Are the high profile department store brands better than those used by beauty therapists or are they just well marketed with pseudo-science?
The skin care product market is huge: annual sales exceed $3 billion in the UK alone, however professional beauty therapists, aestheticians and skin treatment practitioners see only a very small portion of this revenue.
Why? You may ask. It is not that the products sold by department store chains and direct marketing is any better than the products the therapists sell, it is simply the mass marketing and accessibility that the cosmetic brands provides gives the perception they are.
The reality is in most cases that the department store brands are no more (and in many cases, less) effective than the products sold by salons, its just your customers dont believe it to be the case.
This makes it harder to convince them that the same amount of
money spent on a series of corrective clinic facials as on a flashy department store or direct sales product will give a better and lasting effect.
For most women today, beauty is less about vanity and more about self-confidence, and cosmetics are less about the science and more about emotions. This is why with the millions spent on advertising campaigns and celebrity endorsements you would be forgiven for believing all of the statements of how product X will make your wrinkles disappear virtually overnight are true.
The reality is however that in many countries there are insufficient consumer protection controls in place to force manufacturers and marketers to tell the truth. In many countries, the logic that if it cant harm you, then you dont need to know seems to be the norm.
With formulations for anti-ageing products becoming increasingly sophisticated, the boundaries of product efficacy are being constantly stretched. You would think that when promoting these products, there should be complete transparency and no room for ambiguity when it comes to efficacy claims.
The reality of course is much different.
Cosmetic Vs Therapeutic
Lets think about some of the statements made by some cosmetic companies regarding the efficacy of their products.
If you have products that are indeed making physiological changes to the metabolism of skin cells, restructuring DNA, and regenerating collagen to make wrinkles disappear, then we are talking about therapeutic formulations that could be considered drugs.
(Aestheticians and skin treatment practitioners undertake treatments on their clients that provide these physiological actions every day, however the therapist providing the treatments is appropriately qualified, trained and skilled.)
Therapeutic skin care products are generally not available from retailers, but logically limited to skin treatment therapists as professional products, with the prescription and use of them based
on the findings of a skin analysis consultation.
In fact, any product that has physiological altering properties should be only be used when the outcome is predictable. A typical example is retinoid reactions when too stronger concentration of vitamin A is used on a particular skin type and condition.
This therapeutic class of products in some countries also falls under the administration of some form of therapeutic goods legislation, where false and misleading efficacy statements are considered illegal and punished with reprimands and the kind of publicity that cosmetic companies try to avoid at all costs.
An example of enthusiastic marketing claims catching up with cosmetic companies was played out in Australia in early May 2007, where an astounding five top cosmetics manufacturers were ordered to withdraw advertisements after complaints to Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration. (TGA)
Brands included in the complaints were Lancome, Clinique, Estee Lauder, L'Oreal and Payot.
The TGA's complaints panel established that the advertised creams, peels and serums were only cosmetics, however the companies were making claims that led consumers to believe that they were therapeutic formulations that would make a physiological difference.
Claims Vs Reality
In the case of Estee Lauder, the company argued that because they were known as a cosmetics company and their product Perfectionist Correcting Serum was being advertised in a fashion magazine "readers could not reasonably expect the product to have a therapeutic use".
They also testified to the TGA that the product used optical technology among other methods to blur the effect of wrinkles. This revelation was despite advertising promising that their AUD $160 product could fill in and smooth out expression lines instantly and "helps the skin amplify its natural collagen production".
The TGA complaints panel concluded it was unable to accept the claim was merely cosmetic and had "no doubt" it was intended as a therapeutic claim. This was due to the fact that consumers would reasonably believe that the expression lines would be instantly removed by biological means.
In the case of Payot, the TGA panel said it was concerned about the comparison they had made between its AUD$175 Payot Rides Relax to injections of the wrinkle-relieving toxin Botox.
The panel subsequently ordered Payot to withdraw its claims that the serum was "wrinkle correcting".
