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Are You Getting What You’re Paying For? Anti-Aging Claims, Promises & Promotions

Mar 29, 2017 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Lisa J. Gotto

So what is your process when you shop for cosmetics and other personal care products specifically related to anti-aging? Are you a label reader or are you merely enticed by product packaging and the buzzwords on that packaging?

Keep in mind that behind every artfully packaged tube of the latest and greatest eye cream, skin toner, and wrinkle reducer lies the eternal struggle between what the manufacturer really wants to say their product can do and going too far and promising unattainable results.

War of words

As a result, the information used to market an anti-aging product comes under close scrutiny by regulators like the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). For instance, did you know the words heal, repair, regrow, and regenerate are words that manufacturers are encouraged to avoid when describing how their product works?

Indeed, one of the giants in the field of personal care products, Proctor & Gamble, needed to answer to a false advertising lawsuit brought in 2012 for using the word “regenerate” in advertising associated with their Olay Regenerist line of anti-aging skincare offerings. The class-action suit was brought by a claimant in Ohio who stated that the product did not work as advertised. Namely the language on the bottle that stated to “regenerate the skin around the eye…” was the primary problem.

While it is obviously in a company’s best interests to adhere to regulatory guidelines when it comes to language in advertising, the desire to be top of mind and top of market can have manufacturers looking for creative if not clever workarounds when it comes to the language they use to sell a product.

Many consumers look to the manufacturers claims or the words they use to describe how well the product works as proof of efficacy when first buying a product. Only after the product is used is the true measure of the product’s efficacy known.

Creating a new wrinkle (no pun intended) for consumers is the now widespread use of the term “cosmeceutical.” This word is used by the cosmetics industry to classify products that are “cosmetic” in nature yet claim to have medicinal properties and benefits, as well.

This word is unique in the sense that the FDA does not recognize the term.


This gives manufacturers greater latitude in how they talk about this type of product. Cosmeceuticals are generally available for sale within the practice of a physician such as a dermatologist and over the counter at stores like Sephora under brand names like “Perricone.”

With these products pricing out higher than products you generally see at the cosmetic counter, it’s even more important to be a shrewd consumer. Fortunately, some cosmeceutical manufacturers offer samples of these products so you can try before you buy.


It is the responsibility of the consumer to educate him/herself and determine which products are right for them. (It’s important to note that cosmetics are not approved by the FDA prior to sale. It is the FDA’s job to regulate the ingredients in products for safety and then the language used to define and promote them for validity.)


Other Ways Manufacturers Get Your Business

Just a cursory look at a products page of a cosmetic company dotcom can tell the story here. Manufacturers have figured out how to harness word of mouth in the form of real user experiences, feedback, and testimonials to tell the tale of their products and educate and engage readers in their overall brand.

They also concentrate more on the words better tolerated by the FDA for product descriptions and efficacy claims; words like: “feels,” “looks,” and “appears.” So companies are looking for those consumers willing to “boast post” for them with statements such as “I feel more confident in my own skin,” “My skin looks healthier,” and “My fine lines appear diminished,” and in our socially frenetic society, that isn’t hard to do.

What’s a consumer to do?

Know your stuff. Know the difference between terms like the aforementioned “cosmeceutical” and “cosmetic.” According to the FDA, a “cosmetic” is “…anything intended to be applied to the human body to cleanse, beautify or alter its appearance. But not anything intended to treat or mitigate a disease or to affect the structure of function of the body.”


The anti-aging market is estimated to be worth $191.7 billion globally by 2019.

Source: Transparency Market Research

If you’re reading this and think you have seen the word “heal” on lots of products, you’re right, you have, but that’s most likely because that product, such as a lip balm, is not classified by the FDA as a “cosmetic.” That manufacturer can use the word “heal” when it is appropriate. It’s easy to see the confusion since the product is used on the lips.

It is the responsibility of the FDA to make the distinctions that categorize products. The question of the agency’s efficiency in doing so varies and depends on which watchdog group you listen to. After those distinctions are made, however, it is the responsibility of the consumer to educate him/herself and determine which products are right for them.

The bottom line is it is up to you to decide if a product produces the results it claims in its marketing language. By all means beware of exorbitant claims, because if it seems too good to be true, it most likely is.

After all, knowledge is a beautiful thing, too.

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