Misleading Cosmetic Claims and Why You Shouldn’t Believe Them

October 12, 2016 3 Comments

Misleading Cosmetic Claims and Why You Shouldn't Believe Them

The skincare industry is filled with all types of fun rhetoric. As an English teacher by day, and mad chemist by night, I feel privileged that I can read through the nonsense, but I also feel like so many people are being cheated by these claims. It’s time to debunk these myths and use the skills that science and English class taught us!  Let’s get to the facts:

There’s no such thing as “Therapeutic Grade” essential oils
The terminology “therapeutic” implies it has some type of healing properties. While essential oils do possess many benefits, unless the actual oils were clinically tested in an unbiased scientific experiment, there’s no way to determine whether or not they’re therapeutic. Moreso, each batch of essential oil is different! You can buy lavender from two different providers and receive two different scents and types. Essential oils are derived from plants, and unless they are being synthetically mimicked for precise, exact conditions, there’s no way to control nature. The environment, climate, atmosphere, picking, and growing techniques will all create slight variations in the oil. It’s hard to make a medical claim about something with so many variables.

“Cosmeceutical” is a whole bunch of malarky
The term “cosmeceutical” was invented by the cosmetic industry to use rhetoric to imply that the product has both cosmetic and pharmaceutical benefits. The term is not only unregulated, it’s downright misleading. According to the FDA, unless a product has been registered and tested as a DRUG, it is in no way pharmaceutical, and any claims of providing those types of benefits (healing, treating, preventing, or curing) are false and illegal.

The only thing “Hypoallergenic” is air
And even sometimes the air (if polluted) can cause allergies. In the cosmetics industry, the term “hypoallergenic” connotes that a product will not cause an allergic reaction. The FDA makes very clear statements about this term: “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. Manufacturers of cosmetics labeled as hypoallergenic are not required to submit substantiation of their hypoallergenicity claims to FDA. The term “hypoallergenic” may have considerable market value in promoting cosmetic products to consumers on a retail basis, but dermatologists say it has very little meaning.” The reality is that every person is affected by product and their environment differently.  It’s the responsibility of the manufacturer to clearly label ingredients, but it’s the responsibility of the consumer to read that information and determine whether or not he/she is allergic.

Free of “chemicals”
This is a very tricky term because the word “chemical” actually relates to chemistry or the interactions of substances as studied in chemistry. Oxygen is a chemical. Water is a combination of two particles of Hydrogen with one particle of Oxygen – Water is a chemical. Our very essence is comprised of hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, magnesium, oxygen, oh my. To call something “chemical free” is not only bogus, it’s ridiculous; there is literally no such thing on Earth that is chemical free – and good thing, too, or we’d be dead.

“Organic” is just a fancy way to say “pay more now”
The concept of “organic” makes much more sense in the food industry than it does in the cosmetic industry. The very appeal of “organic” is that it was grown without pesticides or preservatives. The truth is, “organics” are quite wasteful in the cosmetic industry because the minute the original product is mixed and packed, it’s not organic anymore. This term, just like all the others, is completely unregulated. It’s possible for cosmetics to contain organic ingredients, but impossible for it to be completely organic as it’s now in an altered state. This is also a good thing, as you want preservatives in any water-based or water-contact products…because you know what else is organic? Growing bacteria, mold, and mildew in your skincare.

“Dermatologist-tested” or “Dermatologist-approved” means another person on payroll
This is yet another unregulated term in the cosmetics industry. All you need is one dermatologist, who could be paid, to make the claim that he/she has approved the cosmetic, and boom, it’s appealing to your ethos. Unless a cosmetic has undergone a double-blind clinical trial, it has not been tested, and it doesn’t matter what any dermatologist has to say.  That doesn’t mean that all cosmetics need to undergo expensive clinical trials, most cosmetics don’t, as they are being created with GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) ingredients.  What it does mean is that some dermatologist is getting a financial kick-back for advocating for the product. Look at it this way – A pile of garbage can be “Cockroach-tested” and “Cockroach-approved” – has the same value.

Mucus is also “all natural”
I have to admit, we’re guilty of using this terminology, simply because of the expectation of handcrafted cosmetics, but the reality is, “all natural” is also unregulated. Lots of things are “all natural” – shea butter, coconut oil, vomit, feces, HIV, HPV, meningitis, you get the picture. The term in cosmetics is supposed to infer that everything was derived from nature, but a simple read of an ingredient label, and you can get the same information without the nonsense. It’s also important to note that you don’t always want “all natural” – chemical compounds and synthetics can be safe. Prehistoric times were about as natural as you can get, and those folks only lived to thirty, if they were lucky. Science formulations and tested synthetics are fine. Take milk as an example – if we drank milk directly from a cow, we would become deathly ill. Thank you, Louis Pasteur, for your unnatural way to deal with natural derivatives.

The best way to combat these myths is to not fall into their traps. Read through the lines, only buy products with clear, transparent, and honest labelingtrust science. Believe me, you’re going to be fine.


3 Responses

Kristen M. Fusaro-Pizzo
Kristen M. Fusaro-Pizzo

April 23, 2017

In reference to Mary’s comment: Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog! I take *serious concern with your comment about drinking raw milk. According to the FDA: “Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk” – There’s a whole scientific article about it right here: https://www.fda.gov/Food/resourcesForYou/consumers/ucm079516.htm. But hey, if you want to dive dirty into a cow – or sheep – or goat – that’s your prerogative ;)


October 23, 2016

<<Take milk as an example – if we drank milk directly from a cow, we would become deathly ill. >>

I enjoyed your article, but must take issue with this line. Many of us do drink milk directly from a cow – or a goat – or a sheep, and remain perfectly healthy. Even before Pasteur people were drinking raw milk with not a great deal of a problem. Millions of people all over the world still do drink raw milk. I do not see any mass exterminations because of it.


October 14, 2016

I also love the “chemical free” claims…everything has a chemical composition and is make up of chemicals.

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