In Europe, cosmetic manufacturers and marketers have been facing similar scrutiny over advertising claims, with direct selling leader Avon being reprimanded in early 2007 by the UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) over a misleading advertising campaign for an anti-aging face cream that claimed to be a face lift in a jar.
In a ruling published by the ASA, they stated that the claims were unfounded and the company did not have (or could not provide) any comprehensive scientific evidence to support the claim, despite carrying out a consumer study.
In another case, cosmetics giant Clinique was investigated by the ASA for displaying misleading content regarding their anti-ageing treatment, Repairwear. In the advert, Clinique stated that the cream enabled the skin to steer hearty cells to the base of wrinkles, thus triggering the skins own natural collagen production.
An expert at the ASA testified that Clinique had not tested the product on consumer's skin and therefore the accuracy of the claim was not valid. The tests had been in fact undertaken in a laboratory environment.
The reprimanding of cosmetics giants for misleading claims is not new. Back in 2005, L'Oreal had a number of complaints against a series of adverts featuring celebrity model Claudia Schaffer promoting anti wrinkle and anti cellulite products upheld by the UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA).
In the wrinkle cream advert, it was claimed that 76% of users had reported a visible reduction in expression lines over a three week period and that wrinkles could be reduced in the space of just one hour, an assertion that was considered by the panel to be extreme because the product could be reasonably understood to have a 'physiological action with a cumulative effect'.
Claims about the product's inclusion of Boswelox to counteract micro contractions was also investigated, and after consulting its own experts in the field, the ASA concluded that L'Oreal's specific reference to the product's effects on expression lines were unsubstantiated - a key point that was emphasised by Schaffer pulling a variety of different faces in the advert.
With the anti-cellulite product, the agency upheld complaints made against a product called Perfect Slim specifically claims that 71 % of women in a study had said it had visibly reduced the appearance of cellulite.
In upholding the complaint about the study, an ASA expert had examined the results of the trial but had found no evidence to support the claims, as it had been open and used no control or blind testing. Further details also proved that half of the individuals taking part in the study had not registered the improvement claimed.
Its all a matter of interpretation
It would appear that in some cases, cosmetics companies somehow confuse product popularity and customer satisfaction with efficacy and actual documented results. It is well known that product popularity and satisfaction is directly associated with customer self-assessment, (which at best is subjective) and this is in no way scientific evidence to support efficacy claims.
Unperturbed, they are encouraged to continue to make claims that make good marketing copy rather than provide factual information.
Despite all the diversional tactics of the marketers, independent experts such as consultant dermatologists believe that most of the research carried out by the cosmetic companies is indeed legitimate, with all of the cosmetics giants having good scientific grounding. The problem is however, that the science within the products is not so much in dispute as the techniques employed by some of these companies to cloud the science and therefore mislead consumers.
Why you ask go to all the bother if the product works so well? Why not simply tell the truth?
Thankfully, the action taken by the Australian and British authorities points to mounting pressure on the cosmetic companies to substantiate claims for cosmetics products that are said to make physical improvements to the skins appearance.
Interestingly, professional skin care companies will rarely make claims of how well a particular product will work, only point out the potential for success if used appropriately. This is because they are well aware that the ultimate success will only come from the therapists knowledge and skill in performing the treatments and the clients willingness to follow up with their prescribed home care. This is something that consumers with high expectations also need to understand.
What you can do
There is fierce competition between cosmetics companies to continue to innovate new products, and this is good for all of us. Much of the research and experimentation for department store brands is used by professional skin care manufacturers, and with hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of researchers worldwide looking for the next big thing in a skin care breakthrough, it ultimately means that we have access to high-tech skin care products at affordable prices.
Perhaps it is time to start marketing your own treatments using cues from the mainstream cosmetics companies.
Start compiling case histories of your most positive client outcomes, and use them to promote the real differences you can make. Ensure every client is prescribed appropriate take-home care products with detailed instructions on their use. More importantly, don't give them a reason to go elsewhere to buy department store skin care.
Its time for you to take your bigger slice of the multi-billion dollar skin care pie.
© 2007 Virtual Beauty Corporation