Behind the glitz and glamour, there’s little substance to claims by cosmetic products. A study published earlier this year found that 80% of all these claims are untruthful, with a large portion being outright lies.

Cosmetic ads are untruthful. Image via Wikipedia.

The study was based on advertising done in magazines like Vogue, Glamour, and Marie Claire and in total, 289 full-page cosmetic ads were taken into consideration; the products were diverse, from fragrances and make-up to skin care and body products. The claims done in this page included environmental claims (eg. “no testing on animals”), endorsement claims (eg. “recommended by dermatologists”), and scientific claims (eg. “clinically proven”).

After they split them into categories, scientists then moved on to estimating the claims, splitting them into outright lie, omission, vague, and acceptable. Now, at this point it should be said that most of us are very skeptical about this type of claims. It’s advertising after all, and between us, it’s not the most high quality advertising. But even with this skepticism, the results were surprising: just 18% of the claims were deemed acceptable. Scientific claims fared the worst (14%), while almost half of environmental claims were true. The moment when it’s a good thing that half of the claims are true… something’s deeply wrong.

“Deception not only undermines the credibility of advertising as a whole by making consumers defensive, but also produces damaging effects for the advertisers who are directly responsible for making the claims,” said one of the study’s co-authors, from the Valdosta State University. “The study makes it clear that marketers have a powerful self-interest in upholding the truth in cosmetics advertising… more regulations need to be developed.”

There are two main takeaways: first of all, this shouldn’t really be allowed to happen. Sure it’s advertising, sure you can present your product in a good light, exaggerate some claims, and even be vague about others. That is, while ethically questionable, still acceptable. But downright lying, especially about something like “tested on animals” or “clinically proven”, should simply not be allowed, at least in this writer’s opinion. The second takeaway is that sadly, this is allowed, and will continue to be so in the future, which means we have to one-up our skepticism barriers.

Journal Reference: Jie G. Fowler, Timothy H. Reisenwitz & Les Carlson – Deception in cosmetics advertising: Examining cosmetics advertising claims in fashion magazine ads. Journal of Global Fashion Marketing, 6:3, 194-206, DOI: 10.1080/20932685.2015.1032319


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