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5 Bogus Cosmetic Claims
No matter where you shop for skincare or makeup products, you’ll find at least one, and probably more, with claims that are misleading or exaggerated to the point of absurdity. Lots of cosmetics companies make too-good-to-be-true claims just to get your attention. So, you’re probably asking: What about truth-in-advertising regulations? How do these brands get away with it? Drawing on our 35 years of researching this fascinating, sometimes frustrating, industry, we bust five of the most bogus cosmetic claims so you can shop smarter!
It’s a Jungle Out There!
No matter where you shop for beauty products, you’re bombarded with new products (plus the longstanding products) claiming to do all manner of great things for your skin. The constant flood of information and products is nothing short of dizzying—and that’s not counting fashion magazines, television commercials, home shopping networks, and countless beauty blogs and videos available around the clock!
It’s tempting to just give up out of frustration because you can’t be sure who’s telling the truth … but hang in there! The truth is that beyond all those fantasy claims there are lots of brands that do offer brilliantly formulated products. We’ll help you cut through the hype by revealing the facts behind five common, yet bogus, cosmetic claims—some you might have believed for years!
Armed with our research-based information, you’ll be better prepared to find products that REALLY work, no matter your skin type or concern!
5 Misleading Cosmetic Claims Debunked
"Hypoallergenic" is meant to imply that a product is unlikely or less likely to cause reactions and, therefore, is better for sensitive skin. It isn’t true … here’s why: There are no accepted testing methods, ingredient restrictions, regulations, guidelines, rules, or procedures of any kind, anywhere, for determining if a product qualifies as being hypoallergenic.
More proof: We’ve reviewed hundreds of products labeled "hypoallergenic" or "good for sensitive skin" that contain seriously problematic ingredients capable of causing a sensitized reaction.
Even the United States FDA says:
There are no Federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term hypoallergenic. The term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean.
Instead of focusing on shopping for "hypoallergenic" products, make sure you avoid products that contain skin-sensitizing ingredients, such as fragrance (whether natural or synthetic), denatured alcohol, sodium lauryl sulfate, fragrant plant oils like rose and lavender, and all forms of mint and citrus. These ingredients show up in lots of products, and all of them are problematic for skin, regardless of the claims for the product!
We know that sensitizing ingredients are a major problem for all skin types—that’s why every Paula’s Choice product is formulated to be non-irritating. We love it when we see other cosmetics companies doing the same thing, because it’s truly what is best for your skin.
Note: If you have extra-sensitive, reddened skin, our CALM line may be the best option to calm redness and bring comforting relief.
Non-Comedogenic or Won’t Clog Pores
You really can’t trust any product that makes claims of being "non-comedogenic" (or the less common "non-acnegenic") because, just like hypoallergenic, there are no approved or regulatory standards for these terms, not anywhere in the world.
With no guidelines or standards in place, even the thickest, greasiest moisturizer can claim it "won’t clog pores"! As a general rule, the thicker the product, the more likely it is to be pore-clogging.
Also, be wary of the claim "oil-free"! Lots of ingredients can make skin feel greasy even if they don’t contain oils or are not listed as oils. Shopping for oil-free products is not necessarily a slam-dunk solution for oily or congested skin.
Instead, if you have oily or clog-prone skin, avoid products with a thick, creamy consistency. Look for products that have a liquid, gel, or extremely light serum texture, or a thin, water-based lotion consistency. Generally, products with thinner textures are less likely to clog pores or worsen breakouts.
The word "cosmeceutical" (a combination of "cosmetic" and "pharmaceutical") was dreamed up to describe cosmetics products that are supposed to have some level (proven or not) of special benefit over and above regular cosmetics.
The truth? It’s just another marketing term with no regulation or standards behind it. That means that any brand (whether from a doctor’s office, salon, or medical spa) can label its products cosmeceutical, regardless of what they contain. There are no cosmeceutical-grade ingredients, not anywhere in the world.
What about different "grades" of ingredients? There definitely are different grades, but their use is not restricted to only the most expensive brands or to brands sold only by aestheticians or dermatologists. All cosmetics lines have access to the very same ingredients, and they are used throughout the cosmetics industry. Falling for this line is a surefire way to waste your money!
Dermatologist-Approved or Dermatologist-Tested
This popular claim sounds official and professional, but—surprise—it’s another that isn’t supported by any agreed-on standards.
"Dermatologist-approved" could mean something or it could mean nothing at all. What you don’t know is whether or not the dermatologist is on the payroll of the cosmetics company (many are, so they’re expected to "approve" the products—when was the last time you saw a "dermatologist-rejected" product?) or what standards he or she used to "approve" the product.
The same applies to "dermatologist-tested." Unless you know how the test was done and what the results were, it could be good, bad, or just plain meaningless—and it’s often the latter.
Specially Formulated for Mature Skin
This claim is not used so much anymore, but it still shows up, and it couldn’t be more irksome, for many reasons. The main problem is that cosmetics companies always define "mature skin" as occurring at some arbitrary age, usually over the age of 50, where all of a sudden, skin becomes dry. But, skin does not abruptly change at the age of 50, and it does not automatically become dry, either.
In reality, age is not a skin type. Women over age 50 have many different skin types. Skin concerns, such as wrinkles, uneven skin tone, and loss of firmness are fairly consistent, but that’s true for women in their 30s and 40s, too. In truth, women of all ages can struggle with oily skin and breakouts (just ask Paula, who, over 60, still has oily, combination skin).
There are no special formulary standards that make products labeled "for mature skin" any better or "more anti-aging" than products formulated for other skin types or concerns. Most products sold for mature skin are just overly emollient moisturizers that may or may not contain the skin-replenishing and skin-restoring ingredients that skin showing signs of aging needs. That’s why it’s a mistake to let this claim guide your purchasing decisions.
What you can do is follow a consistent skincare routine that addresses the needs of your skin type and your skin concerns, regardless of age! Our article on How to Put Together a Skincare Routine is a great place to learn what your routine should include and why each step is crucial to getting the best skin of your life!
References for this information:
Advances in Wound Care, February 2013, pages 5-10
PLOS One, December 2009, ePublication
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, January 2008, pages 56-59
Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, January 2004, pages 325-327
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About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!