Yesterday we talked about the difference between a cosmetic and a drug in the How to Read Cosmetics Labels part I. We also looked at how ingredients are listed on a cosmetics label. Today we are going to look at various claims made about cosmetic products. There are a myriad of fantastic promises that our skin creams and cosmetic products make from getting rid of wrinkles to erasing brown spots. The FDA conducted a consumer survey in 1994 asking consumers about their perception of cosmetic labeling. Nearly 50% of respondents said that if a product claimed to be “natural” then it should contain all natural ingredients. But the reality is that there is NO regulation behind the claim that a product is natural. You could put almost ingredient into a cosmetic product and call it natural and that would be fine.
The FDA has tried in the past to legislate official definitions of various terms such as hypoallergenic or natural, but these regulations were overturned in a court of law. So now any company can use these, and several other terms, on products in any way they see fit.
Let’s take a look at some of these terms that consumers should be skeptical of:
- Natural: there is no regulation governing this term so it can be used to describe virtually anything.
- Fragrance free: leads a consumer to believe that no fragrances are used in the product but it could just mean that there are no discernable odors. In fact fragrances could be used to mask or nullify odors from other ingredients.
- Hypoallergenic: there is no regulation governing this term, so once again, it could be used to describe anything. And in addition, different people are allergic to different things, so what may be hypoallergenic for one person may not be for another.
- Alcohol free: implies that there is no alcohol in the product, but could just mean that there is no grain alcohol and could include ingredients with other alcohols such as cetyl alcohol.
One case of misleading labeling is with Procter & Gamble’s Clairol Herbal Essences. They say that you’ll have a “totally organic experience” using it. Unfortunately the rules governing the use of the term “organic” don’t apply here because P&G is claiming that the experience is organic, not the product. There are no regulations for claiming that an experience is organic, even though it leads consumers to believe that it is actually the product that is organic. And it’s likely that although it’s called Herbal Essences, one would be hard pressed to find the herbs within.
Reading labels of cosmetic products is very important. The list of ingredients is your guide to what is in the product. If you don’t know the name of an ingredient, either don’t purchase the product, or educate yourself by Googling it or looking it up in the International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary. Buying cosmetics is definitely a case of buyer beware. You cannot trust any of the beauty claims that guarantee you that you’ll look ten years younger, and you know now that calling a product “all natural” is meaningless. Do your research, be informed, and use what has proven to work for you.