Action Line: Making sense of cosmetics' iffy marketing terms
BY PHIL MULKINS World Action Line Editor
Sunday, March 03, 2013
3/21/13 at 8:26 AM
Dear Action Line: While shopping for cosmetics at an area drugstore, I became puzzled at some of the words the labels use: "hypoallergenic," "for sensitive skin" and "100 percent pure." What do these terms mean and should they make any difference in purchasing decisions? - M.T., Tulsa.
Beauty product packaging makes official sounding claims that are not legal definitions, says the November 2012 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from Consumer Reports. It decodes five common label terms it says shoppers should ignore.
"Only a few claims used on cosmetics are regulated and the government doesn't review labels before products hit store shelves," said Lisa Lee Freeman, ShopSmart editor-in-chief, hoping the list helps consumers see past the marketing terms to the actual benefits.
Hypoallergenic: This is typically on lotions, shampoos, conditioners, hair sprays and deodorants and implies the product won't cause allergic reactions. It's bogus, as the FDA website defines this term as "whatever a particular company wants it to mean."
Natural: This is on acne treatments, lip balm, hair products and more. It implies the product is made of fresh, safe ingredients from nature - not synthetic ones. It's bogus since "natural" holds no regulatory definition. Just because something isn't man-made doesn't mean it's safe. Consider poison ivy, poisonous mushrooms and hemlock - all "natural."
Lifting: This appears on facial creams, eye gels, makeup and masks, implying it reverses "sagging" or "drooping." It's bogus, as dermatologists say "a formal dermatologic treatment, such as heat-generating ultrasound, is needed for collagen production."
100-percent pure: Used on facial cleansers, masks, creams and balms, it sounds like it means the product is clean and contaminant-free. But it is a general term that doesn't necessarily say much about the product's contents. One exception is products with just one ingredient - 100 percent aloe vera - should be purely that one ingredient.
For sensitive skin: This is on personal-care products implying they were specially formulated for and tested on sensitive skin. It's bogus, as manufacturers might have minimized irritating ingredients, such as fragrances, but there's no way to know.
Real definitions: The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfume Association website ( tulsaworld.com/ctpaterms) features "facts about what's in my cosmetics." This explains the six functions a cosmetic product can perform, as specified by the European Union Executive Commission's truth-on-packaging rules: "to clean, to protect, to perfume, to correct body odors, to change appearance and to keep in good condition."
Original Print Headline: Claims on product labels often bogus
Submit Action Line questions by calling 918-699-8888, emailing email@example.com or by mailing them to Tulsa World Action Line, P.O. Box 1770, Tulsa OK 74102-1770.