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The Claim Game

Confused by claims on the labels of your beauty products? Here’s what they really mean

March 13th, 2012

The term “cosmeceuticals” has been used for about 20 years to define skincare products with pharmaceutical-like benefits; it’s the intersection of beauty and medicine.

Many anti-aging products fall under the cosmeceutical umbrella because they are specifically designed to deliver benefits that traditionally could only be done in the medical field (like via Botox and facelifts).  While no product coming out of a jar, pump or tube could ever duplicate the effects of a facelift, they do offer a less invasive alternative to those who desire to look as young as they feel. 

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Claims are the driving force behind all beauty products—but especially cosmeceuticals.  They’re how marketers explain what a product is, what it does and why you need to buy it.  Ideally, claims should be clear and concise so you know exactly what you’re buying into. However, that’s a difficult task with cosmeceuticals since many ingredients used in anti-aging products have drug-like activity.

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The Claim Game

Before we go any further, I think that it’s important to identify the difference between drug and cosmetic claims.  Shedding light on the differences can help you understand the plight of the marketing professionals who have the task of touting all of the product benefits, without crossing over into drug territory. 

According to the FDA, drugs are products—not including food—intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease, as well as products intended to affect the structure or any body function in humans or animals. Cosmetics, on the other hand, are products introduced to the body with the intention of cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness or altering the appearance. The FDA does not recognize the term “cosmeceutical;” in the eyes of the FDA a product is a drug, cosmetic or both. 

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Vocabulary FYI

The FDA does not recognize the term “cosmeceutical”; in the eyes of the FDA a product is a either a drug, a cosmetic or both.

Confusing?  The difference is with the first claim, I am changing the structure of skin by directly reducing the wrinkle; with the second claim I am only changing the appearance of the wrinkle, and that does not involve changing the structure of the skin.What does this all mean and how does it affect product claims?  Let’s use wrinkles as an example.  A wrinkle is a crease in the skin; skin is a structure in the human body.  If I create an anti-aging serum intended to reduce wrinkles, then the FDA will classify it as a drug because it intentionally affects the structure of the body.  But—and here is where the border becomes fuzzy and gray—if I create an anti-aging serum intended to reduce the appearance of wrinkles then it’s a cosmetic because I am altering the appearance without the intention of affecting the structure. 

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