredients may feel good on the skin, but no scientific evidence exists to prove any health benefits. In truth, some of these products may actually be harmful, causing adverse effects such as excessive drying.
Some skincare products boast they are “free-from” a particular ingredient. So what? Does it matter? The marketing message behind the label is trying to say this product is healthier than the others when this is not necessarily the case.
All water-based products, which include most facial and body moisturizers, require a preservative to prevent contamination from bacteria and mold growth. Parabens are a commonly used class of preservatives that are not toxic for humans when used in approved doses of less than 1%. However, stories from the media and consumer advocacy groups attribute negative health effects to parabens – which in turn creates an unnecessary consumer demand for paraben-free products. As a result, the cosmetic industry now has a new market segment to exploit. Dr Frey wonders if consumers think to ask what alternative preservative is used in the paraben-free products? And are these alternative preservatives better?
The term “natural”, sometimes referred to as “chemical free”, may imply where ingredients come from – for example, oils and extracts from herbs, plant roots or flowers. “Natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe, though it sounds good on a label. Some poisons are “natural”, but still harmful. The term “chemical free” doesn’t make sense at all as every ingredient in a skincare product is a chemical, including those derived from plants. Even water is a chemical, a necessary one for a healthy body in the right amount.
-Good for the planet products
Don’t you love when manufacturers proclaim to be “green”, but sell products with unnecessary and often nonbiodegradable plastic packages? I will believe these companies are truly concerned about sustainability and climate change when they become more responsible with their packaging. For now, labeling products as “good for the planet” is just another marketing strategy.
The bottom line
Dr. Frey is a passionate advocate for consumers of skincare products. She believes “skincare manufacturers should engage in trustworthy principled marketing that encourages consumers to purchase beneficial skincare products based on science.”
Dr. Frey works tirelessly to provide consumers with factual information to help them choose skin care products wisely. Her website, fryface.com, is a free science-based skincare information website created to make selecting products easy.
Fayne Frey, M.D., is a board-certified clinical and surgical dermatologist practicing in West Nyack, New York, where she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. She is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products, and, as a speaker, has captivated audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She has consulted for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post, and has shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets. Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that clarifies and simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products encountered in the skincare aisles. Dr. Frey is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.