Have you ever seen these words proudly emblazoned on your skincare products?
- therapeutic grade
- dermatologist or ophthalmologist tested
- zero waste
- something-or-other "technology" (that one always makes me laugh)
When used in the beauty industry, these self-assuring titles all share something in common: they make claims. These words are deliberately positioned to communicate the values of a company and most certainly intend to build a certain level of brand recognition and trust - with you - the consumer. And if the job has been done right, they most certainly can increase sales. So tell me, dear consumer, are you comforted, feel more confident, or more apt to buy from a company when you see these claims?
You would think these terms actually mean something, right? Something quantifiable, perhaps?
Yes? No? Maybe so?
Personally speaking, when I see these claims, I *feel* a company is trying to communicate with me that they are committed to quality, purity, environmental responsibility, therapeutic effect, ethics, integrity, or any other set of values they are attempting to express through their chosen wording.
But the question begs to be asked: does this (very purposeful) evocation of feelings for the consumer mean anything?
The truth is - it just depends.
Sure, in some cases, these claims may be entirely accurate. There are companies out there setting the (voluntary) bar high, and they are doing incredible work in the world defining their terms and carrying out their values and mission with honesty and integrity. Companies like this are guided by their own moral compass, continually striving to do the "right" thing simply because it is the right thing to do.
On the flip-side, I think the "norm" is perhaps not so - trustworthy. It has been my experience over the last decade that marketing claims proudly flaunted on the front of a product don't generally align with the ingredient list on the back. Sadly, half-truths and down-right lies abound in the cosmetic industry. So how do you know then what's real and what's misleading? How can companies make claims that imply something, yet that something means nothing? Are we confused yet?
The truth bomb comin' atcha is this: in most cases, there are no governing bodies that regulate these terms.
In other words, these "claims" are merely words - words that are typically self-imposed, self-regulated, and used at a company's discretion. There is no higher "authority" outlining the definitions of those claims, providing certification, or determining whether they bear any truth at all. Claims are taken with a grain of salt. How one company defines "natural", for example, can be a far cry from another's definition.
If you were to line up the plethora of companies claiming that there products are "natural" these days, I guarantee you would have products ranging from completely toxic garbage to the purest of pure. The spectrum would be staggering!
So what is the takeaway here? I would like to attempt to send you off with some tangible things you can take away from this (discouraging?) blog post!
In my opinion, it's simple. Here are some pointers:
- Be skeptical - always! Recognize marketing claims for what they are: they are attempts to "market" (sell!) you something. Just like a detective, it is your job to determine to what extent their claims are true. How do you do this? Read on...
- Ask questions! Don't ever be afraid to ask a company straight out what their definition of a claim is. If they are proud enough to talk the talk, they need to prove they are walking the walk. Believe me - if a company has worked hard to make true their claims, they will be so happy to share them with anyone who has asks! It takes hard work and dedication (and usually much more money!) to do the "right thing" consistently. I have also found a little trick over the years that REALLY gets to the heart of companies who claim to be "natural": find a product they make that is a cream or a lotion. The reason I say this is because a lotion or cream is made by blending (or emulsifying) water with oils and/or butters, and the moment water is introduced into a product like that, the product MUST be preserved or it would go moldy. Now, look at the ingredient list to see what preservatives they are using. If you see parabens, phenoxyethanol, EDTA, urea, propylene glycol or PEG, sulfates, formaldehyde, or alcohols (amongst others!), please know that there "natural" claims just went down the toilet. A company who is truly natural will find alternative preservation methods which are much more costly than the above methods. It is no small feat! Ask them how they define "natural", ask them if there is any governing body or group that determines what "zero waste" means, or "eco-friendly", or "therapeutic grade", etc etc. See what their answer is!
- Read labels! Labels tell us everything we need to know about a product. They do not lie (wellll, that's perhaps a topic for another blog post!). Really understand what you are putting on your skin by getting familiar with label ingredients.
- Knowledge is power. The more you learn, the better armed you will be to see through BS! Be your own health ambassador!
By the way, did you happen to notice that list spells the word B-A-R-K? I think it's pretty fitting: when companies are constantly barking at us to buy this and buy that, let's not be afraid to do a little BARK of our own. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there - don't get bitten!
Now I would like to know - have you been fooled by marketing claims? If so, I would love to hear who "got you" and how they did it. What do you find confusing about beauty industry claims? I would be happy to help clear up any confusions for you. Comment below to share with me.
If you found this article helpful, please share it! And stay tuned as we dive deeper into more claims on our next blog post when we address "Therapeutic Grade" Essential Oils.
Until then, stay safe and be well!